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An Inside Look at Valerie Ashker’s Incredible Journey

 Valerie and Peter with Primitivo and Solar stopping to pose for a picture outside the brand new Cincinnati Bengals Stadium. The stadium holds special memories for Valerie as she sang the National Anthem there the night it opened. Photo by Samantha Clark. Valerie and Peter with Primitivo and Solar stopping to pose for a picture outside the brand new Cincinnati Bengals Stadium. The stadium holds special memories for Valerie as she sang the National Anthem there the night it opened. Photo by Samantha Clark.

When Laine Ashker told me last year about her mother’s plan to ride across the United States on two off-track Thoroughbreds, 7-year-old Primitivo and 17-year-old Solar Express, I was equal parts skeptical and nervous, and half hoped it might never happen. Note to self: Never, ever underestimate those Ashker women again!

Since that December day, Valerie and her partner Peter have prepared painstakingly for this enormous undertaking, and as I write this, are inching closer and closer to their final destination, literally days away after some six months on the road, with 3,000 miles under their belts and less than 300 to go.

Their goal is to arrive at Laine Ashker’s barn in Virginia, which has been a more or less straight shot from California along Highway 50, about 3,500 miles in total.

2nd Makes Thru the Starting Gates Logo Photo by Samantha Clark

The logo on Valerie’s trailer. Photo by Samantha Clark.

It’s difficult to quantify exactly what is most impressive about the whole venture — Valerie’s stamina and refusal to quit, the sheer enormity of the challenge every day, the scale of the logistics, Valerie’s humility throughout it all, her strength, how amazing these horses look, especially after all the distance and the terrain they’ve travelled, the massive and increasing social media and public interest and awareness for the OTTB — it goes on and on.

Although the physical training and fitness work for both horses and riders was actually relatively minimal to what you might expect — Valerie admits she’s always been in shape and eats well, and Peter the same — the planning and preparation prior to leaving was thorough and intense. I asked Valerie if she’d ever done anything like this before, and she replied, “Not no, but HECK no!”

Valerie Ashker and Primitivo and Peter Friedman and Solar Express on the outskirts of Cincinnati.  Photo by Samantha Clark

Valerie Ashker and Primitivo and Peter Friedman and Solar Express on the outskirts of Cincinnati. Photo by Samantha Clark

Obviously there’s nothing you could teach Valerie about horsemanship or training ex-racehorses, but she and Peter enlisted the help of endurance expert Karen Chaton, whose horse Granite Chief is in the AERC Hall of Fame with more than 30,000 miles. Over the course of several hours they picked her brains about what to expect, what to pack and what to do, and have consulted with her many times while on the road and she has become their virtual coach.

Karen advised Valerie that the horses would condition themselves as they went. “You don’t want to put too many miles on those horses’ legs before you even start, adding fuel to any issues that might pop up along the way, so they did about five miles for trail rides three times a week before we left and that was about it, that was how I fitted them,” explained Valerie.

“We started out with 15 mile days, and then we moved it up to 20 and 25, and we actually got a couple of 30-mile days in, so I’m really excited about that. You don’t want to condition too much because you’re using your horse and you’re walking so you’re getting fitter and fitter as you go.”

Valerie found out about Dr. Cook’s Bitless Bridles after browsing in the western world and now she swears by them. “We’ve never had a bit in these horses ever. Karen told us our horses would lose weight and we need to encourage them to eat along the road as much as possible, grazing on the verges, swiping at long grasses, and if they have a conventional bridle on they don’t eat as well. It’s a nuisance; they can’t chew as easily, and the bit gets full of food and needs cleaning constantly.”

Unhappy with the neoprene equipment that a lot of the long distance riders use, she kept searching until she found Dr. Cook’s leather bridles and approached them, and they agreed to sponsor the ride.

“My horses are so well trained now they could do a First Level dressage test and they’d be on the bit and there’s no bit. I could take Tivo Training level and compete him in the bitless bridle. It’s a wonderful tool. I’m going to use it on all my babies from now on, and for people that are a bit handsy so the horses don’t have to suffer from their inadequacies. My horses love them.”

Valerie Ashker and Primitivo Cininnati Ohio Photo By Samantha Clark

Valerie Ashker and Primitivo in Cincinnati, Ohio. Photo By Samantha Clark.

Dr. Cook’s Bitless Bridles are one of many sponsors who jumped on board to be a part of the 2nd Makes From The Starting Gates quest, and to help with products in kind. To mention just a few, Primitivo and Solar have been supported every step of the way by Nutrena, Thoroughbred Aftercare AllianceEasycare Boots, Toklat, Flair Equine Nasal Strips, Hoof Armor and Bucas Blankets.

