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by Major P A J Wright OBE
formerly Grenadier Guards

King George VI rode Winston, a Metropolitan Police horse, at the ceremony of Trooping the Colour marking the Sovereign’s Official Birthday on 12th June 1947. It was the first Birthday Parade to be held after World War II with the Guardsmen wearing battledress. Princess Elizabeth rode side-saddle on the parade for the first time and won the deepest respect for her bearing and horsemanship. She was mounted on Tommy, a bay police horse, and wore a dark blue uniform as Colonel of the Grenadier Guards.

King George VI and Princess Elizabeth ride on
to Horse Guards at Trooping the Colour on
12th June 1947

A Royal Worcester porcelain model of
Princess Elizabeth on Tommy

The following year the parade was cancelled due to bad weather. The King was not well enough to ride on parade in 1949, when full dress uniform was reintroduced, so he attended in an open landau with his elder daughter riding alongside him on his horse, Winston. In 1950, the King drove again in a carriage, but Princess Elizabeth did not attend the parade as she was expecting the birth of her daughter, Princess Anne, who arrived on 15th August.
The following year His Majesty was again suffering from ill health and the Princess deputised for him at the King’s Birthday Parade on 7th June. Once more riding Winston, she took the salute wearing a full dress red tunic for the first time. Subsequently, the Major General received the following message:

Will you please inform all ranks that the King was delighted to hear my report on the excellence of The King’s Birthday Parade today. I was very proud to deputise for the King and take the Parade for the first time.
Colonel, Grenadier Guards

Her Majesty The Queen on Winston
on 11th June 1953

The Queen on Imperial in the gardens of Buckingham Palace
in 1962 by Terence Cuneo

Royal Collection Trust /All Rights Reserved

Winston, the chestnut-coloured police horse, became the Princess’s mount at Trooping the Colour for the next four years. He had been foaled in Yorkshire in 1937 and purchased by the Mounted Branch of the Metropolitan Police in 1944. Although named after Winston Churchill, the letter ‘W’ was used to name all police horses in 1944. Princess Elizabeth was proclaimed Queen on 6th February 1952 on the death of her father, King George VI and took the salute at Trooping the Colour for the first time as Sovereign on 5th June. Her Majesty was following the tradition of Queen Victoria, who rode side-saddle when reviewing her troops at their summer camp on Chobham Common.

During the Coronation on 2nd June 1953, Winston was ridden in the procession by Sir John Nott-Bower, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. A week later on 11th June, the Queen, took the salute at Trooping the Colour riding Winston. The Duke of Edinburgh rode on parade for the first time in the uniform of a Field Marshal. Due to a National rail strike there was no parade in 1955 and Winston was retired the following year. Sadly, he had to be put down after a fall at the police training establishment at Thames Ditton on 7th February 1957.

Winston’s successor was Imperial, another chestnut police horse which had been bought in Yorkshire as a three-year-old gelding before being sent to Imber Court where the Police train their horses. In 1962, The Queen commissioned Terence Cuneo to paint a portrait of her riding Imperial in the gardens of Buckingham Palace. It marked ten years from her accession to the throne in 1952 and thus her assumption of the title of Colonel-in-Chief, and twenty years from when, on her sixteenth birthday on 21st April 1942, she became Colonel of the Grenadier Guards. Imperial was ridden at the Sovereign’s Birthday Parade until 1962 and again in 1964 and 1965. In between a grey horse named Doctor was chosen to carry the Queen and he was on royal duty again in 1966. The following year Neill completed the troop of horses ridden by the Queen on the parade before a striking black mare named Burmese took over from 1969 until 1986.

Burmese was born at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) remount Ranch at Fort Walsh, Saskatchewan, and at the age of six was selected to lead the RCMP Musical Ride. She was presented to Her Majesty by the RCMP in late April 1969 when representatives came to England to perform at the Royal Windsor Horse Show. The horse was seven years-old at the time. She had been well trained in Ottawa and was ridden by the Duke of Edinburgh at the rehearsal for the Trooping the Colour and considered a safe and suitable mount for Her Majesty on the parade that year.

The Queen receiving Burmese from the
Royal Canadian Mounted Police at Windsor in 1969

The shooting incident in the Mall in 1981

During the 1981 Birthday Parade, the Queen was mounted on Burmese when six blank shots were fired from the crowd at close range as the Royal Procession turned off the Mall down the Horse Guards Approach Road on the way to Trooping the Colour. The 19-year-old horse was momentarily startled. However, the Queen was quickly able to bring her under control and the incident drew wide attention and admiration for her composure. Burmese was also the Queen’s mount in 1982, when she rode informally in Windsor Home Park during the visit by President Ronald Reagan. The President was lent an eight-year-old gelding, Centennial, also a gift to the Queen from the RCMP, for the occasion

Burmese was ridden for eighteen consecutive years at Trooping the Colour until she was retired after the 1986 ceremony. Unsurprisingly, given her affection for the mare, Her Majesty decided that she did not wish to have another new horse trained and has since attended the parade in Queen Victoria’s 1842 ivory-mounted phaeton drawn by a pair of Windsor grey horses. Burmese was put out to pasture at Windsor where she died in 1990 aged twenty-eight. The Queen, on her visit to Regina in Canada in 2005, was invited to unveil a larger-than-life sized equestrian statue on the north side of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building. Through this statue, the RCMP’s royal gift is honoured and the iconic image of Her Majesty the Queen mounted side-saddle on Burmese lives on.

The Queen and President Reagan at Windsor in 1982

The statue of the Queen on Burmese unveiled
by Her Majesty in 2005 in Regina, Canada

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