The Cadogan Riding School: Horace Smith and the Queen

Horace Smith, who ran the Cadogan Riding School, taught Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret to ride. If you want to skip straight on to that bit, click here: Horace Smith and the Queen


You would struggle to see a horse in central London today, but in the early decades of the 20th century, things were very different. In 1939, the Horse Owners’ Reference Book listed five riding schools in the Hyde Park area alone, and three had their own indoor riding schools.

One was the Cadogan Riding School. Run by Horace Smith and his daughter Sybil in the early years of the 20th century, it was internationally famous. The school  taught beginners through to advanced riders. It provided jumping, driving and evening classes. It produced show horses and riders who won at the biggest shows in the country. It bought and sold horses.

The early years: William Smith

The business was started in the mid 1800s by William Smith. He began his working life in the family’s dairy in Little Cadogan Place, at the back of what is now the Carlton Tower in Cadogan Lane. He had an eye for a horse, so much so that people would offer to buy the cobs working at the dairy. William decided selling horses was far more profitable than selling milk. His father agreed, and the dairy was converted to stables.

The new horse business did well, and in 1886 the family moved to Brent Hill Farm, Hendon, which gave them enough space to house young horses to be broken in and care for sick ones. By 1900 there were around 650 horses. The competition to sell horses in London was huge: there were 140 licensed jobmasters in London when William set up his business, but W J Smith Ltd aimed for the top. Carriage horses were supplied to the gentry, and the company was awarded a Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria, going on to hold royal warrants for decades afterwards.

William and his wife Phoebe had nine children, of whom Horace was the second, born in an apartment converted from a cowshed in the Cadogan Lane dairy.

He did of course, work for his father. No one had ever considered, he said, that he do anything else, and he was anyway obsessed with the horse, being known at school as ‘Orse.

The blue-eyed boy

William was a stern father, who ruled the family hard, but Horace was his mother’s blue-eyed boy. As with any obvious family favourite, this did not endear him to his brothers and sisters. His family, he said, “viewed me with considerably less affection,” and we can only imagine their satisfaction when the blue-eyed boy came a major cropper with the first horse he bought for the business. That horse:

… looked lonelier without a plough attached than any other horse I have ever seen. To make things worse, he arrived lame and remained so for the two years we had him. My father had this horse paraded every Sunday morning for two years to teach me a lesson. The whole family was detailed to attend the weekly inspection, which was a considerable source of delight to my brothers and sisters … unkind treatment, perhaps, but salutary and instructive …

How were the mighty fallen.

This horse was bought from Germany, from where the Smiths bought many horses. It was on such a visit Horace met Mlle. Jeanne Huber, who was to become his wife. Her family were horse dealers on an epic scale, with establishments at Paris, Brussels, Milan, Turin and Berlin. They were married in 1898, and their children Jimmy and Sybil followed in 1899 and 1901. Jimmy was keener on the car and ended up as a commercial traveller; Sybil followed her father into the business and became a stalwart of the horse world.

Horace and Sybil Smith, Richmond Horse Show, 1932
everyday life

Working with horses is hard work now, and it was hard work then. Horace would work every day of the week, receiving no special treatment just because he was the son of the owner. He said:

I received no preferential treatment, but was made to work as hard as any other employee, cleaning out the stables and strapping the horses with the rest of them. Nor was there any respite; on one occasion when I happened to be leaning up against the wall in the office, I was told curtly by my father that he had not built the place for me to lean against, and I went back to work very quickly.

Horace worked in all areas of the business. He dealt in horses, travelling to Holland to buy the bays they supplied to the Royal family. He showed horses both under saddle and driven, and was an extremely accomplished driver himself. He had learned the hard way. Every day, he drove his father in to the Cadogan stables from Hendon. His father insisted only the difficult horses be used for the job to sort them out for sale. Horace wrote:

I sat out in the cold on the box, trying to cope at the same time with the elements—fog, sleet, ice and snow—and with a pair of wayward animals, which no doubt was a great education for me, even if I did not always appreciate the fact at the time.

Horace winning at the Richmond Horse Show, 1914
The riding school

He taught too. The Cadogan Riding School had its own indoor school, which appears in the 1931 advertisement below from the journal of The Institute of the Horse. It is an accurate representation. The Graphic featured the school in an article on the Cadogan in 1932, which shows a row of fond be-hatted parents sitting in the balcony.

The school itself was built in the mid 1890s by Harold’s father. The Sporting Gazette visited in 1896 while the school was still being built. Besides the school area, there were dressing rooms and a lounge, with everything “fitted up in the best possible way, and the electric light, which is laid on all over the building and the stables, is a sign that Mr. Smith goes with the times.”

