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  • Writer's pictureFran Cleland

There was one horse who captured the Queen's heart

ABOVE: The Queen puts a reassuring hand on Burmese's shoulder after the shooting. Picture: Keystone Press

HER Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s love of horses is well documented and her support of rare breeds was as strong as her enjoyment of her Thoroughbred racing horses.

But her favourite amongst all those was a black mare called Burmese.

Burmese was foaled at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) remount ranch at Fort Walsh, Saskatchewan, and was trained in Ottawa by RCMP Staff Sergeant Fred Rasmussen.

Staff Sergeant Ralph Cave, the riding master for the troop’s musical drill performances, suggested in 1968 that the RCMP gift one of the ride's horses to Canada's monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.

Burmese was a working troops horse and trained to cope with gunfire during exercises when staff would fire blank rounds as recruits took horses through their paces. No one realised that this training would prove useful later in the mare’s career.

On April 28, 1969, Burmese was presented to the Queen when members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police came to the UK to perform in the Royal Windsor Horse Show.

The Queen really liked the black mare and when she was at Windsor, rode her daily. She became Her Majesty’s chosen side saddle mount for ceremonial displays and this would continue for 18 years.

The Queen was mounted on Burmese when six shots were fired at her during the 1981 birthday parade on the way to Trooping the Colour. Fortunately they turned out to be blanks from a starting pistol but it remains one of the most famous incidents in Her Majesty’s life on film.

Marcus Simon Sarjeant, 17, was arrested over the incident and jailed for three years.

Although the mare was briefly startled, she remained calm and the Queen continued with the parade. The Royal Family praised Burmese's behaviour during this frightening incident.

Burmese was the Queen’s ceremonial mount for 18 straight appearances at the Trooping the Colour up to 1986, after which she was retired.

She was not replaced, as the Queen decided to ride in a carriage and review the troops from a dais from 1987 onwards, rather than train a new charger.

Burmese was retired from riding in 1987 and was turned out to pasture at Windsor Castle in a location where Queen Elizabeth could see her on her visits. At the age of 28 in 1990, Burmese died and was buried on the grounds of Windsor.

Even though she had many special horses, when the Queen was asked many years later which was her favourite horse, her immediate reply was “Burmese”.

Vale Your Majesty, and thank you ... for everything.

ABOVE: Riding Burmese through the parkland at Windsor Castle with US president Ronald Reagan.

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