The Royal Windsor Horse Show is set in the grounds of Windsor Castle, one of Queen Elizabeth’s residences, just 30km southwest of central London on the banks of the River Thames. Upon arrival at the show, you could mistakenly think that you are at a swish wedding or an upmarket garden party from the way that the officials and judges are dressed. Men wear a suit and tie, and more often than not, a bowler hat. Ladies are beautifully turned out in summer dresses, beautifully cut suits, and fabulous hats that create a rainbow of colour. Super-smart soldiers are in attendance to assist the judges, carrying a basket of rosettes at prize-giving.
Smart dress extends to all the competitors too; whether in-hand or ridden, the turnout of all the entrants and their horses is second to none. The perfect plaits and the silky, flowing manes of the native entries are a credit to the grooms who attend the horses in the ring, clutching wicker baskets containing all sorts of brushes, sprays, oils and cloths to keep their smart charges looking pristine.
The show was first hosted in 1943 to raise money for the war effort. It was a great success, raising funding for almost 80 RAF fighter jets. The first show was a horse and dog event, although dogs have been banned since 1944. Apparently an opportunist dog stole a sandwich from King George V’s plate during the inaugural show, which caused great embarrassment for the show committee and as a consequence dogs have never been allowed back!
Over time, the show has gradually grown from one day at its inception to the current five days. Each day offers a remarkable array of competitions and displays. Driving, dressage, showjumping, mounted games, military displays, stunt riders and just about every showing class that you can think of keep visitors entertained from 8am until early evening.
The large shopping village offers a huge variety of trade stands and food stalls that cater for all tastes. The fish and chips stands, bacon sandwich and cream tea stalls are hectically busy. There is a Members’ Enclosure where a glass of bubbly with lunch or supper is de rigueur while watching the entertainment in the Castle Arena (main ring). A further three, plus numerous warm-up areas and collecting rings flank the Castle Arena. For driving enthusiasts, Windsor hosts the Land Rover International Driving Grand Prix, which is also an FEI Nations Cup Qualifier. This year, it was won by Australia’s Boyd Exell… his 11th victory at Royal Windsor!
The show is partnered with some of the most prestigious global brands and hosts the Rolex Grand Prix of showjumping, which has a £500,000 purse. Great Britain’s Ben Maher and Explosion W won this year. The class always attracts the world’s top riders; 2021 was no different with many horse and rider combinations jumping their last big Grand Prix before heading to Tokyo for the Olympic Games. To ride in the main ring at Windsor is probably on the wish list of many riders, the scene dominated by the castle, its turrets and towers looming over the trees surrounding it, exuding a majestic atmosphere.