From working at the Royal Stables on the grounds of Windsor Castle, to traveling to the Commonwealth Games with the Duke of Edinburgh, Vankleek Hill’s Olive Moore credits her brushes with English royalty to a lifelong love of horses.
Moore, now 88, was a young woman when she returned to her native England to visit her brother in 1964, after living and working in Australia for six years. Already an experienced horsewoman, she was confident of finding summer employment working with polo ponies, before a scheduled return to Australia in the fall.
But her plans were put on hold when an opportunity arose to work at the Royal Stables. Her employer as it turned out, was a personal friend of Queen Elizabeth II’s husband Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.
“I worked for a man called Colonel Gerard Leigh and he played on the same team as the Duke of Edinburgh,” Moore recalls with vivid clarity. “I looked after four polo ponies for him, and I was lucky enough to have them stabled in one corner of the Queen’s Yard, where her riding horses were stabled.”
Colonel William Gerard Leigh was himself a very interesting man. A British veteran of the Life Guards during World War II, he rose to become a major figure in polo, serving as chairman of the Guards Polo Club from 1955-81. Leigh became instantly famous in 1971, when he stopped a stray polo ball from hitting Queen Elizabeth II while sitting beside her at a match.
Moore speaks fondly of her former boss, who passed away in 2008 at the age of 93.
“I got along very well with Colonel Leigh as a boss and I stayed on an extra year in England, because he told me that the next year in 1966 the Duke was going to Jamaica to open the Commonwealth Games and he had been asked to take a polo team out,” says Moore, who wasn’t about to turn down opportunity when it knocked a second time. “I was in the right place at the right time and I went to Jamaica with the Duke of Edinburgh.”
Prince Philip took along his two young children, Charles then 17, and his 14-year-old sister Anne. The trio was followed closely by the press during their time in Jamaica and everywhere they went in between. A famous photograph of Prince Philip and his two teenage children published in the New York Times, was taken at JFK airport during a stopover on the return trip to England.
Moore moved to Canada in 1966, shortly after returning from the Commonwealth Games. Once again her plans to stay only for a short period were changed when she met her husband Rod Moore, who trained race horses. The couple purchased a small farm near St. Eugene in 1970 and trained horses together there until Rod retired due to ill health in 1985. Moore remained on the property after Rod’s passing in 2003, before moving to Vankleek Hill a few years ago.
Over the years, Moore’s brush with royalty has at times been misunderstood. As people retell the story, Moore’s role is often upgraded to Royal horse trainer. She is quick to correct anyone who asks about her time working for the Queen and caring for the Royal horses.
“You know, I tell people this story and I never try to say that I worked for the Queen, because I didn’t,” Moore says emphatically, breaking into a smile as she recalls a time when she had to correct the late Phil Arber after he introduced her as the Grand Marshall at the annual Horse and Buggy Parade in Vankleek Hill. “I had to explain to everyone that I never actually worked for the Queen.”
“But I was around and I saw the Queen very often,” remembers Moore of her two years working at the Royal Mews on the grounds of Windsor Castle. “Princess Anne’s little horse that she rode at the time was stabled right next door to where my ponies were.”
Remaining active at 88, Moore still drives her own car and works as a volunteer with Meals on Wheels, delivering food to local seniors. Her love for horses started when she was 16 – “I couldn’t wait to leave school to work with horses” – and continues to this day. She rode regularly up until a few years ago, but her most recent ride – at the age of 86 – was mostly for show.
“The last time I got on a horse was two years ago, just to send photos back to Australia and England to say ‘see, I’m still riding’.”