Azerbaijan’s Karabakh Horses Wow the Windsor Horse Show Again
Performers from Azerbaijan perform during the A Gallop Through History Platinum Jubilee celebration at the Royal Windsor Horse Show at Windsor Castle on Thursday May 12, 2022. Image: PA via Reuters
This weekend (May 12-15), one of the world’s greatest equestrian spectacles in living memory brought horses, riders and performers from across the globe to Windsor, England. The Royal Windsor Horse Show is held every year, but 2022 was notable for being held during the 70th anniversary year of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II, herself a lifelong horse enthusiast. Indeed, the show is a semi-official start of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations. The 96-year-old Queen, who had missed the state opening of parliament due to poor mobility, nonetheless managed to attend on two of the event days.
The annual Royal Windsor Horse Show started life during WWII as a fundraiser to buy aircraft for the war effort. The Queen, then a 17-year-old princess, attended the very first show in 1943. That first show also featured canine sports, but a dog managed to sneak into the royal box while King George VI was having lunch and stole a piece of chicken from the royal plate. Dogs have been banned from the showground ever since.
Headline presenters for the Sunday evening grand finale included Tom Cruise, Omid Djalili and Helen Mirren, who played Elizabeth I in a historical romp called A Gallop Through History. However, arguably the most impressive features of the show were the astonishing displays of horsemanship by international teams of horses, riders and horseback acrobats. Two of the best were that of Oman and, most relevant to the Caspian Region, of Azerbaijan.
Baku first sent a team to Windsor back in 2012, putting on a very impressive display. This year, their performance was little short of superhuman (and superhorse?!?) with fire-eaters, horseback acrobats, and towers of riders forming a human triangle atop three parallel galloping horses.
These were not any old steeds. They’re a very special breed, described in the Caucasian classic Ali and Nino as the “red-golden miracle of Karabakh.” Noted for stamina and finesse, these horses are considered the ideal mount for chovqan, Azerbaijan’s UNESCO-listed twist on polo. At one point, the population of Karabakh horses had dwindled near to extinction, but they are now being carefully bred in Azerbaijani stud farms. As the country’s ‘national animal,’ the breed has become something of a soft-power symbol for Azerbaijan. They appear on various insignia, not least that of football team FK Qarabag.
On Monday, May 16, following the Windsor Horse Show’s conclusion, the Queen was presented with a living Karabakh mount of her own. The beautiful golden-brown horse called Shohrat (Glory) was dubbed an “unbelievable” present by the British popular press, even for the Queen, who is so “often presented with incredible gifts and tokens of appreciation.” In fact, it was not the first of the breed that the Queen has received – back in 1956, the then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev presented her with a Karabakh stallion called Zaman. They are truly gifts fit for a king, or at least for this particular Queen.