The prince, the world champion and the breakneck sport of carriage driving in Canberra

Genevieve Jacobs 19 April 2021
Prince Philip and Boyd Exell riding a carriage in 1988

Prince Philip (centre) with a young Boyd Exell (right) at the 1988 Australian Carriage Driving Championships, held in Canberra. Photo: Facebook.

The announcement that Prince Philip had died – aged 99 and after a long, full life – has prompted many memories, mostly garnered from media coverage or seeing him from afar.

The prince consort visited Australia 20 times and he was a familiar figure in Canberra, walking the customary two steps behind Her Majesty the Queen on ceremonial occasions.

But some Canberra locals recall a very different royal, one who tore up the carriage-driving circuit, went hell for leather behind a team of ponies, and inspired a future world champion during a bicentennial visit.

The prince was instrumental in formalising the rules for carriage driving as a competitive sport during his 22-year term as the longest serving president of the International Federation for Equestrian Sports. As a member of the British team, he won a world championship in 1980.

Long time South West Slopes carriage driving enthusiast Brendan Dwyer says it was a highlight of the 1988 bicentenary celebrations when Prince Philip, who was also patron of the Australian Carriage Driving Society, was present for a large parade and competition event in Canberra.

Carriage-driving competition is based around three-day equestrian eventing rules, beginning with a dressage phase requiring precision movement within an arena. A cross-country or marathon phase follows where competitors must move through obstacles including numbered gates in the correct order and as quickly as possible.

Finally, the obstacle driving course takes place around modified traffic cones topped with balls – points being deducted if the cones are nudged. An overall score is calculated from the combined results.

“It’s quite an involved sport and requires a high level of training and skill,” says Brendan.

During his long competitive career, Prince Philip drove teams of horses and then a team of fell ponies, often at breakneck pace and with the occasional spill.

“It can be a dangerous sport for sure,” says Brendan. “But that’s true of many equestrian sports. There’s always a level of accidents.”

Prince Philip attended the bicentennial carriage-driving event in Canberra in 1988 as an official guest, and he met many competitors and participants. He’d not long left when a landau drawn by a team of six horses bolted, causing high drama at the time.

Brendan remembers the prince as “incredibly interested” in the sport and he says it was clear his involvement as a patron was a personal passion that went well beyond formalities.

“The interest went up to the point where a member met the prince several years ago in the UK, and he enquired about our quarterly magazine and said he hadn’t received his for some time,” says Brendan.

“He was generally a very good horseman all round, and carriage driving was his passion. For those who met him here in 1988, and since in the UK, he was very down to earth, genuinely interested in the sport and how people were going.

“There’s quite an interesting photo of that 1988 visit where Prince Philip is driving a carriage and the teenager on the back is none other than a young Boyd Exell, who went on to win five world championships and multiple indoor championships.”

Boyd has spoken on social media about first meeting Prince Philip at the Australian Carriage Driving Championships in the bicentenary year.

“What a privilege it was to meet him as a young teenager – a meeting that really fuelled my passion for the sport,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

“During the years I have been honoured to meet him both in a professional capacity and at a personal level, both of us sharing our stories and passion for horses and the sport of combined driving.

“I am forever grateful for his tenacity for introducing our sport at an international level, and his legacy will continue to inspire and encourage all those involved in our driving sport.

“Prince Philip, you will be sadly missed.”


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