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Queen's 90th birthday: The lifelong animal lover

How the Queen relishes her special relationship with pet Corgis and commands respect for her impressive knowledge of the equine world

Published 22/04/2016

Queen Elizabeth II is seen walking in the private grounds of Windsor Castle on steps at the rear of the East Terrace and East Garden with four of her dogs: clockwise from top left Willow (corgi), Vulcan (dorgie), Candy (dorgie) and Holly (corgi).
Queen Elizabeth II is seen walking in the private grounds of Windsor Castle on steps at the rear of the East Terrace and East Garden with four of her dogs: clockwise from top left Willow (corgi), Vulcan (dorgie), Candy (dorgie) and Holly (corgi).
Queen Elizabeth II with some of her corgis walking the Cross Country course during the second day of the Windsor Horse Trials. PA Wire
Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) holding a Corgi, as the breed have been the Queen's life-long companions - small dogs described as having big personalities. PA Wire
Queen Elizabeth II sitting with her corgis, at Virginia Water to watch competitors, including Prince Philip in the Marathon of the European Driving Championship, part of the Royal Windsor Horse Show PA Wire

The Queen has had an enduring love of dogs and horses — with some saying her fondness comes from the fact that both show love and respect because of the way they are treated, not through fawning, as humans do because of her status.

Corgis have been the Queen’s lifelong companions — small dogs described as having big personalities.

The head of state is famed for her love of the breed with many of her dogs descended from her first pet Susan, who was an 18th birthday present from her parents.

A few of the dogs even appeared in the James Bond sketch for the London Olympics opening ceremony, starring alongside the Queen and 007 actor Daniel Craig.

Monarchs across the centuries have been associated with dogs, from Charles II and his love of toy dogs to the pug, which was favoured by some Hanoverian Kings.

Corgis became a firm favourite of the Queen after her father George VI bought a corgi called Dookie in 1933.

The monarch, then Princess Elizabeth, and her sister Princess Margaret quickly took to the new pet and a second corgi called Jane joined the family.

Within Buckingham Palace, the approach of the Queen is sometimes heralded by the sight of her favourite dogs scurrying around ahead of their mistress.

Among them are another breed, the ‘dorgi’ — created when one of her Corgis was mated with a dachshund.

The Queen owns two corgis, Willow and Holly, and two dorgis, Candy and Vulcan.

When enjoying the country pursuit of shooting, the Queen is joined by her black Labradors, a special Sandringham strain started in 1911, which are more working gundogs than pets.

During the Christmas break she will have had the chance to indulge her love of horses and riding, visiting her stud farm at Sandringham, and having her dogs around her.

The monarch’s love for the equine world is something she shared with her mother and she has been breeding and racing horses for more than 60 years.

Thoroughbreds owned by the Queen have won four out of the five flat racing classics — the 1,000 Guineas and 2,000 Guineas, the Oaks and the St Leger — with only the Derby eluding her.

Her horse Dunfermline, ridden by jockey Willie Carson, gave the Queen her most famous victory, triumphing in the Oaks and St Leger in her Silver Jubilee year 1977.

In recent years the Queen made sporting history when she became the first reigning monarch to win Royal Ascot’s Gold Cup with her thoroughbred Estimate in 2013. She has also notched up more than 20 winners at Royal Ascot — one of the premier events of the racing season.

From early childhood the Queen was surrounded by horses and relatives who owned, rode and talked about them.

Her first reported riding lesson took place in the private riding school at Buckingham Palace Mews in January 1930, when she was still only three years old.

When she was five the Queen Mother led her on Peggy, a Shetland pony given to her when she was four by her grandfather King George V, to a meet of the Pytchley Hounds at Boughton Cover.

After she became sovereign in February 1952 the Queen inherited the royal colours: purple, gold braid, scarlet sleeves, black velvet cap with gold fringe.

Her first winner as Queen came just a few months later when Choir Boy passed the winning post ahead of the field to claim the Wilburton Handicap at Newmarket that May.

The next few years were a golden period for her horses and in 1954 and again in 1957 she was named the leading winner-owner.

Over the following decades she pursued her keen interest in horse breeding, sending her mares to stud farms around the world as well as breeding animals at home.

The Queen’s horses and ponies, which number around 180, are kept at various royal residences and stables from Sandringham to Balmoral.

The monarch takes a keen interest in their breeding and training and is respected for her knowledge of the equine world.

But the head of state famously does not bet and appears to get her enjoyment from watching her horses develop and compete.

The Queen’s cousin Margaret Rhodes, interviewed for a BBC documentary about the monarch’s passion for horse racing, said: “You see I think that early on, when she became Queen, I think that she had to sacrifice within herself an awful lot of emotions and thoughts of the future and everything else.

“But I think with horses it’s another world in that it reduces you to just the person in relation to the animal, and you’re not a Queen, you’re just a human being.’’

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