Why Princess Anne and the Royal family’s love for horses endures – despite endless injuries

2024-06-25 HaiPress

The Princess Royal was only recently on horseback at the Trooping the Colour parade on June 15

Credit: Getty

Just over a week ago on June 15,Princess Anne was showing off her equestrian skills at her brother the King’s annual birthday parade. The Princess Royal,a fixture at the Trooping the Colour ceremony,was riding Noble,a notoriously tricky beast. The Canadian Mountie horse last year during the same event gave the King some gyp when she refused to walk forwards,and this time Noble was on top jittery form,throwing her head and attempting to canter on the spot. 

Princess Anne,an old hand in the saddle,kept Noble on a tight rein and in perfect formation,riding easily one-handed,in full ceremonial dress,and looking monumentally unperturbed by her steed’s antics. 

One can only assume that her latest equine escapades will have done nothing to dampen her ardour for being on horseback. On June 23,the Princess Royal was admitted to hospital after suffering a minor head injury and concussion,believed to have been caused by a horse while she was out walking in the grounds of her home,the Gatcombe Park estate. She is,said the official statement,“expected to make a full and swift recovery”. She is likely to be released from hospital later this week. 

The Princess Royal is expected to make 'a full and swift recovery'

Credit: WireImage

This is not the Princess Royal’s first rodeo when it comes to horses and head injuries. The first member of the Royal family to have competed for her country at the Olympics,her horse,Goodwill,fell during jumping at her 1976 debut,bringing the princess down with him; Princess Anne quickly remounted but later confessed not remembering the remainder of her round,having suffered concussion (as well as a cracked vertebra). 

After falling from her horse at the 1976 Olympics,the Princess said her memory was 'almost non-existent for that day'

Credit: Shutterstock

Three years prior,the princess was forced to withdraw from the European Equestrian Championships after she and Goodwill fell at a difficult double fence in the cross-country section. And there have been numerous other horse-related injuries as well: a broken finger as a young girl,and a leg injury that left the Princess Royal needing a walking stick when she was kicked badly by one of her steeds almost a decade ago. 

The Princess Royal cracked her little finger while riding in 1964,aged 14

Credit: PA Archive

Still,every time,the princess – now 73 – recovers; then gets back in the saddle again. Her daughter Zara Tindall – herself a professional equestrian,who also rides for Great Britain – spoke about the family’s obsession in an interview last year. “Our horses are in our family,” she said. “There’s always horse conversation going on.” Not remounting is not an option. This is perhaps unsurprising for Princess Anne,a woman who started riding almost before she could walk,began competing on horseback aged 11,and spent more than half a decade as part of the British Eventing team. 

The mother and daughter are not the only keen riders in the family. Princess Anne’s elder brother,King Charles,started learning to ride aged four,and from his teens until his 50s was an avid player of competitive polo. Her two younger brothers,Prince Andrew and Prince Edward,are similarly comfortable on horseback: Prince Edward has been riding since he was two years old and is a regular fixture in Windsor Great Park,where he stables several horses. Prince Edward’s daughter,Lady Louise,took the reins (quite literally) from her grandfather when she followed in the Duke of Edinburgh’s footsteps and made her competitive carriage driving debut aged 17. Princes William and Harry are as comfortable on horseback as their aunt,and both seem to have inherited their father’s prowess on the polo field. And of course the late Queen was never out of the saddle her whole life,having started riding aged three and continuing until a few weeks before her death aged 96. 

The late Queen shows a young Princess Anne how to ride at Balmoral Castle

Credit: Keystone Press Agency

But riding is also one of the most dangerous sports in the world: it comes with a higher risk than either motorcycling or skiing,and is the leading cause of sports-related traumatic brain injuries. Last year three riders were killed and 94 injured on Britain’s roads; 81 per cent of equestrians will be injured at some point during their riding career. 

The Royal family must account for quite a few of those injuries; it’s not just Princess Anne who has fallen foul of a hoof or two. The King has fractured his shoulder during a foxhunt,broken his arm in a polo match,and attributes his bad back to multiple falls from horseback over the years. His grandmother the Queen Mother broke her collarbone falling off a horse at the grand old age of 90. The late Queen broke her wrist aged 67 when her horse tripped and they both fell while out riding at Sandringham in 1994. 

The late Queen,pictured with her arm in a sling having suffered a riding injury to her wrist

Credit: PA Archive

Prince Philip’s carriage hit a tree stump in an accident on the Windsor estate in 2010,leaving him with an injured back (the Duke had taken up carriage driving as an alternative to polo,thinking it – clearly erroneously – to be a more sedentary sport). Zara Tindall has broken her collarbone; Lady Louise has broken her arm; her mother,the Duchess of Edinburgh,has broken a rib,all on horseback. 

Yet every time,these doughty royals get back up and remount. Why? 

“First of all,it gets under your skin,” says Richard Waygood,lifelong rider and former riding master of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment,of which the Princess Royal is the Colonel-in-Chief. Riding,he adds,has been part of the lives of all members of the Royal family for so long,it’s not surprising that it has become an obsessive pursuit. 

Practically speaking,being on a horse is “one of the few places they [members of the Royal family] can have freedom,” says Waygood. “They don’t have to keep looking over their shoulder. And at the same time,they can have a gallop and get things out of their system – it’s an adrenaline kick.” And one that,unlike,say,skiing,you can do all year round,as long as you don’t mind getting cold and wet: “which they don’t seem to”. 

'An adrenaline kick': Princess Anne in a race for members of the Royal family in 1972

Credit: Steve Wood Archive

Then there are the horses themselves – as Winston Churchill,himself a keen horseman,famously said: “There’s something about the outside of a horse that’s good for the inside of a man.” For Princess Anne,there was Doublet,a thoroughbred cross gelding gifted from her mother,on which she won gold aged 21 at Burghley. For the King there was Drizzle,the pony he used to play polo on until he gave up in 2005. For the late Queen,of course,there was a whole legion of steeds,many of whom she bred herself: she named each and every one of them and could remember all their individual parentage. 

And when tragedy inevitably struck some of these favourites,the Royal family’s deep affection for them came to light. The Princess Royal was riding Doublet in 1974 – bred by the Queen – in Windsor Great Park when the horse’s leg broke; he was later put down. Princess Anne was reportedly “inconsolable and completely shattered”. Drizzle,who went on to be ridden by Princes William and Harry,suffered a heart attack and died during a charity polo match at Coworth Park in 2010. Prince Harry had been riding Drizzle,and was in tears when his beloved steed collapsed. 

Even when celebrating there have been tears: King Charles was visibly moved and wiping away tears when his horse Desert Hero triumphed at Royal Ascot last year. And in one of the most moving moments of the whole ceremony,the late Queen’s beloved fell pony Emma stood in the grounds of Windsor Castle as her late mistress’s coffin made its way past during the funeral cortege,one of Elizabeth II’s head scarves draped on her saddle. “Every horse is a living being,” points out Waygood. “They [the Royals] have an empathy with them,and each [horse] has a different temperament – it’s not like driving a car. Horses have a mind of their own.”

They certainly do – as whichever naughty animal was responsible for injuring Princess Anne this time round proves. Still,it’s not likely to be long before the Princess Royal rides once again,no matter what the doctors might say. “The equine world doesn’t listen to a doctor,” chuckles Waygood. “In fact,they know better than to ask.” Let’s all hope that the princess’s recovery is a speedy one.

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