June 1, 2012 --
Now celebrating her 60th year on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II is the second-longest reigning monarch in English history, behind Queen Victoria. Sixty years is a long time for anyone to hold the same job. And if your job is that of a ceremonial head of state, even with the queen's active schedule, you're bound to have some down time every now and again. Explore some of the hobbies and interests the queen has pursued over her time as reigning queen of England.
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If there's one thing that the queen excels at possibly more than anyone else on Earth, it's hosting guests or putting on a party. Just look at the preparations for her diamond jubilee. The whole country seems caught up in getting ready to celebrate their monarch's 60th years on the throne. Preparations include draping just about every public space with the Union Jack, a massive floral crown display in St James's Park in London, and, as seen in this photo, the lighting of Tower Bridge, which also coincides with the city hosting the Summer Olympics this year. Of course, any guests of the queen need to follow proper etiquette protocols when meeting with her majesty.
If you're going to throw parties regularly, you'd better know how to dance. According to the queen's website, one of her lesser known hobbies is Scottish country dancing. Every year, the queen hosts dances known as Gillies' Balls at Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. The events are friendly gatherings in which she invites neighbors, staff and members of the community. In this photo, the queen appears in front of Balmoral Castle with her young family in 1960.
A queen can't rightly attend to an island nation, particularly one with such a strong sailing culture, without a ship. During the more than 40 years in which Her Majesty's Yacht Britannia was in service, the queen traveled more than 1 million nautical miles on its decks for nearly 1,000 trips for visits both within the United Kingdom and abroad. The ship has been used for family occasions, such as the honeymoon of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, as well as state functions, such as hosting presidents ranging from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan. The ship, however, was decommissioned in December 1997. Her majesty can be seen arriving on Britannia during a royal state visit in 1980 in this photo.
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A horse enthusiast since she was a young girl, Queen Elizabeth II has an expert knowledge of horses and is a skilled rider. She also owns and breeds thoroughbreds to compete in equestrian events. Her royal highness is seen on horseback in uniform saluting her troops in this photo taken halfway through her current reign some 30 years ago.
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The queen is not only an avid rider, but a fan of horse racing as well. In fact, she's even entered horses herself to participate in racing events. According to her website, Queen Elizabeth II typically frequents the Derby at Epsom and the Summer Race Meeting at Ascot. In this photo, her majesty is seen arriving at the Royal Ascot Race Course in 2009.
The queen's affinity for animals isn't limited to just horses. Her majesty is also a dog lover. She seems to have a particular affinity for Welsh Corgis, with three currently under her care, and has been breeding them for years. She has owned more than 30 Corgis during her reign. In fact, the queen is credited for inventing a new breed of dog, the "dorgi," when one of her Corgis mated with a dachshund.
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If racing horses and breeding dogs weren't enough already, the queen also raises pigeons. Like other well-known figures over the years from Pablo Picasso to Mike Tyson, the queen rears her birds for competitive racing. Although this might seem like a sport that anyone could take up, don't let the commonness of the bird fool you. Pigeon racing can command a royal price tag. Earlier this year, some 245 racing pigeons were auctioned off, bringing in a total of $2.5 million, according to TIME magazine. The most expensive pigeon cost a whopping $328,000.
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Not all animals are in the queen's good graces. Her royal highness over the years has gone on hunting expeditions. In this photo taken in 1961, the queen is on a hunting trip in Nepal with Prince Phillip. The shot was taken shortly after a member of the hunting party had killed a tiger. According to an article from TIME magazine on the trip (subscriber access only), the queen herself refused to handle a gun, but instead preferred to take shots with a video camera instead. The queen has also been active in the traditional British sport of fox hunting. In 1957, she even caused a stir by letting her young children at the time witness a hunt (paywalled). When Prime Minister Tony Blair's government passed through the legislature a ban on fox hunting, rumors suggested even the queen herself disapproved of the measure.
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