Horses have played an important part in the life of England’s Royal Family. The Queen, herself an accomplished rider, has for 70 years maintained an active hand in the breeding and training of her numerous champion thoroughbred race horses. Her late husband, Prince Philip, was, quite literally, a driving force in competitive four-in-hand carriage driving, and he bequeathed his horses and carriages to his granddaughter, Lady Louise Windsor, who has inherited her grandfather’s passion for the sport. Prince Philip, like his son Prince Charles and grandson William after him, was an avid and accomplished polo player. And Anne, the Princess Royal, has ridden into history as a champion equestrienne.
As a toddler, Anne shared a pony with her older brother Charles and began taking riding lessons early. She attended Benenden School, a private boarding school in Kent, where she rode nearby at the Moat House Riding School, and at the age of 11, Anne began to compete publicly in equestrian competitions. She excelled in show jumping, and despite numerous bruises and breaks, was known for getting right back in the saddle. After graduating from Benenden in 1968, she embarked upon a competitive riding career. It was then that she met her first husband, the dashing Captain Mark Philips, a reserve on the British Olympic equestrian team that year.
In 1971, Anne finished fourth at the Rushall Horse Trials and slipped to fifth after a brief lead at the Badminton Trials before Captain Phillips took first place. Her plans to enter the coveted 1971 European Eventing Championships at Burghley House, Cambridge, were almost dashed by an inflamed ovarian cyst just two months before its start, but she was able to rally nonetheless, taking the lead and ending with a flawless finish in show-jumping on her treasured gelding, Doublet. Not only did she win the European gold medal, but she was the first to win the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year Award.
She set her sights on the 1972 Olympics next, but luck seemed against her for a time: just days before the qualifier at that year’s Badminton Horse trials, Doublet suffered a strained tendon; at the 1973 European Championships held in Kiev, Ukraine, she was disqualified after falling from her horse. In 1975, though, she pushed through a serious illness and rode in the 1975 Championships in Luhmühlen, West Germany, on her powerful horse, Goodwell, and won the silver medals in both the individual and team events. The following year, she was selected to represent her country on the British Olympic team at the Montreal Games, pushing again through the pain of a fracture, where she fell and, despite a concussion, got back on her horse to finish the course.
Anne continued competing and finished sixth at Badminton in 1979; however, she changed direction in 1985 and left the show ring for the race course, continuing her champion streak in flat and steeplechase races over the next five years. In 1988, Princess Anne was appointed a member of the International Olympic Committee, an IF representative of the Eligibility Commission from 1990 through 1994, chair of the Nominations Committee from 2014 to 2015, and President of the British Olympic Association. She was involved in London’s successful bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games and formally accepted the Olympic flame in Athens on behalf of London and brought it back to Britain for its 8,000-mile relay tour. In the meantime, her daughter Zara followed her mother’s lead and entered international competition herself, crowning her own career with both an individual and team gold at the 2005 European Championships, and a silver at the 2012 London Olympics.
Princess Anne is widely admired as “the hardest working Royal,” her unlimited energy spread across hundreds of charities, but her work on behalf of horses and equestrian philanthropies must top her list of favorites. Since 1971, she has been a Patron of the Riding for the Disabled, which provides riding and carriage driving opportunities for over 25,000 children and adults, and has served the charity as its president since 1985. “We are extremely fortunate to have the Princess Royal as our President. She absolutely believes in what we do,” says RDA Chief Executive, Ed Bracher. To commemorate her 50 years of support, a new Princess Royal Coaching Academy has been launched, which “will enable the RDA to improve learning opportunities for their coaches.”
Along with Zara, Princess Anne has been instrumental in bringing public awareness to horse welfare and equine charities, such as World Horse Welfare. In 2019 Princess Anne opened the redeveloped Penny Farm Rescue and Rehoming Centre, outside of Blackpool, one of the charity’s four centers across Britain.
Through her love of horses, the Princess Royal has been a beacon to the world of courage, commitment, and vision—not just in the equestrian sports to which she is devoted, but as a proud and noble woman who fittingly follows her mother, the Queen, and her father, the late Duke of Edinburgh’s magnificent legacy—and can purely be called “a daughter of the United Kingdom.”