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Queen lost five prized Balmoral ponies because of 'cruel' disease

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·2-min read
WINDSOR - MAY 11:  HRH Queen Elizabeth II pats her horse Balmoral Melody as she attends the Royal windsor Horseshow on May 11, 2007 in Windsor, England. This is the second day of the show and the Queen's horse Balmoral Melody was the 'Supreme Champion' of the Highland Pony class.  (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
The Queen with Balmoral Melody at the Royal Windsor Horse show in 2007. (Getty Images)

Five ponies from the Queen’s Balmoral estate were lost in quick succession because of an equine disease, one of her stud managers has revealed.

Sylvia Ormiston has been the Queen’s stud manager on her private Scottish estate for more than 10 years, and has revealed how she and the Queen have revived the rare Highland Pony breed.

Ormiston told British Horse magazine the “Queen is involved in every decision” for the herd on the Aberdeenshire estate, and said the ponies are only shown “for the Queen’s pleasure”.

But she also told the magazine that they had lost five of the prized animals in recent years, because of equine grass sickness (EGS).

Ormiston said: “First in June 2017 it took Friendly, a sweet two-year-old filly. She was followed 24 hours later by her mother Clunie, a seven-year-old mare who carried stags, panniers and the royal family, all with pride, in her short life.”

TOPSHOT - Britain's Queen Elizabeth II rides Balmoral Fern, a 14-year-old Fell Pony, in Windsor Home Park, west of London, over the weekend of May 30 and May 31, 2020. (Photo by Steve Parsons / POOL / AFP) (Photo by STEVE PARSONS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Images of the Queen riding a pony in Windsor were released during the national lockdown. (AFP)

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Later in the same year, Omar, a three-year-old gelding died, before the stud lost both its stallions, Balmoral Lord and Balmoral Hercules in spring 2018.

The magazine, which is for members of the British Horse Society, called it a “cruel and random spate of the disease”.

Ormiston explained that after the loss of both the stallions, the herd recovered after the Queen gave her approval for her to bring in a new stallion, who was leased to them for a season.

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While the Queen doesn’t name the horses herself, she gets final say. Ormiston said when Her Majesty meets the animals, she will give approval to their names.

According to the British Horse Society, research on equine horse sickness first started in the 1920s when a mystery illness caused the death of several working horses on a farm.

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The charity said: “One hundred years later and the cause of this devastating disease remains elusive, but the consensus is that it is likely to be multi-factorial. There are no treatments or vaccines to prevent disease and around 80% of horses contracting the disease do not survive.”

Aberdeenshire, where the Queen’s Balmoral estate is, is one of the worst areas for EGS.