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BBC presenter Clare Balding: ‘Horses were the Queen’s first love, the bolder the better’

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‘Horses were her first love, the bolder the better’: BBC presenter Clare Balding reveals how the Queen enjoyed the scientific challenge of breeding racehorses

  • The setup at the Royal Stud in Sandringham was state-of-the-art
  • The Queen bred rare ponies and was interested in their ability and breed
  • BBC presenter Clare Balding says the Queen had the empathy of a horsewoman

In the horse world, the queen was the observer rather than the observed—and never home again.

It wasn’t just the race, it was the whole journey through good times and bad, says BBC presenter Clare Balding, who joined the racing world to pay tribute.

“She enjoyed the scientific challenge,” Balding says. “Everyone in racing knows that it is incredibly difficult to breed a horse to win a race. You think you could solve it, but it’s the endless puzzle that you can send the best broodmare to the best stallion and you won’t necessarily get a better racehorse.

BBC presenter Clare Balding joined the racing world to pay tribute to the Queen

‘The Queen was not looking for quick solutions, it was about long-term improvement. Meticulous records were kept.’

The setup at the Royal Stud in Sandringham was state of the art and there were cameras in all foal boxes. Balding says, “She would see the foal being born on her iPad and if she was there she would go out as soon as possible to see the foals.”

The Queen bred rare ponies and was interested in their ability and breed. Balding believes she also admired their sassy side. “Like the corgis, these ponies tend to be mischievous, but she loved a naughty streak in people,” Balding says.

“Maybe it’s because she had one too. She loved racing because she liked listening to the gossip and teasing people. She loved to lean on the rails and watch the betting in the paddocks.’

When things went wrong, a horse was beaten or injured, her first concern was for the owners. “She had that empathy of a horse woman,” Balding says.

According to Balding, the Queen had the empathy of a horsewoman and enjoyed all aspects of racing

According to Balding, the Queen had the empathy of a horsewoman and enjoyed all aspects of racing

Simon Brooks-Ward has hosted the Royal Windsor Horse Show in the grounds of Windsor Castle for 30 years – an event that the Queen attended every year for nearly 80 years as a participant and spectator.

“I recognized the joy and frustration of a breeder and owner that when she was signed off in the show ring, there was sometimes some displeasure and a murmur of ‘I don’t necessarily agree with that,’” says Brooks-Ward. “She had seen the highlight of the horse or pony from start to finish, so seeing her horse win or cross the finish line was a joy.

“Woe to anyone who began to chat with her when her horse or pony passed by.”

The queen was fascinated by large horses. She asked to bring the multi-medal dressage horse Valegro to Windsor. “It was extraordinary to see her at 1.80m and in her 90s so close to this towering, powerful horse.

“Her connection to a horse she hadn’t met was incredible,” he adds.

Katie Jerram-Hunnable has been riding the Queen’s horses for 20 years. “Her Majesty was always happy around them and her knowledge was amazing,” she says. “We talked about the improvement and what we were doing with it, but she never questioned it. She respected the way we trained them.

“When her horses are retired, some go back to Hampton Court, others are sold to dear families. Her Majesty always did the best with the horses and they would all be housed in the right places. She had a true love for all her horses.’

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