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Anne, the Princess Royal, is well known as one of the hardest working members of the British monarchy, with her responsibilities as president of the Save the Children Foundation and patron of numerous organizations taking her around the world for hundreds of engagements per year.
To earlier generations, however, the mention of Anne often conjures images of the queen’s lone daughter astride a horse, her devotion to success, combined with her own blend of individualism and fearlessness, producing an unprecedented run as a royal equestrian champion.
The princess began competing at age 11
As the daughter of Queen Elizabeth II, who nurtured her own lifelong love affair with horses, and Prince Philip, who excelled at polo, it’s not surprising that Anne became intimately acquainted with equines by toddlerhood.
The fascination went beyond the affection shown to William, a pony she shared with her older brother, Charles, and before long the princess was receiving her first professional riding lessons at Holyport’s Smith Stables.
According to Anne, the Princess Royal, she debuted in public competition at age 11. A series of victories followed, including a win in a jumping event held by the queen at Windsor Home Park.
The riding continued at the private Benenden School in Kent, where she had the opportunity to try out the dozens of horses at the Moat House Riding School. Anne relished the thrill of competition in choreographed performances and show-jumping events, and gamely endured the rougher side of equestrianism when falls left her with broken appendages.
She recovered from a health scare to win gold in the 1971 European Championships
Although graduation from Benenden in 1968 marked her transition to a public figure, the princess continued on her preferred path to competitive riding under the tutelage of trainer Alison Oliver.
Her immersion in this particular world brought a welcome respite from the pressures of royal duties and cherished solidarity with the other riders who knew the thrills and nerves that came with the territory. It also sparked a romance with eventual husband Mark Phillips, a reserve on the 1968 British Olympic equestrian team.
Few realized that the princess was rapidly rising to the upper echelons of the field of eventing, but the cat was out of the bag by spring 1971, when Anne finished fourth at the Rushall Horse Trials. She then claimed the lead at the high-profile Badminton Trials, before slipping to fifth by the close of a competition won by Phillips.
Her promising year was nearly punctured by an inflamed ovarian cyst in July, but Anne bounced back to claim her biggest triumph to date at the September 1971 European Eventing Championships at the Burghley House in Cambridgeshire. Riding her beloved gelding Doublet, Anne again took the lead in the opening day’s dressage, held on through the cross-country course of Day 2, and closed with a flawless showing in the show-jumping before a thrilled crowd.
The rousing performance made Anne the first British royal to win the European gold medal, as well as the first to win the BBC’s Sports Personality of Year Award.
READ MORE: The British Royal Family Tree
She was the first British royal to be selected to the Olympic team
The bar significantly raised, Anne spent the next few years trying to rediscover the winning touch. Her Olympic hopes were dashed when Doublet suffered a strained tendon before the 1972 Badminton Horse Trials, and she was knocked out of the running with a fall at the 1973 European Championships in Kiev, Ukraine.
But the princess was raring to go at the ’75 Championships in Luhmühlen, West Germany, this time atop the powerful Goodwill, and she fought off a cold to earn silver medals in both the individual and team events.
Anne’s ambitions were nearly derailed once again when an April 1976 crash left her with a hairline fracture of the vertebrae, but she endured intensive rehabilitation to become the first royal to earn selection to the British Olympic team. The Montreal Games themselves were somewhat anticlimactic for her fans, as another spill ended any hopes of a medal, but the princess showed gumption by pushing through a concussion to finish the course.
Anne later enjoyed success in horse racing
The princess continued with her eventing career, finishing sixth at Badminton in 1979, though the births of children Peter and Zara and a willingness to assume increasing responsibilities invariably chipped away at her time.
By 1985, Anne had discovered a new competitive outlet in horse racing. Again not content with simply giving a good effort, she kept at it until becoming a champion, notching wins in both flat and steeplechase races before the end of the decade.
The princess has since been supplanted by Zara as the preeminent equestrian of the family, the daughter outdoing her mother by notching both individual and team gold at the 2005 European Championships, as well as a silver medal at the 2012 London Games.
But there is no surpassing the original when it comes to the mark she made in a different era, her contributions to equestrianism not only honored with her acceptance of the Longines Ladies Award in June 2016 but also by the appreciative words of peers who lauded her that night as a “legend” of the sport.
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