Mr Smith’s only regret about the whole enterprise was that he should have laid down boards instead, to take advantage of the craze for cycling, which was affecting the horse trade. The returns, were, however, worth it. Mr Smith, the Sporting Gazette said, ‘cannot grumble’.

The Institute of the Horse journal, Christmas 1931
Encouraging the little fellows

The Sporting Gazette waxed lyrical about the abilities of the school’s teaching staff, “whose able handling and quiet, cheery manner of encouraging the little fellows as they ride round the school made quite an impression on us.” One has to wonder if little girls were encouraged to ride at the school in the Victorian era, or whether it was all “little fellows”.

Certainly by the 1930s, little girls had pretty much taken over. In a 1932 article, The Graphic had a series of photographs showing the school and its pupils. All are girls. Boys only creep in with a tangential mention. Poppy, one of the ponies, had taught the Princess Royal’s sons, Lord Lascelles and the Hon. Gerald Lascelles, to ride. They were the first royal children Horace Smith taught. And of course, Horace Smith taught the most famous little girls in the land to ride: Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret.

Horace Smith did love a lord: his autobiography is larded with the names of the great and the good. But they were the ones with the money to buy his expensive horses, and their names were the ones that would be mentioned in the society papers, providing free advertising and the constant stream of well-heeled clients needed to survive in central London.

Horse and rider unknown. Author’s own collection

In his autobiography, A Horseman through Six Reigns, he mentions, in a few brief pages, the Begum of Bophal’s three grandchildren, HRH Prince Chichibu, brother of the Emperor of Japan, the two Infantas of Spain, TRH Princess Beatrice and Prncess Christiana, and Princess Maxide, a sister of ex-King Zog of Albania.

Horace Smith and the Queen

Horace first met Princess Elizabeth when she was nearly five. Before his accession to the throne, the Duke of York and his family lived in Piccadilly, next door to Lady Allendale. In December 1930, she held a children’s Christmas party, and asked Horace Smith to act as Father Christmas. This he did, with a sleigh pulled by a white Welsh pony. (1930 was one of those inconvenient Decembers without Christmas snow, but the sleigh was fitted with rollers, and the pony decorated with little pieces of cotton wool.) The children, Smith said, ‘greeted me with the greatest enthusiasm’, and among those enthusiastic children was Princess Elizabeth.

Teaching the princesses

But it was not until eight years later that Horace and his daughter Sybil began to teach Princess Elizabeth and her sister, Princess Margaret. In 1938, the Smiths were asked by Sir Arthur Erskine, the Crown Equerry, to give Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret two lessons a week in the riding school at Buckingham Palace.

Horace and Sybil would take two of the Cadogan ponies to Buckingham Palace and give the princesses their first formal instruction. Although the princesses had already ridden for some years by that point, they were taken right back to the beginning, being taught the correct way to hold their reins, mount, sit and adjust their stirrup leathers. They rode without stirrups, and did exercises, including leaning backwards until they were lying on their ponies’ backs. The pictures below do not show the princesses, but do show Horace Smith with pupils at the Cadogan Riding School doing just this exercise in the 1930s.

The 2016 Royal Windsor pageant to mark the  Queen’s 90th birthday had a re-enactment of the princesses having a riding lesson with the Smiths. In it, Horace sits at Sybil’s side, absolutely mute.

The hard taskmaster

Whether this was accurate, I doubt. Geoffrey Cross, chairman of the Royal Windsor show, told Horace the queen regarded him as a very hard taskmaster, which, he said, he “took as a great compliment. I was certainly not lenient with her instruction, and I know she would not have wished me to be.” It is difficult to be a hard taskmaster when you say nothing.

Be that as it may, Princess Elizabeth in particular was a keen pupil. Her “chief interest in life,” Horace Smith said, “lay in horses. And she confessed to me one, that, had she not been who she was, she would like best to be a lady living in the country with lots of horses and dogs!” She was just as interested in learning about caring for horses as she was in riding, and always bought carrots to give the pony she rode.

Horace Smith did more than just teach the princesses to ride. The Princesses spent much of WW2 at Windsor Castle, and Horace Smith supplied Princess Elizabeth with a governess cart and a grey Welsh pony to pull it. Princess Elizabeth would drive around Windsor Great Park with Princess Margaret and their two corgis.


In the latter years of the war, Horace taught Princess Elizabeth side-saddle. He was already well known as a teacher of side-saddle—the Bystander wrote in 1928 of how popular side-saddle was becoming, as taught by Horace at the Cadogan. When Princess Elizabeth became Queen, she asked if she could borrow the side-saddle on which she had learned for her first Trooping the Colour, and Horace gave it to her as a birthday gift.

