Inside Queen Elizabeth's Close Relationship With This American Cowboy

"The Queen and the Cowboy" sounds like the title of a wacky buddy comedy. She's prim and proper; he's rough-and-tumble. She sips tea; he chews tobacco. But the truth is that Queen Elizabeth II, who passed away September 8, 2022, at the age of 96, actually had a close friendship with a U.S. cowboy. What's more, when you learn more about the queen, the relationship isn't so surprising. That's because the queen had a lifelong love of horses, according to Town & Country.

In fact, Queen Elizabeth rode on horseback for the first time when she was only 3 years old. There's a story that when she first visited a racing stable at the age of 16, she didn't wash her hands for the rest of the day because she was so thrilled after petting two of the horses, per CNN. She went on to race horses of her own throughout her 70-year reign.

With this in mind, it's not so surprising that the queen developed a decades-long friendship with Monty Roberts, a horse trainer from the U.S. who has been dubbed "the real Horse Whisperer," reports USA TODAY. Roberts was even seated among heads of state at the late monarch's funeral. "[I]f you ask me, we had an extremely close relationship," Roberts told reporters the day before the funeral.

When Monty met Lizzie

Queen Elizabeth II's friendship with Monty Roberts first began more than three decades ago in the late 1980s, according to People. Roberts, who is now 87 and owns a 100-acre ranch in Solvang, California, is famous for his kind and gentle method of training horses, per USA TODAY. "For 6,000 years, horses had been broken with a lot of violence, taking four to six weeks before they could be ridden," Roberts told People. "I could train horses to take their first saddle and rider in less than 30 minutes without any violence."

As reported by USA TODAY, the queen was attracted to this approach and first sent one of her trainers to study with Roberts in California. Then, she invited Roberts himself to visit her at Windsor Castle in 1989, via The New York Times. When the pair met, Roberts didn't recognize her at first. He saw her brushing a horse in the stables dressed to ride and assumed she worked there. "You must realize this is Queen Elizabeth II," the crown equerry corrected his mistake.

Roberts showed the queen how his methods worked on 23 of the royal horses, and she was so impressed with the kindness of his technique that she began to cry. "She believed that no one should ever say to any human being or animal, 'You do what I tell you to do, or I'll hurt you,'" Roberts said.

30 years of friendship

After that initial meeting, Queen Elizabeth II and Monty Roberts each demonstrated many proofs of friendship. Early in their relationship, Roberts accepted a 2:30 a.m. phone call from the queen and recommended her a British trainer educated in his methods, according to The New York Times. He would fly to the UK six or seven times a year to meet with her, and he gave her advice on training her corgis as well. He also overcame his antipathy to Germany — a product of his World War II upbringing — to set up post-traumatic stress clinics there on the queen's recommendation, per People

The queen, for her part, encouraged Roberts to write and publish his bestselling book about his technique "The Man Who Listens to Horses" (via The New York Times). Despite her busy schedule, USA TODAY reports the queen also never rejected any of Roberts' approximately 200 phone calls. And she gave his characteristic outfit of a blue shirt, red bandanna, and cowboy hat royal approval so that he wouldn't have to take off his hat every time he visited her.

"She told me: 'I dub this your uniform, which means you don't have to take off your hat when you are speaking with me,' " Roberts told USA TODAY.  In 2011, Queen Elizabeth II named Roberts an honorary Member of the Royal Victorian Order, according to BBC News. The order is made up of people who have helped the monarchy or the queen personally.

The cowboy at the funeral

Knowing all this, it's not surprising that Monty Roberts was one of the 2,000 world leaders and close friends invited to Queen Elizabeth II's funeral service (via The New York Times). Roberts said that he was devastated when he learned of her death. "I have to tell you, it seemed to strike me harder than one of my own family losses over recent years," he told People. Roberts did not wear his royall -approved cowboy hat to the funeral, according to USA TODAY. Instead, the palace asked that he dress in mourning attire. "I didn't even bring my Western hat," he said. "It's a little difficult to travel with."

In another interview with CBS News, Roberts reflected further on the depth of his friendship with the queen. He said that she acted like an older sister to him. "I don't want to let her go," he said. "She's going to be with me every instant that I'm alive."