The Queen’s favourite horse was Canadian. Here’s why the ‘special’ bond endures

Click to play video: 'The unbreakable bond between the Queen and her Canadian steed Burmese'
The unbreakable bond between the Queen and her Canadian steed Burmese
From 1969 to 1986, Queen Elizabeth rode only one horse for all her public events and parades: a black mare named Burmese. Dawna Friesen looks back at the monarch's special bond with her favourite steed, how it all began thanks to the RCMP, and how the pair overcame a terrifying moment in 1981. – Jun 2, 2022

After two years without touring because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the return of the RCMP Musical Ride is coinciding with the Platinum Jubilee of a monarch with whom members share a “very special” bond, says the force’s riding master.

It’s a bond that dates back to 1969, when the RCMP presented Queen Elizabeth II with the jet-black horse that would go on to become her favourite — Burmese.

Though the Queen took in the Platinum Jubilee parade from her balcony this year after suffering recent health issues, for years she led the Horse Guard Parade as part of Trooping the Colour from atop the steady mare gifted to her by the Canadian police force.

“I would also say that it’s very personal and that we have had immediately a bond and an understanding revolved around horses,” said Sgt.-Maj. Scott Williamson, the RCMP’s riding master.

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“It makes our relationship with Her Majesty just a little bit extra special, a little bit more personal.”

The Queen was even riding Burmese when a man fired six shots –all blanks — at her during the parade in 1981.

File photo dated 13/6/1981 of Queen Elizabeth II calming her horse Burmese while policeman spring to action after shots were heard as she rode down the Mall. More than any other interest, horses and ponies have been the Queen’s passion throughout her long life. Issue date: Sunday Jan. 30, 2022. The Canadian Press/File

According to the BBC historical archives, 17-year-old Marcus Sarjeant had originally intended to use a real gun but when he couldn’t get one, played out what Lord Chief Justice Geoffrey Lane described at the time as a “fantasy assassination.”

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Sarjeant fired six blanks at the Queen while she was riding down The Mall on June 13, 1981, during Trooping the Colour. Burmese startled at the sounds, but the Queen calmed the mare.

Sarjeant pleaded guilty under the Treason Act and served five years behind bars.

Click to play video: 'Queen’s absence from latest Platinum Jubilee event raises questions on future attendance'
Queen’s absence from latest Platinum Jubilee event raises questions on future attendance

“It was a bit of a scary moment at the time,” said Dickie Arbiter, former press secretary to the Queen.

“She kept her composure. She looked over her shoulders to see what was going on, but she kept going. Burmese (was a) little bit skittish – she brought Burmese under control. That’s the sort of horseman she is.”

La reine Elizabeth II inspectant les troupes à cheval, lors du défilé Trooping the Colour à Londres, en juin 1981, Royaume-Uni. (Photo by Michael SERRAILLIER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images). Photo by Michael SERRAILLIER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Robart Hardman is the author of the book Queen of Our Times, charting the Queen’s reign.

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In an interview with Global News, he recalled a personal encounter with the Queen when he learned about her fondness for Burmese while filming a project for her 90th birthday.

“She was looking at all the various horses and then she turned to the horses that she rides herself and she just said to me, said, ‘Oh, here are the Canadians!'” he described, calling Burmese her “most reliable” horse.

“And it’s interesting — when Burmese retired from parades and public duties, the Queen said, ‘Right, I’m retiring too, from those I’m not going to ride anymore because without Burmese it won’t be the same,'” he added.

“So it was so.”

FILE – In this Tuesday, June 8, 1982 file photo, U.S. President Ronald Reagan, left, on Centennial, and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, on Burmese, go horseback riding in the grounds of Windsor Castle, England. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth celebrates her 90th birthday on Thursday, April 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Bob Daugherty, file). (AP Photo/Bob Daugherty, file

Burmese retired after Trooping the Colour in 1986. The following year, the Queen rode in a carriage instead, and Burmese died of a stroke in 1990.

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But the tradition of gifting horses continues.

The RCMP have given eight horses to the Queen since 1969, and she has given two from her stables.

One of those is Victoria, a five-year-old mare bred from a Canadian horse named Elizabeth that the RCMP had gifted to the Queen in 2012.

Victoria won’t be in the musical parade when it makes its return later this month. Her debut will be next year, when the RCMP musical parade marks its 150th anniversary.

“It’s going to bring two special things together,” Williamson said.

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