Horace had the highest opinion of the queen’s abilities:

She was a memorable pupil, in every way. She would ride different horses without any question, and never expressed any likes or dislikes, though as she grew in proficiency I mounted her on some more difficult horses, from some of which she could not have derived a great deal of enjoyment in riding. She knew that it was all an essential part of her curriculum of instruction, and she was more than anxious to learn all that I could teach her. … I think her interest in horses made her regard her riding lessons more as a pleasant change from her other studies than as just one more phase of her education that had to be mastered.

Sybil Smith went on to teach both the present King and Princess Anne at the Holyport stables. Prince Charles rode Cadogan Pearl, the same pony Princess Margaret used to ride.

The present Queen and Princess Margaret were lucky to be taught by the Smiths: if only all riding teachers followed Mr Smith’s dictum:

The art of teaching lies in a good judgment of psychology; in knowing just how far to go, in giving confidence to the pupil by combining kindness with discipline, and by always being careful to see that when the pupils have finished their lesson they leave the school with a happy memory.

Horace Smith the businessman

Keeping a stable going in central London became progressively more difficult as the 20th century wore on. The introduction of motorised transport destroyed the trade in carriage horses, but the Cadogan diversified and adapted.

The horseless carriage

They hired out cars: there is a sale record of a 1923 Rolls Royce Tourer bought by the firm. Their saddlery repair workshops were adapted to maintain cars too. As a sidenote, a 1906 advertisement for the Riding School adds in capital letters: “ELECTRIC CARS CHARGED”. If only they could see the world a hundred years hence.

It was clear to Horace Smith the future of the horse lay as a leisure animal—he described horses as ‘entirely a luxury commodity’ in his autobiography. After WW1, it was plain the horse world in London would never be the same again. The Cadogan’s London stables were converted from harness to riding horse accommodation. Horace turned his attention to the country, to hunting and teaching, and to riding horses and not carriage ones. The Cadogan took on stables in Exford, on Exmoor, and in Holyport near Maidenhead (run by Dick Francis’s father), to take advantage of the hunting trade.

Horse dealing remained part of the business. Horace took full advantage of the requirement for horses during both world wars.

World War I

In 1914, the outbreak of WW1 hit the Cadogan hard. They lost 350 of their hire horses to conscription, but Horace took advantage of the need for horses by buying all those he could get. He sold about 1500 horses to the Government, and the London stables were then turned into a civilian remount depot. Their depot housed “seventy-five refractory and wayward Canadian remounts” sent to Cadogan as a last resort.

The Inter-war years

Post-war, the Smiths concentrated on the riding horse. By 1925, eighty percent of the horses in Rotten Row came from the Cadogan Stables. They employed twelve riding instructors, and had, Horace wrote, ‘little cause to regret, at any rate financially, the passing of the carriage horse.”

Their long history, and habit of keeping things, meant that during the general strike of 1926, the Smiths’ foresight in keeping most of their old vehicles meant they could meet the sudden demand for horse-drawn transport. These vehicles were still around when war was declared again in 1939, and petrol rationing meant the Cadogan did very nicely in supplying horse-drawn vehicles, harness, and of course horses.

The outbreak of war

Despite all that, the 1930s were not kind to the Cadogan Riding School. At the end of the decade, there was already what Horace Smith described as a “very bad depression” in the horse world, affecting both Cadogan’s dealing and riding school businesses. Their outgoings in 1939 were very high indeed; they had 250 horses, a large staff and high overheads. The outbreak of war was actually a help as the Government bought nearly all their horses, though the Cadogan lost money on them. Unlike those owners Josephine Pullein-Thompson described, who shot their horses rather than see them taken for military service, Horace Smith made active efforts to shift his.

Each county had a different purchasing officer, and if a certain officer cast any of my horses for some small reason – such as their being either too small, or too big – I sent them into another county for inspection by a different officer; and thus I disposed, in time, of all my ordinary hunters and riding school horses.

A (very skinny) remount being measured for the French Army at Cadogan Stables
Keeping going

Horace kept around 20 of the most valuable horses to keep the business going, and the empty stabling and coach houses were let as storage or business premises. Even renting out the buildings would probably not have been enough to save the Cadogan had not the bomb intervened.

The Cadogan School did not own its buildings: it leased them, and the lease had less than a year to run. The delapidations (i.e. the money to be paid to the buildings’ owners to cover restoration and repair at the end of the lease) would have been very heavy, but all this was avoided when the premises were bombed. 

The school was in fact bombed twice. The indoor riding school in Cadogan Lane escaped the earlier bombing, but was demolished in 1943 by a flying bomb. Horace had moved his belongings out of the flat above on the day before.  


The horses were moved to Holyport.

