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The Queen and her love for horses

I am lucky to have seen it, at close quarters: the focused attention at the Royal Windsor Horse Show and the beaming smiles on a day I will never forget when she visited the Ebony Horse Club in Brixton.

Alastair Stewart meets the Queen. Credit: .

The Queen loves horses. They are a central part of her life, in public and in private. They always have been.

As a child, she enjoyed the fun and tumble of pony riding, egged on by her equestrian mum; when Princess Elizabeth became Queen, she graced State Ceremonials in the sharp uniform of the Guards Division; and now, a 90 year old great-grandmother, few things bring her greater contentment than a quiet hack. At Windsor, she is accompanied only by stud-groom Terry Pendry. He wears a hard bowler-hat while, contrary to every safety convention, she wears just a head-scarf.

To be fair, she's a brilliant rider, and she is the Queen.

The Queen visited the Ebony Horse Club and Community Riding Centre in Brixton in 2013 Credit: : Heathcliff O'Malley/Daily Telegraph / PA

It took nerves of steel and skill to stay calm, and control her mighty 'Burmese', when a man in the crowd fired a gun at Trooping the Colour in 1981. The Household Cavalry rode to the sound of gun-fire: with tight reins and composure, she controlled her horse and rode on.

Equestrianism is no passing indulgence: her family is known as 'The Firm' and horses are part of the business. The Royal Stud at Sandringham is respected and produces winners. She's won two classics: 'Dunfermline' did the honours at the Oaks and the Leger. It was 1977, her Silver Jubilee year. Her knowledge of form, bloodlines and breeding are legendary. While her ancestors may have applied similar intelligence in seeking marriage arrangements with European princes and princesses, the Queen takes a different view of such matters.

The Queen talks to Princess Anne who was competing in the Windsor Horse Trials in 1974 Credit: PA

Her daughter, the Princess Royal, first married Captain Mark Philips, who won Olympic Gold in the saddle at the Munich Games of 1972. Princess Anne competed on her mother's horse 'Goodwill' at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. She was less successful, but was a serial medalist in the European Championships.

Granddaughter Zara is married to a rugby player and, like both her parents, is an Olympic Three Day Eventer, winning team Silver at the London 2012 Games.

Alastair Stewart with Zara Tindall and her Olympic silver medal in 2012. Credit: ITV News

Clutching her medal, she told me on ITV News of her grandmother's support and passionate pride in her, and in her parents. Zara then remembered she'd forgotten to phone 'granny'. I fancy Her Majesty had watched her granddaughter's triumph.

Most years we attend the Royal Windsor Horse Show, a premier equestrian event held, by the Queen's kind permission, in her own back-yard.

The Queen with one of her horses at the Royal Windsor Horse show in 2011 Credit: Steve Parsons / PA

One year, two young girls were debating the relative merits of two pretty ponies in a showing-class. A voice was heard from behind them saying, 'I think the bay is the better'.

The girls turned to see who had joined in their discussion in such authoritative, clipped tones. It was the Queen, in a Barbour coat and head-scarf.

I'm told by a friend, who witnessed it, there was little lively debate as youthful jaws dropped. A regal smile, however, put them at their ease.

It is what she does.

A few years back, I watched the Queen's genuine delight at the Ebony Riding Club in Brixton: young folk, who hadn't got a lot going for them until they discovered horses, helped by people who give their time and money to help.

The young riders clearly enjoyed her informed chat about tack, strides and jumping; and, as always, there was a pat for the horses.

The Queen visited the Ebony Horse Club and Community Riding Centre in Brixton in 2013 Credit: Heathcliff O'Malley/Daily Telegraph / PA

It summed it all up for me: her Majesty's service to her subjects, whatever their class or race, and a life-long passion that has served her well and given so many of us pride and pleasure.

It should have been a clash of cultures but the pictures of the maroon Bentley limousine, gliding past bemused then beaming faces, belied that and were a joy to see in next day's 'papers.

My only regret is not being privy to the conversation when our Patron, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, said to HM 'There's something I'd like you to see.... in Brixton'.

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