As Valerie is keen to stress, she’s lucky to have a team of elite professionals on hand to call upon should she need to, especially Nutrena, who have been customising feed for both horses — no mean feat considering Solar is a 17-year-old ex-racehorse with Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (PSSM).

Solar and Primitivo are really what this ride is all about. Valerie has a fantastic record of picking ex-racehorses from the track and turning them into four-star gold, or finding wonderful second careers for them. Her daughter Laine has ridden three for her at Rolex so far, and so according to Valerie: “If I can help just one kid get an ex-racehorse because the pressure isn’t on for her coach to go to Europe to buy an expensive horse, then mission accomplished!

“Instead just go to your city’s racetrack and extract a horse. It’s already been there and done that and it will metamorphose into something spectacular, just like Laine’s horses, and that’s the whole point. If one horse, just one horse, gets extracted from the track because of this ride, because of the visibility and the knowledge, then mission accomplished.”

This is a sentiment Valerie repeated often during the day I spent with her and Peter; she’s so anxious to convey her love and admiration for the OTTB, and why they stand head and shoulders above any other breed in her opinion. “I think what separates the men from the boys with these OTTBs, Laine and I have had it exemplified in all our horses from Eight St James Place, which — my heart be still with that horse, that’s my number one love of my life horse — and with Frodo, with Al (Anthony Patch).

“She’ll get it with Comet (Calling All Comets). She’ll get it with Paddy (Call Me Paddy). It’s the heart. Not only are they incredible athletes, and great heads, great minds but they give you more than any other breed. When you need it, when Laine puts her leg on they’ll say ‘I’m tired but I’ve got a little bit more left in that engine and I’m going to give it to you,’ and my heart goes out for that. So if I can bring awareness to these horses and their second careers, then this is why these 3,333 some miles will count.”

And credit where credit’s due — Valerie’s horses look fabulous, and without boasting, she’d agree. “It’s been gruelling, it’s hard, it’s day in day out, that’s why I’m totally taken aback by how good my horses look for this kind of toll of what they’ve endured and what they’ve gone through. It amazes me.”

Primitivo - A picture of health since leaving California May 9th. Photo by Samantha Clark

Primitivo – A picture of health since leaving California on May 9. Photo by Samantha Clark.

It’s true. They boast sleek shiny coats, wonderful condition, bright eyes and pricked ears. Not only do they look fabulous, but they are incredibly well-behaved. I meet them in downtown Cincinnati, and they were barely phased by walking through a major city — railroads above and beside them, overhead highways, giant stadiums, pedestrian crossings, car parks. They handled it all with remarkable aplomb.

Passers-by stopped to ask questions, and this is where Valerie is in her element,and where it’s obvious how her following on social media caught fire. She’s a natural with everyone we met. Children, the elderly, policemen, car salesmen, the odd homeless person — she’s engaging, enthusiastic, animated — of course you want to hear more.

Did a single one of you watch just one of her live videos on Facebook and not tune in again? Absolutely not! It’s become part of a daily routine for hundreds of her followers who check in regularly to watch, comment and have become a part of the journey. Some have volunteered along the way, offering to help drive, bring food or suggest places to stay, and this has been the best thing about the whole ride for Valerie.

“I think what it comes down to for me, first and foremost, even more than the scenery, has been the people we’ve met, the camaraderie, of getting these horses through to the other side. What is my passion has now become a lot of other people’s also.

“They’ve embraced it, so now when we call out for help such as a driver for a couple of days, they do it for me but they really are here because of our commonality for these horses, these OTTBs. That has been a real eye-opener and it’s picked up the further east we go, probably because of the more populated areas. It’s really growing and it blows me away. It’s been the ride of a lifetime.”

Unbelievably Peter had barely ridden before he met Valerie, but now he handles Solar with an accustomed ease that comes with 3,000 miles in the saddle. He’d never done anything like this before, but for him this journey has always been something of a dream, only one that he never imagined might become a reality, and he insists it’s everything he’d hoped and more,

“It is as romantic as it might seem but it’s a lot of work,” Peter says. “Nothing’s really good without a lot of hard work and this has been the most gruelling, hardest thing we’ve ever done, but on the opposite end of it it’s also been the most rewarding. You can’t get the good without putting in the work.”

