Hats, horses and hounds - GulfToday

Hats, horses and hounds

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Queen Elizabeth II

The late Queen Elizabeth II was rarely seen without one of her more than 5,000 hats on her perfectly coiffed head. She began wearing hats as a child and continued until her death at 96. She made exceptions and donned scarves when she was walking in woodlands attached to her Scottish estate or riding one of her favourite steeds.

According to CNN’s Allyssia Alleyne and Mark Oliver, before and after being burdened with the most glorious headpiece of all, the ancient 2.23-kilogram St. Edward’s Crown, she became a trend setter in hats, gloves, pearl necklaces and broaches.

She also followed popular styles, adopting small hats in the 1950s, turbans in the 1970s and refusing to go hatless when hats faded from fashion.

She seemed to make a rare political statement when, in 2017, she opened parliament she wore a hat with gold centred blue flowers along with a blue and gold dress and a blue coat just as negotiations on Britain’s exit from the European Union got underway. She never admitted to being a Remainer, however, as she was meant to be apolitical.

In her final years, she adopted cut down outsized versions of the top hat in glowing colours to match bright designer attire.

Her patronage of milliners sustained hat-making and encouraged British high society to maintain hat-wearing traditions. For example, hats were not only essential wear for the Royal Ascot horse races but also lauched competitions over whose hat was and, is, the most elegant, beautiful or ingenious.

Elizabeth began riding at age four on a gifted pony called Peggy, by six she was proficient. She became an accomplished rider by 18 and continued to ride her favourite horses until she reached her nineties. Until 1986 she rode in the annual Trooping the Colour but shifted to a carriage in 1987 after one of her favourite horses, Burmese, retired after serving 18 years as her steed. This horse was given to her by the Royal Canadian Mounted police.

In addition to horses for riding, the queen owned many thoroughbred horses for racing and breeding. Horses owned by the queen won more than 1,600 races and, with the exception of the Epsom Derby, won all British Classic Races, some more than once. In 1974, one of her horses won the French Classic, the Prix de Diane. She was chosen as British flat racing Champion Owner in 1954 and 1957.

Along with stabled thoroughbreds, Elizabeth bred Shetland ponies at Balmoral in Scotland and mountain and moor (Fell) ponies at Hampton Court. In 2007, she established a Highland pony stud at Balmoral to preserve the breed. Emma, a Fell pony, was the queen’s steed in her later years.

It is significant that Queen Consort Camilla is to assume post of the royal loyal figurehead for horseracing as well as responsibility for Elizabeth’s stable of racehorses.

Writing in the Guardian, horse racing correspondent Greg Wood argued that her passion for racing kept the sport alive. He observed, “.. the Queen’s significance to the sport of racing went far beyond her role as an old-fashioned owner-breeder. Over many decades of immense social, economic and cultural change, and as the regular associations between an increasingly urbanised population and horses dwindled to almost nothing, her passion for horse racing remained a fact of British life. It kept racing relevant, upheld the popularity of the Derby and Royal Ascot, and maintained a place for racing in the public consciousness.”

While Arab rulers opt for majestic, graceful Salukis originally bred in Mesopotamia, Queen Elizebth made famous snappy, stocky, short-legged fluffy Welsh corgis bred for herding cattle. Her entourage of corgis used to flow effortlessly around her feet wherever she walked.

As a seven-year old girl, the queen was introduced to corgis and became enamoured of the breed despite the tendency of corgis to bully and bite. Perhaps, she was attracted to corgis because they tend to become deeply attached to one person although they are sociable in company. The queen was given a corgi called Susan on her 18th birthday and the two became inseparable until Susan died when Elizabeth was 32. Susan was mourned and given a royal burial and headstone.

During the next 60 years, the queen would own 30 of Susan’s descendants and, accidentally, breed a corgi with her sister Margaret’s dachshund to produce a dorgi.

As with hats and horse racing, the queen’s patronage made corgis popular and encouraged breeders to take up the stunted royal pups. Towards the end of her life, the queen owned two corgis and one dorgi, which are to be taken into the household of her favourite, blacksheep son, Prince Andrew, and his ex-wife Sarah Ferguson.

Why hats, horses and hounds? The hat was adopted by Princess Elizabeth because her mother wore hats. Hats were traditional gear for women in British and upper class global societies for centuries. The hat was an essential item of clothing for the young princess Elizabeth. She did not expect to become queen until her shy, stuttering father, who did not want the crown, was compelled to accept the throne on the abdication of his brother. Some say the hat may have even represented the crown itself in the mind of the young queen.

Horses are fair, noble creatures especially beloved of young girls and riding is a skill that is socially and culturally acceptable for females. Elizabeth’s loving attachment to her horse Burmese was revealed when the queen stopped attending Trooping the Colour on horseback after the mare retired. Elizabeth formed strong bonds with other horses, but Burmese was special, perhaps a soul mate.

Elizabeth also bonded with the improbable, awkward corgis as a child and, perhaps, sought to retain a fraction of the innocent, childhood she enjoyed before her family moved to Buckingham Palace, a residence she and her father did not like. Indeed, she asked him if they had to stay there forever, to which he replied yes. During her reign she preferred Windsor Palace and Balmoral in Scotland where she chose to die.

Photo: TNS

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