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Queen’s love of horses forged bond with Sheikh Mohammed

Queen Elizabeth II rides her horse on the grounds of Windsor Castle Reuters/Dan Chung
Queen Elizabeth II rides her horse in the grounds of Windsor Castle
  • Queen’s horses entered 3,441 races and won 566, netting £8.7m
  • Passion for racing sealed her friendship with Sheikh Mohammed
  • 96-year-old was still going for “gentle” rides around Windsor Castle

As the world mourns the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, she bequeaths a monumental global legacy as a head of state. 

But beyond the pomp, ceremony and duty, she also leaves an indelible mark – just as close to her heart – on the equestrian world.

Fittingly, when the Queen turned 96 in April, she released a new portrait of herself standing proud but diminutive with her two taller white Fell ponies – Bybeck Nightingale and Bybeck Katie.

To say that the Queen had a lifelong love affair with horses is no overstatement. She was gifted her first pony aged four, by her grandfather, King George V. As a child, when asked what she’d like to be when she grows up, in a 1945 edition of Life magazine, she replied: “I should like to be a horse”.

Queen Elizabeth II was a prolific horse rider, owner and breeder, and regularly seen at British events including Royal Ascot, the Epsom Derby and the Grand National.

Thoroughbreds owned by the queen won four out of the five flat racing classics – the 1,000 Guineas and 2,000 Guineas, the Oaks and the St Leger.

In 2013 the queen became the first reigning British monarch to win the Royal Ascot Gold Cup, winning with her horse Estimate.

Horse, Mammal, Animal
Estimate, the Queen’s first-ever Royal Ascot Gold Cup winner

“I think this is her passion in life, and she loves it,” Camilla, then Duchess of Cornwall, now Queen Consort, said of her mother-in-law during an interview with ITV Racing in 2021.

“She can tell you every horse she’s bred and owned, from the very beginning, she doesn’t forget anything… she’s encyclopaedic about her knowledge.”

And it was these elegant equines that led the Queen to forge one of her closest friendships in the Arab world – with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai.

Racing and a shared passion for horses have long fortified the bonds between the Windsors and the Maktoums, with Sheikh Mohammed sharing the queen’s royal box at Ascot racecourse.

Thirteen years ago, the Dubai ruler gave the Queen four yearlings, one of which, Carlton House, came third place in the 2011 Derby. She has also used his stud services.

The queen’s friendship with Sheikh Mohammed undoubtedly strengthened his interest in the British equestrian world.

The Dubai ruler has since invested tens of millions in the UK’s wider horse racing industry, including the world-famous Godolphin stables, a sprawling complex based in Newmarket, which includes a swimming pool for horses and an equine spa. He is also a sponsor, runs an education programme and supports racing charities. 

Last year alone Sheikh Mohammed netted 146 wins – including the Derby and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth stakes – collecting prize money of £4.6million. 

Hat, Clothing, Apparel
Queen Elizabeth in the carriage procession at Royal Ascot

Her Majesty herself won a record 36 races in 2021 – representing a victory rate of 22 percent, along with sizeable earnings of £584,399. 

According to research conducted by the Online Betting Guide, Queen Elizabeth has collected £8.7 million from horse racing winnings since 1988. Over the past 35 years, the Queen has entered horses in 3,441 races in the UK and won 566 of them.

The Queen’s equines, which number around 180, are kept at various royal residences and stables, including Sandringham and Balmoral.

Even in her ailing months this year, the Queen returned to her beloved saddle and, according to insiders, enjoyed ‘gentle trips’ around Windsor Castle by horseback.

The benign but powerful horses offered the dutiful monarch a respite from the high-octane world of pomp and ceremony.

“Horse racing allows people to see a side of Her Majesty that they don’t get to see when she’s doing her public duties. Perhaps if she wasn’t the Queen, she would have made a wonderful trainer,” John Warren, her racing manager and bloodstock adviser, told Gulf News in 2011.

“She has a unique affinity with horses and quite clearly loves being with them. Her understanding of horses is extraordinary.”

Monument, Statue, Sculpture
A statue at Newmarket racecourse commissioned to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday

Timeline: Horses gifted to the Queen by the Arab world

1953: King Faisal of Iraq gave her an Arab stallion to commemorate her coronation. In addition, the Imam of Yemen gifted an Arab stallion Alhehal (Crescent Moon) and an Arab mare Al Masouda (The Lucky One).

1980: King Hassan of Morocco presented the Queen with thoroughbred bay filly Asnoura during her state visit, which was then sent to Sandringham.

2009: Sheikh Mohammed gifted the Queen four young racehorses after she gave him a racehorse of her own, Highland Glen. One of these yearlings was thoroughbred Carlton House, who came third in the 2011 Epsom Derby, and was later retired to stand as a stud horse at the Australian branch of Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley stud.

2013: The King of Bahrain presented the Queen with two Arabian horses at the Royal Windsor Horse Show. The Bahraini purebred horses, rarely found outside the kingdom, have been preserved for years by the rulers of Bahrain, the Al Khalifa dynasty.

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