Here’s to our riding royals

When non-horsey people see pictures of the Queen out riding, or Prince Philip driving his team of ponies, they have one of three reactions, writes CAROLYN HENDERSON.

  • How do they manage it? After all, Her Majesty is 91 and HRH is 96 in June.
  • Surely it’s too dangerous at their age – shouldn’t someone stop them?
  • Why do they ride/drive those funny little black things instead of proper horses?

The basic answers are:

  • Our monarch and her consort know that if horses have been part of your life, you need to keep them in it for as long as possible. If I reach 91, I hope to celebrate in the saddle.
  • Riding is a risk sport, but life will be shorter and a lot less fun if you let age rather than ability and inclination dictate when you hang up your boots or whip. Riding is undoubtedly a lot safer if you wear a hat or helmet rather than a headscarf, but that’s a different debate.
  • Those “funny little black things” are Fell ponies. The Queen’s favourite is called Carltonlima Emma and the mare has been immortalised by model horse specialists Breyer. As I discovered when a representative of the breed joined our family, you can have as much fun with the right Fell pony as you can with a horse. You might need a sense of humour sometimes, but laughter is the best medicine.

It comes down to the fact that horses are good for you. As various bigwigs have said, the best thing for the inside of a man is the outside of a horse. They should have said ‘man or woman’, but as 75% – 80% of the UK’s riding population is female, we’ll take that as a given.

Riding and looking after horses is good for your physical and mental well-being. On a practical level, it gets you outdoors, works muscles, builds co-ordination and balance and burns calories.

The mental benefits of riding and being around horses are priceless. When you focus your attention on your horse, you focus it away from irritations, pressures and problems. Even if it’s only for a short time, you give your brain a break – and when you go back to those problems, you’re better placed to deal with them.

A friend with a high-powered, stressful job gets up at 5am every weekday to look after and exercise her horse before she leaves for work. She calls it her sanity time, which many people will relate to, and says that even though she could afford full livery, she doesn’t want to – she’d
rather have that time getting in tune with her horse.

In her working life, she’s a powerful high-flyer.Her horse doesn’t care about how important she is, and perhaps that’s another reason why our Queen and other members of the royal family are so passionate about their horses – whether they be racehorses, event horses or Fell ponies.

A horse won’t flatter you or react in a way calculated to impress you. He doesn’t care who you are, what you earn or how important your role is perceived to be.

Horses are great levellers, as members of the royal family who compete often point out. That’s the beauty of them, and that’s why I hope the Queen will celebrate her next birthday with a hack on Carltonlima Emma.