Sandhurst statue to honour UK queen and her favourite horse Burmese for platinum jubilee

Sculpture by Caroline Wallace will be the first of the monarch at the Royal Military Academy in Berkshire

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Fifteen minutes after leaving Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth II was riding down The Mall on her favourite ceremonial steed when something dramatic occurred that was not part of the programme for the event marking her official birthday.

Burmese, a striking coal black mare trained to cope with gunfire, rowdy gatherings, pipes, drums and obstacles thrown into her path, was nonetheless spooked as a member of the crowd surged forward, pointed a pistol directly at the monarch and fired six blank cartridges.

As the former Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) horse began to rear, the queen cemented her reputation as an accomplished equestrian by gently but deftly gaining control — in spite of being side-saddle in the elaborate uniform of Colonel-in-Chief of the Grenadier Guards at the time.

Now, more than four decades after she leant forward to reassuringly pat the neck of her beloved Burmese, a life-size bronze statue of the two will be unveiled at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst before a long-weekend of platinum jubilee celebrations.

The sculpture by Caroline Wallace depicts the queen in full parade regalia not at that Trooping the Colour of 1981 where Burmese was put to such an extreme test but three years later.

Wallace, one of Britain’s leading equine sculptors and a lady-in-waiting to the Princess Royal, was commissioned 18 months ago and has spent the time since researching every aspect of the monarch’s uniform and the horse’s tack, repeatedly refining the work along the way.

In future, three times a year, senior divisions at the Royal Military Academy will march by the statue in the passings out held at the end of their training in Berkshire during what is known as the Sovereign's Parade.

Its final destination had been somewhat of a state secret, with speculation that the sculpture might end up in Horse Guards, the ceremonial parade ground in St James’s Park where Trooping the Colour takes place.

The equine tribute is fitting for someone renowned for being an ardent horsewoman as both a breeder and owner. Such is the connection that the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson made mention during a platinum jubilee address to the queen in the Commons on Thursday.

Queen Elizabeth II calming her horse Burmese while policemen spring to action after shots were heard as she rode down the Mall during Trooping the Colour in June 1981.

“And of course, there was one Olympic medal ceremony where she could claim to have bred both the rider, the Princess Royal, and the horse — a claim that will likely go unrivalled for some time to come,” Mr Johnson said.

In 2004, the queen became the first recipient of the Lifetime Achievement award of the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), the world governing body, in recognition of her leading role as supporter of equestrian sport throughout her reign.

The award was presented by the then-FEI president HRH Princess Haya, daughter of King Hussein of Jordan, at a ceremony in Buckingham Palace.

Horses have been a prominent feature in the queen’s life since she was a young girl. Her first lesson was in the private riding school at Buckingham Palace Mews when she was 3, and her grandfather King George V gave her a Shetland mare called Peggy for her fourth birthday.

Of all those she has owned over the years, though, Burmese holds a special place in her heart. The eye-catching mare was a gift — a symbol of the enduring ties between the monarch and the Mounties when the RCMP came to perform at the Royal Windsor Horseshow in 1969.

The then Princess Elizabeth at Sandringham in 1943. AFP

She was foaled at Remount Ranch, Fort Walsh, Saskatchewan, trained in Ottawa by RCMP Staff Sergeant Fred Rasmussen, and would go on to lead the police service’s famed Musical Ride by the age of 5 before news reached Canada that their head of state was looking for a new horse.

The queen appeared on Burmese at 18 consecutive Trooping the Colour parades but also rode out on her recreationally, and was pictured doing so with Ronald Reagan in 1982 on a hack thought to have helped sway the US President to back Britain in its fight for the Falklands.

Burmese’s last appearance at Horse Guards Parade was in 1986, after which the half thoroughbred-half Hanoverian was put out to pasture in the grounds of Windsor Castle within easy sight of the queen on her regular visits. From then onwards, the queen opted to be conveyed in a phaeton, inspecting the troops from a dais.

The retirement was accompanied by the strict instruction that no one was to saddle Burmese up again. She died four years later of a stroke at the age of 28 and, unusually, was buried in the park at the castle.

Statue of Queen Elizabeth II in Regina, Saskatchewan. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The bronze statue honouring the lasting relationship between the queen and Burmese due to be made public for the platinum jubilee is not the only one in existence. The province of Saskatchewan commissioned a golden jubilee sculpture by Susan Velder to stand in The Queen Elizabeth II Gardens, north of the Legislative Building in the Canadian province where Burmese was born.

At the unveiling in 2005, in rain, whipping winds and plummeting temperatures, the queen once again showed her mettle during a procession, refusing to allow the concerned Mounties to provide the royal couple with cover in their horse-drawn landau.

“No, no, no,” she is said to have told them, conscious of all those who had come to see her. “Top down.”

Updated: September 09, 2022, 8:43 AM
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