The above is an excerpt from my book Winning Horsemanship. A Judge's Secrets and Tips for Your Success. And yes, I admit I have shaved the whiskers on my horse's muzzle in years gone by. That was before I knew better. I would not do it now, any more than I would cut a cat's or dog's whiskers!
Leading Windsor Grey Thought It Was All About Him
Like a couple of billion other people, I enjoyed watching the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on television. The ceremony had some very sweet moments, like the confidence of the page girls and boys waving from the gorgeous Daimlers, that kid with a gap-toothed smile who was having the BEST TIME EVER and the meaningful glances exchanged between the bridal couple.
I couldn't wait to swap bridal for bridle though, when the horses arrived for the wedding procession. Harry and Meghan looked the picture of happiness in a vintage landau drawn by the famous Windsor Greys and escorted by the Royal Horse Guards.
I loved the way the horses were all black or white, mirroring Harry's black Horse Guards uniform and Megan's demure white dress and veil.
Now, the oldest and quietest horses are (sensibly) selected for such serious duty on a very exciting and noisy occasion. They are all beautifully cared for and meticulously trained. Every man and horse also participated in a rehearsal. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, nothing went badly wrong, but horses are horses! Keen students of equine behaviour will have noticed that one horse was particularly affected by the mood of the occasion. Forgetting that he was supposed to be old and quiet, he pranced, tossed his head, cantered when he was supposed to be trotting, swerved a bit close to one of the Bobbies lining the route, and generally kept his rider's hands full for most of the procession!
So what happened to cause this departure from equestrian etiquette? We were told all the horses were wearing ear plugs, to help muffle the noise of the jubilant crowds. Did his get dislodged and did the noise upset him? Unlikely for such an experienced trooper. Was he in a hurry to catch up to one of his friends amongst the contingent of black horses up ahead? As herd animals, horses are very social creatures who form deep attachments, so that is a possibility, especially under the circumstances.
However, it seemed to me that he simply rose to the occasion and responded to the great wave of love and adoration which he thought, not unreasonably, was all about him.
There are many well-documented accounts of horses playing to the crowd. The great gallopers, Phar Lap and Gunsynd, were two examples. I have also felt it myself, for example when riding in the Grand Parade at a Royal Agricultural Show. My Warmblood stallion, Highborn Powerlifter, was a tremendous show-off at the best of times and his pride at the sound of applause would make him visibly grow in stature, arch his neck, flex his muscles and move with even greater intent to display his charms; which made for some exciting moments, believe me!
So I can say from experience that the rider of that leading Windsor Grey did a brilliant job of keeping his self-appointed celebrity charger under reasonable control. There were a few seconds here and there when a less tactful horseman would not have fared so well, but he managed to keep the cork in the volcano for what must have seemed a very long ride.
So, well ridden, that Horse Guard on your skill and composure under pressure; and congratulations to the entire contingent, both on display and behind the scenes, for staging such a magnificent spectacle.
Acknowledgement: all photos used in this article are stills from this video.