The school returned to London, albeit in a reduced form. The London branch was finally closed in 1957 when Horace Smith died, and the School operated out of Holyport until it closed in the 1970s.

R S Summerhays, the editor of Riding, wrote in his personal tribute after Horace’s death:

When Horace Smith died at the end of August, there passed from the horse world a figure unique in our time. His versatility as a horseman can never be equalled or even approached. Who to-day can ever hope to do as this grand old horseman did, almost to the last days of his life? Judge a hunter, hack or cob and ride them? Judge a class of hackney and drive them? Get up and drive a coach-team, or attend a meeting of any horse society, and, always reasonably and with conviction, speak of what he felt was for the good of the horse world?

With Horace Smith passes an era which knew the Victoria horseman, the harness horse at its most elegant, and the great days of the horse dealers, of which he was an outstanding example of integrity, and one who brought a distinction to that calling probably unsurpassed. There are many who mourn him, and look back, as I do, with affection and very much admiration for his great knowledge and fine character.


The Smith family’s surname was originally Dayer. Horace Smith’s grandfather took the name of Smith, so the family became the Dayer-Smiths, but tended just to use Smith.

Anon: A Horse! A Horse! The Sketch, 20 April, 1955
Bellamy, Joyce Bellamy: Hyde Park for Horsemanship, J A Allen, 1975
Francis, Dick: The Sport of Queens
Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News: 20 May, 1938
Illustrated Sporting News, 27 April, 1955
Morning Post, 28 December 1906
Reading Evening Post, 6 August, 1968Scott, Brough on Dick Francis, 2010
Smith, Horace: The Value of Riding Schools, Riding Magazine, June, 1936
Smith, Horace: A Horseman Through Six Reigns, Odhams, 1955
Summerhays, R.S.: Horace Smith: A Personal Tribute. Riding Magazine, November, 1957
The Bystander, 22 February 1928
The Graphic, 20 January, 1932
The Institute of the Horse, Christmas, 1931
The Sporting Gazette, 21 March, 1896
The Tatler, 16 September 1953

The Smiths’ Rolls Royce:

This is an update and merge of three blogs I wrote on the Cadogan Riding School a few years ago.


9 responses to “The Cadogan Riding School: Horace Smith and the Queen”

  1. Simon Hamilton avatar
    Simon Hamilton


    Extraordinary, as a young boy in the 1960’s I lived in Holyport on the Holyport Rd, just down from Hunt’s garden centre. I recall both my sisters were taught to ride by Miss Smith (I assume daughter of Horace) and I have very vague memories of the school buildings.
    What a step back in time…

    1. Jane Badger avatar
      Jane Badger

      Sybil Smith was indeed Horace’s daughter. I’m working on a piece about her, but it’ll be a few weeks yet.

  2. Hilary Charlesworth avatar
    Hilary Charlesworth

    I had lessons with Sybil Smith from when I was about 8 years old. She took me hunting – on a lead rein! We always used a double bridle and I mainly rode a pony called Juniper who I think had been given to the then Prince Charles. Juniper was a strawberry roan.
    Happy days!

  3. Stuartbampton avatar

    George j Page of Maidenhead kept horses, he owned Hampstead house farm that he later sold. George’s wife, Mary Page, her father was Horse Dealer,and her step grandfather also ought sold horses most of his life. George new the family.

  4. Liz Richards avatar
    Liz Richards

    Sybil Smith’s personal collection of letters and cards from the late Queen and other members of the royal familyis coming up for auction soon.

    1. admin avatar

      Thank you – wonderful to see the actual letters in your piece.

  5. Janet Ellis avatar
    Janet Ellis

    Very interested to read, you are working on a piece about Sybil Smith. I had, what you could term as ‘finishing lessons’ at Cadogan Riding School in the 1960’s. Up to then, I had just ridden ponies owned by a girl who lived nearby.
    The lessons were arranged by my grandparents who brought me a Welsh Cob and wanted me to be road savvy before I took her out, off their farm. My lessons were with a gentleman. Unfortunately I can’t remember his name. Do you know his name? If so could you let me know. I am embarking on writing memories of my family as well as my own and would like to acknowledge him.

    1. admin avatar

      I’m afraid I don’t know his name. I’ll have a hunt around on my old blogs and see if I can find any information for you. Fascinating though that you had lessons there.

  6. Hilary Arnold avatar
    Hilary Arnold

    It’s possible that the gentleman who taught you was Ken Meads. He and his father William Meads ran the Cadogan Stables at Holyport with Sybil Smith. I helped out in the stables at weekends and during school holidays and was rewarded with rides on ponies such as Merrylegs, Juniper, Nutty and Bobby. My mother Babs Shaw was secretary to Sybil Smith.

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