The Queen’s Connection to Saskatchewan Ranch Horses
By Tom Reardon
At 18, Christa Lawrence was crowned Miss Rodeo Canada, and this ranch girl’s dream became reality on May 18, 2005 when she was invited to attend the unveiling ceremony of the statue honouring Her Royal Majesty, Queen Elizabeth ll on her favourite mount, Burmese. The connection between Queen Elizabeth and Christa Lawrence started twenty-four years before Christa was born and twenty miles from the ranch she now would call home.
The tale, worthy of a Disney movie, began in 1962 when a filly, designated #484 and named Burmese was born at Fort Walsh, Saskatchewan. The scenic and historic Fort Walsh served as a remount ranch for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Musical Ride from 1943 to 1968.
The black filly’s path to fame passed through Depot Division in Regina where she excelled in her own training and was used for two years teaching recruits how to ride. Burmese graduated to the Musical Ride at four years of age and performed like an experienced veteran. In spite of her youth, she quickly assumed the Lead Horse role. During a command performance in 1969, she was so admired by Queen Elizabeth ll that the R.C.M.P. decided to present her as a gift to the Monarch.
The move to the Royal stables suited Burmese well. So well in fact, that the Queen rode her sidesaddle in a parade just six weeks after arriving in Britain.
Burmese truly was a gift fit for a Queen. She performed admirably, even when under fire. During a parade in 1981, a young man fired a starter pistol at Burmese and her Majesty. The calm, yet alert mount took a hop forward and continued walking. The Monarch was unharmed in the incident.
For eighteen years, the Queen rode the dependable Burmese for the Trooping of the Colour. Her Majesty has ridden in a carriage for the parade ever since the mare from the Cypress Hills was retired in 1986, issuing an order that no one was to ride Burmese when she was retired. Four years later, Burmese passed away and is one of the few horses buried on the grounds of Windsor Castle. As a testimony of Her Majesty’s affection for the horse, she had a statue of Burmese erected at the castle.
The beloved black mare left such an enduring legacy that in September 2000, a visitor from England wrote Lieutenant Governor Dr. Lynda Haverstock, suggesting a statue depicting the Queen riding Burmese be created. It was decided the statue project would be part of Saskatchewan’s Centennial Celebrations.
Susan Velder of St. Walburg, Saskatchewan was commissioned to create the bronze statue on a 110% scale. The mammoth project consumed the artist, who devoted over 7000 hours to the project. The work was completed and unveiled on the grounds of the Provincial
Legislature by Her Majesty as a highlight of the Royal visit in May, 2005. Sitting in the viewing stands nearby were Miss Rodeo Canada Christa Lawrence and her family. The reason for their inclusion was a horse named Faux Pas.
Shortly after Lawrence’s crowning as Miss Rodeo Canada, a former Maple Creek resident wrote the Lieutenant Governor and explained that Faux Pas was the sire of Burmese. The letter stated that when the R.C.M.P. moved their horse operation from Fort Walsh to Ontario, they left the 20-year-old Faux Pas with neighbouring rancher, Roger Parsonage. The black stallion sired several offspring in the remaining seven years of his life and there are still many horses in the Cypress Hills related to Burmese through Faux Pas.
The letter pointed out that the Lawrence family currently owns a horse related to Burmese. As well, Christa’s late grandfather, Russell Lawrence owned (half brother) Mr. J L and (half sister) Bruree’s Diamond both by Faux Pas. The family currently owns a mare named Bruree’s Eve, a great granddaughter of Faux Pas. The Lawrence’s extended family (Beierbach) owns a multitude of horses, three, four and five generations removed from the legendary sire. Faux Pas was also the grandfather of Centenial. (Note the unusual spelling) He was the second of three horses the R.C.M.P. presented to the Queen.
He was immortalized by a statue unveiled on Parliament Hill during Canada’s 125th birthday celebrations.
It was suggested that Christa could be included in the unveiling of the statue, since she is a Saskatchewan resident with ties to Burmese and Burmese’ birthplace. The Lieutenant Governor wrote Miss Rodeo Canada, extending invitation to be a guest at the ceremony.
Still recovering from her recent unplanned and unsuccessful bronc ride that left her in a back brace for eight weeks, Christa and her family attended, along with thousands of others, in the pouring rain.
Fifteen years after her burial, Burmese was once again on the minds of royalty. Of the statue, the Queen fondly stated, “It’s splendid.”
Immortalized by statues half a world apart perhaps the story of Burmese will remind people of the impact a horse can have on a human life – even a royal life.
For Christa, a ranch raised cowgirl from Saskatchewan, being eye-to-eye with the Queen of England was a dream come true – and it took a horse to make it happen.
From the 2005 Canadian Cowboy Country Archives
Tom Reardon is the manager of Meyronne Community Pasture in Saskatchewan. His parents were employed at Fort Walsh during the remount era and it was his first home. He says he is, “probably the last man alive who has lived in a Fort and has a scar caused by an arrowhead.”