This glorious spectacle is held every year in Windsor, Berkshire on the Queens’ estate during May every year. This year, it commemorates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria, a significant event in the British calendar.
The dates for this year are 9th – 13th May, and since its’ humble beginnings in 1943, the show has grown year by year. In the early days, both the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret actually participated in the competitions. Prince Philip was also a regular competitor in the carriage driving events. The Queen still attends the occasion on a regular basis, as do other members of the Royal Family. Both competitors and visitors from all over the world make this a yearly event, such is its popularity.
The setting is stunning – beneath the walls of Windsor Castle - which are also majestically floodlit at night in anticipation of the pageant, which runs for three of the nights, and this year will depict memorable events from Victorian times.
As well as 400 horses and 30 carriages, there are 500 ‘human’ participants all accompanied with music by composers such as Elgar, Gilbert and Sullivan and theatrical performances from the olden days music hall. Excerpts from Charles Dickens novels and scenes depicting the Industrial Revolution will also be featured. The show lasts 90 minutes and is staged by a BAFTA award winning team.
Probably the most spectacular part of the pageant is undoubtedly performances from our horse riding troops, such as the Household Cavalry and the King’s Royal Horse Artillery, with pipes and drums to accompany. The anticipation of the crowd is marked by loud gasps and clapping, as six teams of horses pull heavy artillery is pulled around at break neck speed – there are no brakes on this equipment!
Guest performers this year are the Czikos from Hungary who will perform alongside our mounted forces, and a dressage quadrille from Balmoral. Another of the highlights of the pageant is expected to be ‘The Land of Fire Display’ from Azerbaijan, featuring Karabakh horses, daredevil stunts ‘cossack style’ and national dancing. These horses were first featured at London International Horse Show in 2018, and the acrobatics performed by both riders and horses are all but unbelievable. The final night of the pageant culminates in a magnificent fireworks display that can be seen for miles around. Clearance from London Heathrow Airport has to be obtained before the display can commence.
Probably one of the most significant moments is the finale of the King’s Troop Artillery display. Six guns are fired individually and at the end, the guns are fired together – a sound that can be heard within a five mile radius of the castle. The gun carriage used is one that bore the coffin of King George VI at his funeral in 1952, Princess Diana in 1997, and the Queen Mother in 2002. Whilst visitors come to see fierce horse competitors, undoubtedly the pageant attracts royal family fans from all over the world.
You would be hard pushed to find any class or horse that cannot enter one or more of the competitions for the duration of the show. All horse groups can be represented along with competitors young and old.
It is often the first time that top class riders will be seen for the summer season. Even if not competing, you will be able to rub shoulders amongst the crowd with well known names in the horse world. Whilst it is a serious competitive event, there is always an air of friendliness and bonhomie in the air, as always experienced in the horse world. Expect to see well known and Olympic medal winners such as Nick Skelton and Charlotte DuJardin amongst the faces but not necessarily riding.
The show is divided into four arenas – The Copper Horse, The Frogmore, The Castle and The Adelaide, with a full programme of events printed for each arena on each day. There is also a 40km, 80km and 120km Endurance Race around the area, which encompasses the stunning countryside and open land around Windsor and also Ascot Racecourse. The area is obviously exceptionally busy throughout the duration of the show, so if you are not interested in horses or being involved, it is advisable to stay away from the streets for the dates of the competition.
In the Castle Arena, expect to see four days of 5* show jumping from some of the best riders in the world, culminating in the Rolex Grand Prix on the final Sunday.
4* Dressage is also a highlight, with a set task at the beginning of the trial on Thursday, followed by the freestyle to music on the Friday evening. Scores are given for each set.
Thursday and Friday see the Land Rover International Driving Grand Prix over three stages of competitive and difficult tasks to fulfil.
The Endurance trial takes place on Friday, but everyone is waiting for the showing classes throughout the event, with classes for most horse breeds, including Arabs, Mountain and Moorland, Cobs, Hacks and Hunters. Expect to get first sight of 2019 champions. You can also see pit ponies, Shetlands and other small breeds.
Remember to take your wallet with you – there are stalls to shop on from memorabilia to high end fashion and riding apparel and equipment. The main sponsors of the event are Land Rover, Rolex, Daks, Laurent Perrier, Hermes, Azerbaijan Tourist Board, Coworth Park Hotel and several others. Take advantage of show discounts, particularly on the last day.
The show really is a memorable event in the horse riding calendar, but anyone who attends, whether ‘horsey’ or not, love this May spectacle.
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