Prince Philip’s Horses

“If it doesn’t fart or eat hay, she isn’t interested.” That, it is said, is how Prince Philip described his daughter Princess Anne. But if the amount of time he spent with horses is anything to go by, the Prince also had a fondness for hay-eating, farting creatures.

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“The Royal Family in 1957. From left to right, Princess Anne on William, Prince Charles on Greensleeves, Her Majesty the Queen on Betsy, and the Duke of Edinburgh on Mele-Kush (photograph from Her Majesty’s album)”

He was a polo player and later carriage driver. From 1964 to 1986 he was President of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI), the longest-serving ever. He was succeeded by Princess Anne. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

A 1965 book The Queen Rides by Judith Campbell is about the royal horses and their riders. Here is part of the section on Prince Philip, with photographs from the book.

Prince Philip’s Polo Ponies

The Prince originally learned to ride when he was nine or ten years old, and the teaching was continued when he went to Gordonstoun by two well-known instructors, Mr. and Mrs. Saloschin. At school the boys not only rode, they were taught stable management and were expected to look after the ponies…

Prince Philip first began playing polo in Malta, when he was on active service in the Royal Navy. He has an excellent natural eye for a ball, and since he is also a lover of violent exercise, particularly of anything spiced with danger, it was almost inevitable that polo should become his first love in sport…

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“Prince Philip’s interest in his ponies is not confined to the polo field. He frequently visits them and discusses their well-being with Miss Donaghue. Here he is having a look at Global, a four-year-old, bred by the Queen”

Prince Philip’s Yard, where his polo ponies are kept, is small and compact. The tack and work rooms are at one end, the food stores at the other, and the ten loose-boxes face each other on opposite sides. The yard is paved in grey stone, easy to keep clean but disliked by some of the occupants, the thoroughbreds in particular, who mistrust its apparently slippery surface.

Miss Donaghue runs the yard with the help of three girl grooms, and Cain the Boxer. There is little she does not know of the care of polo ponies, and most of them are old friends…

All polo ponies have to be obedient and supple, quick on the turn, fast on the straight, and immediately responsive to neck-reining: that is, at once moving away from the rein pressed against the pony’s neck, an essential in animals that have to be ridden with one hand. English-trained ponies are given what is almost a form of elementary dressage schooling at first, and are taught to have their hocks well under them, the weight back…

The majority of the Prince’s blood ponies are bred by the Queen at Sandringham. Global, a four-year-old, is one of these, still playing very slow polo. He is a bit of an enigma and Prince Philip thinks he is the sort that could prove useless, or might be very good indeed. Only time will tell…

Bullseye

The Queen sometimes remarks rather despairingly that most of the horses she breeds seem to have lop-ears. There are certainly plenty of good-looking ones without this technical defect, but a pony called Bullseye, belonging to Prince Philip, does illustrate her words. By tradition lop-eared horses are supposed to be quiet and generous, but ears that flop sideways or forwards do tend to give their owners a clown-like, depressed appearance. In addition to his ears, Bullseye has rather ungainly, elongated conformation, and what can only be described as a somewhat loopy expression. In 1963 he was the despair of all, including the Prince, but in the next year Bullseye suddenly became an enthusiastic participant in the game. From obviously having regarded the whole affair as a ridiculous waste of time, he has suddenly decided that polo is fun. The Prince is very pleased with Bullseye, and that despite the fact that it was a fall with this pony that put his shoulder temporarily out of action in 1964. Bullseye slipped when travelling at speed, and his subsequent antics are described by his rider as akin to someone falling on ice – arms and legs splayed out in all directions, and skidding along on his stomach…

Lightning

Like some human beings, there are animals that seem to have everything in their favour – looks, breeding, potential brilliance – yet never quite reach the heights because of their temperament. The bright chestnut thoroughbred mare, Lightning, is one of these… Prince Philip speaks of her with affectionate exasperation as ‘The idiot woman!’ She does her best to bite him before mounting, and though she is very fast and should be a remarkable polo pony, she gets into a ‘tizzy’ and works herself up until she behaves like a ‘raving lunatic!’ in the company of other ponies. Even her tail cannot be bound up to keep it out of the way in the approved style, because she tears around swishing it madly, banging herself until it comes undone, or she goads herself into a worse frenzy. Whether, unlike the leopard, Lightning will ever change her spots and calm down sufficiently to fulfill her promise is a matter for the future.

Max Charge QH

There is another pony that should, all being well, join Prince Philip’s string in a few years’ time and whose début will be of particular interest. This is Max Charge, a two-year-old bright chestnut quarter horse, at present in Ireland receiving her first schooling as a future polo pony. She was presented to Prince Philip at the Royal Windsor Show by members of the Canadian Cutting Horse Association, who were touring the British Shows during the summer of 1964…

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“Max Charge, the young quarter horse presented to Prince Philip by members of the Canadian Cutting Horse Association”

She has the low head carriage, good shoulder and withers, short cannon bones, small feet, exceptionally powerful quarters and broad, ‘fork’ chest, that are typical of her breed. Like the majority of quarter horses she is also good tempered and intelligent, but is of the type that is seldom trained as a cutting horse, being a little less solid, and showing more of her thoroughbred blood. Had Max Charge not been destined for a royal polo pony, she would probably have been trained for taking part in the essentially American and Canadian competitions for reining or roping horses – for which the performance demanded is roughly equivalent to that of our top-class hacks…

No doubt when Max Charge does come to join Prince Philip’s Yard, the Prince of Wales will take as much interest in her progress as his father, wondering if, in the years to come, he may also possibly be able to play this quarter horse polo pony. [pp 38-45]

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“Prince Philip plays polo whenever he can spare the time”

In 1969 Prince Philip spoke of the impacts on the financially strapped Royal Family: “I shall have to give up polo fairly soon.” His example of cost-cutting caused outrage, but I think anyone who has a horse understands what he’s talking about.

The Queen Rides author Judith Campbell wanted to write about the Queen’s family horses, so she wrote to her. From The Australian Women’s Weekly, Aug. 4, 1965: “‘Looking back, I realize it was rather a daring thing to do,’ says Judith, ‘but I didn’t know then the Queen never gives interviews.’ The Queen took some time to think things over. Then she wrote, ‘I think it would be a good idea.'”

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Look online for copies or in used bookstores.

It’s a wonderful book for anyone interested in the royals or horses. Others of interest are The Duke of Edinburgh’s 30 Years On and Off the Box Seat about carriage driving, Lord Louis Mountbatten’s An Introduction to Polo (Amazon link below) published under the nom de plume Marco, and Ruth Oltmann’s Lizzie Rummel: Baroness of the Canadian Rockies (Amazon link in sidebar) where I learned a bit about the Saloschins and more about a remarkable German aristocrat who settled in Alberta.

The Royal Family posted on Facebook that, in his funeral procession Saturday April 17th, “The Duke of Edinburgh’s two fell ponies – Balmoral Nevis and Notlaw Storm – will pull a carriage designed by The Duke of Edinburgh eight years ago.”

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