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The Queen spends birthday watching thoroughbreds being trained

Some celebrate their birthday by taking in a show or flying abroad for a city break, but this year the Queen spent hers watching thoroughbred horses being trained.

The Queen has been a passionate horse owner and breeder for much of her 60-year reign and whiled away her 87th birthday at the yard of a West Country trainer, casting her eye over her animals.

Buckingham Palace does not disclose how the head of state spends her time away from official duties and said at the time that the monarch was spending her April 21 birthday privately.

But a BBC1 documentary The Queen: A Passion For Horses presented by racing broadcaster Clare Balding, filmed the Queen indulging her love of the equine world.

The programme screened on Monday evening features commentary by the Queen’s staff, past and present, involved with the training and welfare of her horses and ponies which number around 180 and are kept at various royal residences and stables from Sandringham to Balmoral.

Talking about the Queen’s love of horses are her granddaughter Zara Phillips, racing adviser John Warren, Joe Grimwade, manager of the Royal Studs and her cousin Margaret Rhodes.

The Princess Royal speaks at length about being knocked unconscious when her horse fell during the Montreal Olympic Games in 1976.

In the documentary the monarch is shown at Herridge Racing Stables, near Marlborough where Richard Hannon trains hundreds of thoroughbreds.
As a group of horses gallop past the Queen watches them intently on her special day.

Balding, who has an association with the Queen as three generations of her family have trained horses for the monarch, says in her commentary: 'Today is the Queen’s 87th birthday but instead of having an official function or a state dinner she’s here in Wiltshire at Richard Hannon’s yard to have a close-up look at five horses she has in training here.'

Talking about the Queen’s love of horse racing her cousin Mrs Rhodes 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.'

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 King George V, to a meet of the Pytchley Hounds at Boughton Cover.

Rare footage is shown in the documentary of the Queen as a child riding the pony.

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.

Thoroughbreds owned by the Queen have also 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 most famous win was probably Dunfermline in the Oaks in her Silver Jubilee year – 1977.