WINDSOR: Hundreds of horses and over 1,000 performers from around the world staged a glittering pageant in Britain in a stirring start to the major celebrations for Queen Elizabeth's diamond jubilee.
Troupes from India's Dancing Marwaris to the Chilean Huasos displayed their mettle Thursday in a rare gathering of global horsemanship in the royal town of Windsor, as festivities to mark the queen's 60 years on the throne began in earnest.
In tribute to the monarch's more than 250 Commonwealth and state visits, some 550 horses and 1,200 performers from 17 countries defied spring showers to perform against the backdrop of a 45-metre (148-foot) replica of Buckingham Palace.
Italy's Carousel of the Carabinieri re-enacted an 1848 battle in a whirl of feathers and swords, before riders from Russia's Kremlin Riding School formed a human pyramid on galloping mounts in a daredevil show of horseback acrobatics.
Between the horseback performances were bursts of song and dance, among them a didgeridoo performance, a Maori haka, Inuit throat-singers and a mariachi band.
The robed Royal Cavalry of Oman thundered in on 100 Arabian steeds in clouds of frankincense, watched by a packed audience including the queen's daughter Princess Anne, a former competitive eventing rider.
"The empire may have faded into history but the guiding light of monarchy still continues," said the presenter, television personality Alan Titchmarsh.
Royals will attend each of the show's four nights, culminating in the Queen and husband Prince Philip watching an extended show on Sunday, featuring Scottish singer Susan Boyle and veteran Australian entertainer Rolf Harris.
New South Wales' mounted police gave the troop drill an Australian twist, performing to songs such as Waltzing Matilda as medieval Windsor Castle loomed behind them.
The 86-year-old queen's own racehorses staged a mock race, and her Household Cavalry joined all the performers in a grand finale recreating her coronation.
Bringing in 550 performing horses by air, road and sea was a "once in a lifetime" logistical feat, Sheila Duckworth, director of equestrian transport firm Shelley Ashman, told AFP before the show.
The horses from Oman were flown over in two planeloads, while a team from Azerbaijan drove to Windsor in a 17-day road trip.
So far there have been no mishaps, Duckworth said, adding: "Horses tend to be happy as long as they've got their friends beside them."
The equine pageant is close to the queen's heart: she was given her first pony at age four and remains a keen rider, as well as an owner and breeder of racehorses.
"We have a lot of pride that we got the invitation," said Inspector Kirsten McFadden, commander of the New South Wales Mounted Police.
"It's been a very hard week, long hours, but we're very, very excited. It's all colour -- every act is really special," McFadden, whose mainly female unit also does riot squad duty, told AFP.
Moses Ndungu, a Kenyan dancer, said: "It is a big honour for us. The queen became a queen in our country."
Queen Elizabeth was told of the death of her father, King George VI, and her own ascension to the throne while she was visiting Kenya in 1952.
She has since earned respect as a symbol of constancy, with a reputation for dignity, shrewdness and stamina.
"Our grandparents cooked for her. We have an attachment to her -- we feel proud to be part of that history," Ndungu said as he posed for photos with Britons attracted by his Kikuyu tribal costume of cowskins and seashells.
The jubilee began with the February anniversary of the queen's father's death, spent in low-key engagements.
But in March she received a rock-star welcome as she began a jubilee tour of Britain, while younger members of her family are touring the world to mark the event.
In Britain, the pageant will be followed by a four-day public holiday on June 2-5, with celebrations including a festival of about 1,000 boats on the River Thames, the lighting of more than 2,000 beacons and a service of thanksgiving at St Paul's Cathedral.
The Queen and Prince Philip, 90, who have kept up a relentless pace of public engagements despite their age, are also due to open the London Olympics in July. AGENCIES