Man honored by Queen Elizabeth II for work to improve horse industry

Marty Irby signs a condolence book for the queen at the British embassy in Washington, D.C....
Marty Irby signs a condolence book for the queen at the British embassy in Washington, D.C. shortly after she passed.(Marty Irby)
Published: Sep. 19, 2022 at 4:30 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - As the world reflects on the life of Queen Elizabeth II, one Kentuckians is remembering the common cause they shared.

When the queen’s coffin left Westminster Abbey, tears rolled down Marty Irby’s face.

“I have just been mourning her loss over the past 10 days,” Irby said.

Irby, who’s spent much of his life fighting for horse rights, used to work for retired Kentucky Congressman Ed Whitfield.

He’s also good friends with Monty Roberts, who trained the queen’s horses for the past 35 years.

An eight-time world champion equestrian, Irby learned about the practice of soring. That’s when trainers inflict pain on horses’ legs and hooves to make them step higher and run faster.

Although it’s illegal in the U.S., Irby said it’s still widely used in horse shows in Kentucky and Tennessee.

“The horse that steps the highest at the end of the day is who wins the prize,” Irby said.

Rep. Whitfield asked Irby to testify to Congress about inhumane horse training. After his testimony, Irby’s life fell apart, receiving death threats from those in the horse industry.

“Mostly people in Tennessee and Kentucky are where the violent threats came from,” Irby said.

His friend Monty asked him to write his story and sent it to the queen in 2020. A few months later, Irby received an award from the queen honoring his work to end horse violence, with her signature in the bottom right corner.

“It’s been the greatest honor of my life over the past two years,” Irby said.

The queen was known for her love of horses, and that passion brought her to the bluegrass state three times. Twice in the 1980s and then for the 2007 Kentucky Derby. Each time she stayed at Bill Farish’s Lane’s End Farm in Woodford County.

In honor of her majesty, Irby plans to keep fighting for horses, now pushing for the passage of a horse racing safety bill and a bill that would end horse slaughter.

“It’s going to be a big week for the horses, and I have to think that there’s someone up in heaven is helping us this week,” Irby said.

Thousands of people lined the streets on Monday to say a final goodbye to their late monarch.