Prince Philip: A great ambassador of horse sport

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Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (10 June 1921-9 April 2021).
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (10 June 1921-9 April 2021). © FEI

The equestrian world is paying tribute to Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who died peacefully at Windsor Castle in England on Friday morning at the age of 99.

The death of the husband of Queen Elizabeth II was announced by Buckingham Palace. They were married for nearly 73 years.

He was the longest-serving FEI President (1964-1986) and was succeeded in this role by his daughter Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, for the following eight years.

Some of Prince Philip’s own greatest sporting achievements came in the sport of Driving, which he introduced as a new discipline in the FEI and helped to develop during his FEI Presidency. He helped standardise international rules and became a successful competitor himself, winning team gold at the 1980 World Driving Championship and bronze in 1978, 1982 and 1984. He also placed sixth individually in 1982.

Prince Philip strongly supported the FEI Jumping Nations Cup series, which is now one of the crown jewels in the Jumping calendar, and was hugely supportive of the launch of the FEI Jumping World Cup in the 1970s. He was also instrumental in the creation of the FEI World Equestrian Games, having lobbied for such a competition for many years before it was finally staged for the first time in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1990.

An all-round horseman, he played polo during his time in the Royal Navy in the 1940s and became one of Britain’s top-10 players. His passion for all things equestrian was shared by his wife and passed on to their children, particularly Prince Charles who was also a keen polo player, and Princess Anne, who claimed individual gold at the FEI European Eventing Championships in 1971, and individual and team silver four years later, before becoming the first British Royal to compete at an Olympic Games when she rode in Montreal 1976.

Prince Philip’s grandchildren have also inherited a love of horse sport. Princess Anne’s daughter Zara Tindall took the Eventing world championship title in 2006 and was a member of the British silver medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Princes William and Harry are also regularly spotted on the polo field.

Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, the longest serving FEI President, has died at the age of 99.
Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, the longest-serving FEI President, has died at the age of 99. © FEI

Born in Corfu, Greece and educated in France, Germany and Great Britain, he was just 18 years old when he joined the Royal Navy in 1939. During World War ll he served with the Mediterranean and Pacific fleets, and by the time he left the service in 1952 he had reached the rank of Commander. At the age of 26, he married Princess Elizabeth in November 1947.

Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC, said it was the Duke, who in 1952, during their stay in Kenya en route to Australia and New Zealand, gave Princess Elizabeth the sad news that her father King George VI had died, and that she was Queen.

“Their Coronation tour of the Commonwealth in 1953, during which they covered 40,000 miles, took place in a world far less connected than it is today by swift travel and instant communications technology,” Scotland said.

“At the time of her coronation, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh were tremendously glamorous and remarkably young. They symbolised hope for the future, and the spirit of goodwill and optimism rooted in a sense of belonging together as members of a worldwide family – not just of nations, but of people.

“His Royal Highness had a farsighted understanding of the potential of Commonwealth connection, and his approaches to bringing people together from a wide range of backgrounds to develop leadership skills were regarded as innovative and brave.”

Prince Philip (1921-2021). © The Commonwealth

FEI President Ingmar De Vos said Prince Philip’s passing was a huge loss for equestrian sport and his legacy, particularly at the FEI, will live on.

“I first met him in London at the FEI General Assembly in 2005, and again at the FEI Eventing European Championships in Blair Castle in 2015. He was a man of incredible energy and a great sense of humour and the FEI was honoured to have him as our longest-serving President,” De Vos said.

“His dedication to equestrian sports cannot be underestimated and will never be forgotten, especially in the Driving community. He was born in the same year the FEI was founded and sadly he will not be with us to celebrate his own and the FEI’s centenary this year. We will celebrate his life and remember him as a great ambassador of our sport.”

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