Churchill on one of his polo ponies © Churchill Archives Centre, Broadwater Collection
In February 1895, Churchill joined the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars, a fashionable cavalry regiment, as a 2nd Lieutenant, as a way of gaining some experience before working his way into politics. While at Sandhurst, Churchill had learnt to play polo. Now that he was an officer with the Queen’s Own Hussars, he played regularly at the Hurlingham and Ranelagh Clubs in London. It was here that he demonstrated his talent with horse and polo stick and he soon became a skilled player. Churchill continued to play polo until his fifties, despite having a weak right shoulder (injured in a fall when disembarking from the ship in India) and having to wear it strapped to prevent it ‘going out’. (He could never play tennis because of this, even though Clementine was a very good player and they had a hard court installed at Chartwell; it was later turned into a croquet lawn.) Click here to see the draft constitution of the ‘Fourth Hussars Polo Club’ (Churchill’s name appears sixth under ‘Members’).
‘For men like Churchill, polo was war; it was like a miniature battlefield. Bloodshed and injury to horse and rider was common and the faint of heart need not apply … Courage and audacity on the polo field translate into savvy and audacity on the battlefield.’
Carlo D’Este, Churchill and Polo
Churchill loved animals, large and small. He had always loved horses – he took part in the last great cavalry charge at Omdurman as a soldier in the 21st Lancers, played polo and, in later life, owned broodmares and racehorses – but he also enjoyed having cats and dogs at his side – and oftentimes even on his bed – while at Chartwell.
Churchill surrounded himself with a veritable menagerie of animals, including sheep, goats, pigs, cattle, guinea pigs, hens, ducks, swans and goldfish and, of course, cats and dogs (notably two brown poodles, Rufus I and Rufus II). In 1926 during an economy drive – Chartwell and its staff were expensive to run – many of the animals were sold, but he couldn’t bear to part with his prized Middle White pigs.
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Although not often thought of as a sportsman, Churchill was a fine fencer in his schooldays, becoming English Public Schools Champion at fencing during his time at Harrow School. But it was riding that he most enjoyed. Always a keen horseman, life as a cavalry officer in the Queen’s Own Hussars suited him enormously. He learnt to play polo as a subaltern, hunted (infrequently) and, although he played polo until his fifties, eventually turned to racehorses – he owned many – to continue his involvement with horses.
In later life, Churchill owned twelve brood mares (his first, in 1945, called ‘Madonna’) and in the summer of 1949, he bought a racehorse – a three-year-old colt called ‘Colonist II’ – which was the first of many thoroughbreds (including, of course, one named ‘Pol Roger’!). Churchill was made a member of the Jockey Club in 1950, much to his delight. His racing colours – pink and chocolate brown (Lord Randolph’s colours) – became the colours of Churchill College, Cambridge
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