The Royal Mews may be home to the Queen’s dazzling array of historic coaches and carriages but its most valuable treasure is, arguably, its horses. Located next to Buckingham Palace and directly opposite Hotel 41 and The Rubens at the Palace, the Royal Mews is a working stable where the horses that pull the royal carriages and coaches live. The stables houses Cleveland Bays and Windsor Greys, both of which have a long history with the Royal family and an important part to play within Royal life. A must visit, prepare to learn more about these majestic creatures first hand and better understand the vital role they have within the Royal Household.
Taking its name from the Cleveland area of Yorkshire, where it originated from, the Cleveland Bay is one of the oldest English horse breeds. Naturally strong and blessed with high endurance, Cleveland Bays were, historically, a natural choice for working as pack horses. Over the years, the breed has been crossed with Thoroughbred and Arab breeds but the Royal Household uses only the pure bred Cleveland Bays. Despite its longstanding status as a royal favourite, the breed remains rare and is classed as ‘critical’ on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust watch list, meaning it’s considered rarer than the giant panda. Furthermore, there are only 1,000 Cleveland Bays worldwide and 80% of these are in the UK, with only 20 foals been born annually in Britain in the last two years. Fortunately, the Queen has played a vital role in helping protect the breed, keeping the famous Cleveland Bay stallion Mulgrave Supreme, one of the only four of its kind in Britain at the time, as one of her own personal horses. In addition to that, the Queen has also demonstrated her passion for horses and her fondness for the breed in particular by serving as patron of the Cleveland Bay Horse Society since 1977.
Each horse at the Royal Mews must undergo a rigorous training programme before it’s ready for royal duty. Once prepared, royal duties include pulling the carriages that ferry recently appointed Ambassadors and High Commissioners to their audience with the Queen.
Named after the fact they were kept at Windsor during the reign of Queen Victoria, Windsor Greys were historically used to pull the Royal Family’s private carriages. In fact, Windsor Greys are not an actual breed, rather it’s a term used to describe any grey horse specifically bred for royal use. Responsible for drawing the Queen’s coach, Windsor Greys must be at least 16.1 hands and the appearance, temperament and stamina of these horses is of utmost importance. Windsor Greys have active role in the famous annual Trooping the Colour event but training for royal life first begins with the horses being ridden, before moving onto carriage work. If you’re up early enough, you’ll have the opportunity to see the horses being exercised in nearby St James’s Park or, to be in with the best chance of getting up close to the horses, stop by the Royal Mews mid-morning.
Alternatively, if you visit Windsor Castle, take a moment to appreciate the life-sized sculpture of two Windsor Grey horses which can be found on the Long Walk and was unveiled in 2013 to mark the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation. The statue is inspired by the Queen’s favourite Windsor Grey, Daniel, who retired earlier this year after 14 years of service.
After a visit to the Royal Mews, enjoy one of the Royal Collection cocktails in the regal Cavalry Bar at The Rubens at the Palace.