The Princess Royal’s horses at Gatcombe: ‘They have to do something useful’

HRH The Princess Royal has been involved with horses throughout her life. Kate Green went to Gatcombe Park to speak to her about the steeds which she keeps at her home estate today.

The Princess Royal’s name almost inevitably conjures up images of animals. Her glittering equestrian career — which includes a European championship individual gold medal as well as an Olympic appearance — is world famous, but The Princess pour her energies into many more creatures. Some 30 of her 200-plus charitable patronages relate to animals, and in this week’s Country Life — which The Princess guest edited — you can read about the sheep, pigs, chickens and cattle that she keeps on her estate, Gatcombe Park.

Kate Green’s article also — naturally — includes a section on the horses of Gatcombe, which you can read below.

Find out more here about what is in the 29 July 2020 issue of Country Life, and if you aren’t able to get to a shop to pick up the magazine you can buy a single issue here if you’re in the UK or here if you’re overseas.

There has been a new arrival — a little chestnut Thoroughbred colt foal, Reel Fashion, by jumping sire Schiaparelli out of Gatcombe mare Fiddle Faddle.

The new foal by Schiaparelli. Sarah Farnsworth/Country Life Picture Library

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The Princess’s equestrian career is forever synonymous with eventing — she won the European title in 1971, a clutch of medals and was a member of the British team at the Montreal Olympic Games in 1976 — but she also rode winners on the Flat and over jumps as an amateur jockey and her horse-breeding interests centre around the National Hunt world. ‘They have to do something useful,’ she remarks.

Some of the horses at Gatcombe, including a Suffolk punch. Photograph: Sarah Farnsworth / © Country Life Picture Library

There are plenty of event horses around, too: The Princess’s daughter, Zara Tindall, herself a former European champion and a world and Olympic medallist, has hers at nearby Aston Farm and Tom McEwen, who, if things were normal, might reasonably have expected to be at the Tokyo Olympics right now, is the latest in a long line of fine horsemen to make Gatcombe their eventing base.

Princess Anne with some of her horses. Photograph: Sarah Farnsworth / © Country Life Picture Library

Amid a field of bay Thoroughbred fillies, Winnie, the Suffolk mare, cuts an imposing, solid presence. She’s also friendly — and curious, enthusiastically nibbling the windscreen wipers.

‘I bought her grandmother from the Hollesley Bay Colony Stud in Suffolk when they sold up,’ explains The Princess, who is patron of the Suffolk Horse Society, founded in 1877.

Gunner the terrier and the suffolk punch exchange greetings. Photograph: Sarah Farnsworth / © Country Life Picture Library

These striking heavy horses, with their rich chestnut coats and paler, flaxen or silver manes and tails, were bred to work the clay soil of East Anglia, but the difficulty of finding a role for them outside ploughing and timber hauling means that they are classified as ‘critical’ on the RBST watchlist.

One potential outlet is as steady, careful mounts for Riding for the Disabled, another of The Princess’s long-time patronages. ‘Lockdown has been very hard on families with disabled children,’ she points out. ‘The number of parents who say their children’s behaviour has improved thanks to riding is striking.’

Princess Anne with the Suffolk Punch. Photograph: Sarah Farnsworth / © Country Life Picture Library

The Princess’s animal charities

Much of The Princess Royal’s charitable work is concerned with farming, rural life and horse welfare. Here is the list of those charities and organisations:

  • Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Patron
  • English Rural Housing Association, Patron
  • Farms for City Children, Patron
  • Gloucestershire Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs, Patron
  • Gloucestershire Old Spots Pig Breeders’ Club, Patron
  • Harper Adams University, Chancellor
  • Institute of Meat, Fellow
  • International Sheep Dog Society, Patron
  • Moredun Foundation, Patron
  • National Equine Forum, President
  • National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs, Life Vice President
  • The National Pony Society, Patron
  • Racing Welfare, President
  • Riding for the Disabled Association, President
  • Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, Patron
  • Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth, President
  • Royal Northern Agricultural Society, Patron
  • Scotch Beef Club, President
  • Scottish National Fat Stock Club, Patron
  • Shorthorn Society, Patron
  • Suffolk Horse Society, Patron
  • The Horse Trust, Patron
  • The Oxford Farming Conference, Honorary President
  • The Pony Club, Patron
  • The Royal Three Counties Show, Patron
  • The Whitley Fund for Nature, Patron
  • Working Clumber Spaniel Society, President
  • World Horse Welfare, President