Text: Niki McEwen
The 2023 edition of Royal Windsor Horse Show, from 10–14 May, has a packed schedule, featuring world-class international equestrian sport, alongside traditional favourites and a range of spectacular acts and events. The Show started life in 1943 as part of a ‘Wings for Victory’ wartime fundraising effort, which was attended by King George VI, The Queen and their daughters, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. 80 years on, it is one of the most prestigious shows in the world, attracting top-class athletes and featuring over 2,800 horses.
Royal Windsor Horse Show has an elaborate and unique history, which has shaped the Show as we know it today. In 1947, five years after its inception, the Show expanded to run over three days. One of the new additions that year was the Coaching Marathon, featuring four-in-hand teams as they embarked on a six-mile drive across the Windsor countryside. The Coaching Marathon remains a popular element of the Show, generating an iconic annual scene as they make their way down the Long Walk in front of Windsor Castle.
The first international Driving event came to Royal Windsor in 1970 – the brainchild of The Late Duke of Edinburgh. A notable member of the crowd that year was Prince Edward, who in 2022 succeeded his late father as the Show’s President, and became the Duke of Edinburgh earlier this year. In 1982, The Late Duke of Edinburgh, a regular competitor at Royal Windsor, won the Horse Teams class in the International Driving Grand Prix. Today, the world’s best Carriage Drivers travel to Windsor to compete, including in 2023, three of the top four ranked Drivers in the world – Boyd Exell, Ijsbrand Chardon and Koos de Ronde.
By 1962 Dressage had been added to the Royal Windsor schedule. This year, following a three-year absence, the Defender CDI4* Dressage will host some of Britain’s best Dressage riders, including three-time Olympic gold medal winner Charlotte Dujardin, who will be returning to international competition following the birth of her daughter in March. Sponsored by Defender, the Grand Prix will take place on Wednesday 10 May, with the Freestyle to Music on Thursday 11 May. Defender themselves have a strong history with the Show, with a relationship that spans over three decades and also involves being the Principal Partner. Another iconic brand with a significant equestrian heritage, Hermès, will be celebrating 40 years at the Show, having initiated their relationship in 1993 as the sponsor of the Dressage. Similarly DAKS, will be celebrating their 44th consecutive year of sponsorship at the Show.
2017 was a milestone year for the international Show Jumping, with the Show elevated to CSI5* status and the inaugural staging of the Rolex Grand Prix. The enhanced prize money continues to attract the world’s best Show Jumpers to Windsor, with the Rolex Grand Prix having been won by some of the sport’s biggest names. These include former World No. 1 Kent Farrington, who was the first to etch his name on to the Rolex Grand Prix trophy in 2017, 2012 individual Olympic Champion Steve Guerdat in 2018, and Great Britain’s Ben Maher, who will be bringing his Olympic gold-medal-winning partner, Explosion W. All three return to defend their titles in 2023.
2023 marks the 10th year of Endurance at Royal Windsor Horse Show. Endurance was introduced in 2013, making the Show the only event in the country to host FEI competitions in four international equestrian disciplines. This year Royal Windsor Endurance will see 70 athletes take part across three classes. The tracks which are 100km, 120km and 160km take the riders through the beautiful terrain of Windsor Great Park.
Showing has always been at the forefront of the action at Royal Windsor. This year’s Show sees the addition of numerous Showing sections, with the Show hosting over 140 Showing classes. Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II had a successful tenure as an owner during her time as Patron of the Show, including winning the Supreme Ridden Showing Champion title with her homebred former racehorse Barbers Shop. This year His Majesty The King will have 15 entries as he looks to follow in his mother’s footsteps.
Royal Windsor Horse Show has become synonymous with holding spectacular celebrations and pageants featuring a diverse range of international participants. In 1985 the Show hosted a 300th anniversary tribute to six British Cavalry Regiments, who have been pivotal to memorable events, including more recently Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th Birthday Celebration in 2016 and the Platinum Jubilee Pageant in 2022. To this day, two Regiments – The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment and The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery – regularly perform at Royal Windsor and are once again set to be a highlight of the 2023 schedule.
Royal Windsor has a tradition of bringing exciting international equestrian displays to the UK. In the past there have been displays from The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, The Chilean Huasos and Le Régiment de Cavalerie de la Garde Républicaine from France, to name but a few. This year entertainment will come from the Equestrian Federation of Azerbaijan, with their performance ‘Land of Fire – Azerbaijan’. The performance, choreographed specifically for Royal Windsor Horse Show, demonstrates the strength and bravery of the Karabakh horse – the native horse of southwestern Azerbaijan – and the heritage of the Azerbaijan people.
In addition to the diverse range of action taking place at the Show, the most sought-after equestrian, country and luxury brands will be hosted in the Shopping Village. With over 170 stalls divided into four areas – Horse & Rider, Country Lifestyle & Living, Jewellery & Fashion and the Royal Warrant Holders Association Pavilion – there is something for everyone. A vast array of food and beverage options will also be available throughout the showground.
For those looking to enjoy the Show in style, the Champagne Pol Roger Lodge, a new public champagne bar overlooking the Frogmore Arena, will be the place to be. Champagne Pol Roger is the Official Champagne of the Show for 2023, as they extend their affinity with the world of equestrianism to include one of the most anticipated annual social spectacles.
For anyone unable to attend, leading international equestrian sports network Horse & Country (H&C) will be providing the Show’s most extensive TV coverage to date, with highlights also featuring on Eurosport and Sky Sports UK. The Show was first shown live on TV in 1950 as part of a live broadcast by the BBC, however in 2023 almost all the action from across the five days of competition will be available to view through H&C+, making the action more accessible than ever.
To find out more about Royal Windsor Horse Show, or to book tickets, visit www.rwhs.co.uk.