As he peeked through the wooden fence and whispered “is she coming now?”, Stuart Edwards’s nerves were obvious.
But as soon as the 14-year-old moved into the centre of the arena and began working with horse Archie, he appeared to forget he had a royal observer.
He showed Princess Anne some of the methods used with the horses, moving Archie around the arena with the slightest of movements.
Stuart first visited Horseback UK as part of a course offered by Banchory Academy, which aims to help pupils struggling with confidence and self-esteem.
Now the youngster volunteers at the farm, near Dinnet, and is there everyday after school.
His grades have improved, and his confidence has grown, and he has been inspired to think about his future.
He said: “When I first came to Horseback UK, I did think ‘horses, what are they going to do for me’.
“But I learned a lot about horsemanship and leadership.”
Now the youngster, who has moved to Aboyne Academy, hopes to join the Royal Marines when he leaves school.
“I never really thought about the military before Horseback, but being here has been inspiring. I’ve spoken to servicemen and women here on courses, and have heard their stories about being blown up and getting on with a normal life, even with an injury.”
Banchory Academy took part in a pilot course with Horseback UK, and it is now a regular fixture on the timetable.
The course is a wider programme of events offered by the school, an “outdoors learning day” and has included activities at Glen Tanar, the Leys Estate and Balmoral – where the pupils weeded the Queen’s rose garden.
Yesterday, there were several pupils on hand to show Her Royal Highness the ponies.
Colin Nicoll, deputy rector of the school, said the two-month course that pupils do with the charity has had a real effect on their lives.
Mr Nicoll said: “The relationship we have with Horseback UK has continued to proper, we are planning for our third educational event.
“We’re hoping to bring some more structure to the next programme so the kids can get some qualifications.
“Stuart was one of our pupils and came out here, and he’s really flourished. He flourished in all the outdoors work, and lived for his Friday – it had a big impact on his schooling.
“He’s a clear picture of how this can help improve pupils’ lives. I truly believe there’s a lot of value in it.”