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I have written my past two blogs about the royal wedding horse carriage and the people that drive them, now let’s focus on the horses that pull them. From the numerous records kept about the horses in the royal archives, it seems that chestnut-colored horses have never been used as harness horses in the Royal Mews (royal horse stables). Coincidentally, many years ago when I was taking dressage lessons, my instructor warned me to never buy a Chestnut Mare because they are high strung and act squirrely. Ever since then I have made a point of watching “Chestnuts Mares” closely, and my instructor was right. Apparently the folks at Windsor have come to the same conclusion.
Dun, cream, black, bay and grey horses have been used, roughly in that order, since the time of George II in 1727. The most famous of these colors were the creams, which were bred at Hampton Court from 1714 until 1920. Because of inbreeding and the impossibility of obtaining replacements, their use had to be discontinued. The blacks were used for a couple of years, only to be replaced by the bays (brown), which are still in use today.
Of the bays, the predominate breed is the Cleveland Bay. They are supplemented by a number of Dutch and Irish horses, and some Oldenburg horses from Germany. However, the Cleveland Bay is a favorite of the Queens. The breed originated in Cleveland, district of Yorkshire in England during the 17th Century. It is the oldest established horse breed in England. The breed was developed during the Middle Ages for use as pack horses, and were crossbred with Andalusian and Barb Blood which gave them a heavy frame. Later they were bred with Arabians and Thoroughbreds, which created the lighter-framed Cleveland Bay of today, making it an ideal riding and carriage horse. The breed was used extensively during World War I, pulling artillery and suffered great losses. Horses in general declined after the WWI due to mechanization and the Great Depression.
By 1962, only four purebred Cleveland Bay stallions were present in England. If not for Queen Elizabeth II who stepped in and purchased the stallion Mulgrave Supreme, the breed would surely have died out. Since 1977, Elizabeth II has been a patron of the Cleveland Bay Horse Society, even so the breeds status remains in a precarious position with a total population of purebred Cleveland Bays under 2,000 horses, and fewer than 300 registered mares (females) in existence around the world. This rare breed of horse will be making a significant appearance as both riding and carriage horse for the Prince William and Kate’s royal wedding later this month.
Lastly and most significantly will be the Windsor Greys. These royal wedding horses will hold the place of honor, pulling the State Postillion Landau which will carry both Prince William and Kate after the royal wedding. Ironically, even though they will be in the spotlight for this special occasion, they are not rare or particularly special in the horse world. For starters, the Windsor Greys are not a registered breed, as the Cleveland Bays are. What makes them special is their grey-colored fur. From Victorian times and earlier, grey-colored horses were always kept at Windsor (thus getting their name). Finally with the reign of King George V in 1910, they were moved to London and Buckingham Palace. The Windsor Greys are made up of many breeds of horses.
I have to say, as an artist that has an extensive collection of horse art, with a passion for anything in the world of horses, I am so looking forward to watching the pomp and pageantry which is about to ascend on us. I hope that these last three blogs will make watching what happens outside the wedding as exciting and enjoyable as what goes on inside the church. “Long live the horses. Long live the coaches, and long live the King (and Queen).”
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