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The Allure of the Royal Danish Stables

This article has appeared previously with Equestrian Life. To see what's in the current issue, please click here

 

Royal Danish Stables © Equestrian Life/Dorte Tuladhar
 
© Equestrian Life/Dorte Tuladhar
 
 
The Royal Danish Stables have always been a source of fascination and intrigue. How does a royal stable operate in the modern day? Do horse and carriage play as big a role as they once did? How many horses are there at the Royal Danish Stables?

By Sunday Batters
 
The Royal Danish Stables as they are now are very different from when they were first established.  As we all know, horse and carriage have long played an important role in the history of horses and of royal households. Today, however, the use of horse and carriage from the Royal Danish Stables is for official purposes only.
 
 
Royal Danish Stables © Equestrian Life/Dorte Tuladhar
 
© Equestrian Life/Dorte Tuladhar
 
Originally, the Royal Danish Stables functioned as a stud farm, where horses of the noblest blood were bred for the Royal House ¬– largely for recreational activities such as riding and hunting and also as draft horses for the royal carriages. In 1789, the number of horses peaked with a total of 270 animals. Today the number is less than 20.
 
The Royal Danish Stables are at the former royal palace Christiansborg, on the island of Slotsholmen in central Copenhagen itself. The new and still existing stable complex was constructed between 1738 to 1745 on a design by the architects Elias David Häusser and Nicolai Eigtved. This building also houses the high-ceilinged, 20x60m riding arena, where one can ride horses indoors. Between the two wings lies the area called The Riding Ground. 
 
The royal stables are still run as a very active operation, with a stable master, royal coachmen, drivers and runners. Nowadays the horses are used to pull carriages for royal weddings and large official events, such as state visits, Copenhagen’s lavish New Year’s levee celebration, audiences with ambassadors and city visits. Among them are eight white Kladruber horses, which originated in the East Bohemian town of Kladruby nad Labem in the Czech Republic. In earlier times, white-born horses were coveted as parade horses and as draft horses for the carriages of European kings and princes. Inbreeding led to the extinction of the Royal House’s stock of white horses at the beginning of the 1900s, and a white horse had to be borrowed when Christian X crossed the border for North Schleswig’s reunification with Denmark in 1920. At the request of Prince Henrik, it was decided in 1993 that white horses should once again be in the Royal Stables. The choice fell on the dappled horses of the Kladruber breed, which are not born white but become uniformly white over the years, and they entered the stables in 1994. The horses are purchased at four years old, and it can take a year to 18 months of training before they are experienced enough to tow an official carriage for the Queen and other royals.
 
 
Royal Danish Stables © Equestrian Life/Dorte Tuladhar
 
© Equestrian Life/Dorte Tuladhar
 
 
Upon entering the stable that was fully renovated in 2007-09 to meet modern standards, the feeling is very beautiful, aristocratic and photogenic, awash with with light entering from windows on both sides of the stables. The area is spacious with columns and big boxes for the horses. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to talk with Per Theusen, an ex-Danish Guard of 43 years and now Head of the Royal Mews, who filled us in on the daily workings of the stable. Per, who has been working at Christiansborg since August 2012, told us he felt grateful for the chance to work at such a venue, and hoped he would be able to work there until his retirement.
 
Each day runs exactly the same (unless there is a royal event), with a few staff beginning at 6.30am to feed and prepare the horses for riding or the paddock. Then from 7am the rest of the staff arrive to begin working the horses. The four-team carriage horses will be worked either in the huge riding track, situated between the two wings of the main building, or on the streets of Copenhagen. When they are ready, and along with an experienced horse to encourage confidence, Per tells us it is common that you will meet the four-team horses in the streets, as they get used to traffic and outside noises. Although the horses are only used for the carriages these days, some will do classical dressage to improve their balance and strength, a skill they need to obtain in order to be able to travel around Denmark, especially in the summer time, when they accompany the royal family.
 
As expected, all seven of the staff are very experienced and professional in the way they handle the horses and, as a rider myself, it was easy to see that they had great love for all the horses. They had small anecdotes of each horse about where they came from, and how they were when they first arrived at the stables. The calmness of the horses as well as the staff from the early morning throughout the whole day was enchanting. They were so harmonious and even very loving towards each other.
 
After the training, which concludes around 1pm, some of the staff will make sure that the equipment is maintained and polished. The horses receive a lunch of oats, and generally all of the staff except for one (who will stay until 5pm to feed the horses their dinner), finish for the day.
 
The stables are open to the public and include a museum with a collection of historic royal gala coaches and newer, lighter vehicles. The carriages illustrate the history of royal and stately coach-building in Denmark from the middle of the 1700s until the end of the 1800s. In the museum, one can, among other things, view the so-called Barouche from 1906, which was used for the Royal Couple’s wedding in 1967.  
 
 
Royal Danish Stables © Equestrian Life/Dorte Tuladhar
 
© Equestrian Life/Dorte Tuladhar
 
 
The best-known and finest of the royal coaches is the Gold Coach, which the Royal Couple uses when they are transported from Amalienborg to Christiansborg Palace during the tradition-rich New Year’s levee in January. It was built for Christian VIII by coachmaker Henry Fife in 1840. The coach is covered with 24-karat gold leaf, has four gilded crowns on the roof and has a painted state coat of arms on the doors. The upholstered interior seats two people. 
 
We asked Per if we might see Princes Mary in our visit and, with a knowing smile, we were told that there was a chance, as Mary, along with other royals, visit the stables on occasion.
 
May the royal horse and carriage traditions stay with us through the coming decades.
 

 

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