Anne and Zara, Royals Who Ruled the Saddle

Competing at the Olympics and promoting equestrianism

Posted 4/18/21

Princess Anne is 15th in line to the throne of the British Monarchy, but she was 1st and 2nd in several international sporting events

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Anne and Zara, Royals Who Ruled the Saddle

Competing at the Olympics and promoting equestrianism


Princess Anne is 15th in line to the throne of the British Monarchy, but she was 1st and 2nd in several international sporting events where she represented the United Kingdom. The only daughter of Queen Elizabeth II and the late Prince Philip, Anne was an accomplished equestrian who competed at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Her own daughter, Zara Tindall, took it further. She won silver at the 2012 Games in London.

As members of a family whose modern-day function is largely ceremonial, Anne and Zara stand out with athletic achievements. While sportsmanship has traditionally been a character-building pursuit among English royalty, the mother and daughter pair are the only members of the blue-blooded lineage who earned BBC’s ‘Sports Personality of the Year’ award: Anne in 1971 and Zara in 2006.

The Windsor children grew up with ponies around them and like her parents and siblings, Anne was exposed to horses at a young age. Her older brother, Prince Charles, developed a keen interest in polo and became a respectable player. But Anne took her saddle-riding passions to a competitive level.

At age 21, she won the individual European Eventing Championships in Burghley, England. A biannual 3-day tournament, the competition consists of dressage, cross-country, and show jumping, all the skills that were historically required for mastering ridership in the cavalry.

Aboard Doublet, a horse that was bred by the Queen and gifted to the Princess, Anne beat out fellow English riders Debbie West and Stuart Stevenson, who took silver and bronze, respectively. Four years later in 1975, she came away with silver in both the individual and team competitions riding Goodwill, another equine owned by the Queen.

Tough and independently-minded, Anne is credited by some of her riding peers for putting the sport on the map back in the 1970s. Not only did she display the strength, courage, and talent of guiding four-legged beasts through obstacle-laden course competitions, she also had to cope with a press that constantly hounded her every move.

Receiving the ‘Sports Personality of the Year’ award, she was favored over 2nd place George Best, a widely-liked figure and one of the greatest soccer players of all time. Her Royal Highness became the first event rider to hoist the trophy. The prestigious designation, which is based on a popular vote, puts her in the company of more recent athletes such as Andy Murray (tennis), Lewis Hamilton (Formula One) and Nick Faldo (golf).

Following her success at the 1971 European Championships, Anne made the national equestrian team and was set to represent her country on her mount, Doublet, at the Munich Olympics. But the horse that propelled her to stardom shattered a hind leg ahead of the Games and had to be put to sleep. It was a heart-breaking episode for the promising rider who ended up canceling her participation.

At the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, aboard Goodwill, Anne became the first member of the royal family to compete at the quadrennial sports extravaganza. To the dismay of her fans, she crashed and suffered a concussion halfway through the cross-country chase. Nevertheless, the determined royal got back on the saddle and finished the course. To this day, she can’t remember the rest of the jumps.

Three decades on, Anne’s oldest daughter and oldest grandchild of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh picked up the reins. Born in 1981, Zara inherited her mother’s drive for competitive horsemanship and took the sport to greater heights. She won 4 gold medals: 3 at the European Championships and 1 at the World Championships, in both Individual and Team Eventing.

Like her mother, Zara wasn’t immune from the hazards of equestrian competition. In 2008, she broke a collar bone when her mare, Tsunami II, tripped over a fence. The horse was euthanized after breaking its neck and the reigning saddle champion was forced to sit out the rest of the season. Zara’s Olympic moment came in 2012 when she steered a mount fittingly named High Kingdom and was one of the athletes who won silver in Team Eventing.

The protocols of royal duty didn’t stop Anne and Zara from pursuing romantic relationships with accomplished sportsmen. Captain Mark Phillips, Anne’s first husband and Zara’s father, was the golden boy of British eventing, winning top accolades at the 1972 Olympics and other renowned tournaments. Mike Tindall, Zara’s husband, is a former professional rugby player who was part of the English squad that won the 2003 World Cup.

In 1987, in a rare light-hearted moment uncharacteristic of a Windsor, Princess Anne was a guest on a popular TV quiz show called ‘A Question of Sport’. Amid laughs and banters, Her Royal Highness poked fun at the captain of her quiz team who mistook her for a male jockey in an episode that was broadcast 2 weeks earlier.

After her riding career, Anne went on to pursue administrative duties in the sporting world. Following in the footsteps of her father, she took on the presidency of the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), the Swiss-based governing body of equestrian sports. Philip was the FEI’s longest serving head, presiding over the organization from 1964-86.

Two years later, Anne was appointed a member of the International Olympic Committee and was involved in London’s successful bid to host the 2012 Olympics. That year, Great Britain topped the 8-nation equestrian field with 5 medals (3 gold). As head of the British Olympic Association, she presented the medals to the team, which included her daughter, Zara.

With 500 charity engagements a year, Princess Anne is known as the “hardest-working royal”. Despite her busy schedule, she found time to contribute her resources and connections to the sport that has been her life-long passion. For over 3 decades, her private estate at Gatcombe Park, Gloucestershire played host to the world-class Festival of Eventing. It was there that Zara and other equestrian enthusiasts rode and trained.

In 2016, Anne was presented with the Longines Ladies Award, honoring her lifetime achievements at the highest level of equestrianism. Looking back at her life, she wasn’t simply a royal who rode, she was a sportswoman who happened to be a royal.


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