“My favourite part, besides meeting such nice people, is a new appreciation of this country’s scenery and just the wildlife and the openness out west. I liked Nevada. Nevada keeps coming back into my head because it’s the most desolate, unpopulated area but it was so full of life and peaceful, and we could talk and it was enjoyable.

“I have a new appreciation for each state really; instead of driving by at 70 miles per hour and not noticing anything you see everything down to the tiny anthills and the lizards and the little flowers, so many flowers in Nevada that you don’t even see when you’re going at 60 miles per hour. It’s been a real eye-opener just to make me appreciate the country a little better.”

Valerie Ashker and Peter Friedman with OTTBs Primitivo and Solar Express wend their way straight through Cincinnati Ohio Photo by Samantha Clark

Valerie Ashker and Peter Friedman with OTTBs Primitivo and Solar Express wend their way straight through Cincinnati Ohio Photo by Samantha Clark

Peter alternates riding Solar with driving the trailer, and worrying about Valerie. During the trip Valerie has had a fall and broken her clavicle and a few ribs, has had a cancer scare, has been kicked by her horse and also had to deal with road rage in Indiana. Living in close quarters in the trailer, spending every moment together, sharing this trip and pretty much everything besides, there must have been times when he wanted her to stop?

“After her fall I told her I didn’t want her to ride unless she could get back on the horse by herself but that didn’t last too long, about 10 days, and then she was bored and she was bossing me around. I was afraid for her getting hurt again but I knew she wasn’t going to quit, and that’s what I love about her,” Peter says.

“This is the hardest thing we’ve ever done and to plan on something like this you may as well just plan on you getting hurt twice and the horse getting hurt twice because we are a month behind now due to incidences we couldn’t have accounted for.”

As for Valerie, it never occurred to her not to finish. “The collarbone thing really did hurt. The ribs? They hurt, but you keep riding. I mean, heck, my daughter trains with Buck and Bruce Davidson, and they would both ride with their heads hanging off, and you get around people that are that stoic about that sort of thing, and they’re that determined, and their eye is on the prize, and you engulf yourself in that state of mind and that’s what I did.

“The clavicle really did hurt, I have to say, and the cancer scare — that was a bummer. It happens so often to people you know, to people close to you, and then when you think YOU have it, it puts a whole new light on life. For a couple of months I had to live with the fact that they were a little bit concerned about it because it was not going away. This whole ride is dedicated to OTTBs, but as much as it will hopefully benefit them it’s truly benefited us. You really become a little bit of a different person, and your priorities and your perspectives on life really do alter on a ride like this.”

Peter himself pulled his groin muscle about a week ago: “It’s not easy, it’s not just a joyride, it’s a long way to go without something bad happening. I take my hat off to those old guys back in the old days because it’s a rough journey going across this country, its a long way and it’s pretty gruelling.”

Valerie agrees, and adds that they’re both beginning to suffer from fatigue: “About three weeks ago I don’t think I’ve ever been in better shape. Now I think I’ve peaked and it’s working against me a little bit, now I’m getting worn out, mentally and physically. My joints feel it a little bit more, Peter and I get in each other’s way more, it’s just gruelling day in and day out. I think a ride like this, we have to be aware that these issues that we’re dealing with are normal.”

Valerie Ashker and Primitivo on their Incredible Journey Photo by Samantha Clark

Valerie Ashker and Primitivo on their incredible journey. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Peter and Valerie generally walk alongside Tivo and Solar for several miles a day for a variety of reasons. “Oh my God, my bum!” exclaimed Valerie, “I need to get off, you know, it’s 2,500 miles, my bum will never be the same! Mostly I like to give the horses a rest, and I can check them over — just as you’ve been listening to their footfalls, that’s how I can tell if they are having any issues at all, down to the point where you can hear it and you can almost tell which foot it is, or which hoof is not quite as heavy on the cement.

“It also gives you time to get your knees stretched out, I’m 60 so there’s arthritis to consider, it’s just nice for me. We ideally walk about four or five miles in the morning and end up walking about four miles into camp, so we’ve actually walked about a sixth of this whole ride and I think it’s been good, I’m in great shape.”

Surprisingly though, Valerie isn’t longing for it to be over, and talking about the finish is the only time she gets quiet and her voice cracks a tiny bit, and I detect the slightest doubt and uncertainty from her. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t know what I’m going to do to not go to my live video. I mean there are points in my ride that I was so down and out and there were so many people that really wanted me to do well and I don’t know what I’m going to to do, it’s going to be tough.

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done but it’s been such a mission, and so many people behind it. For it to end is like being dropped out of the sky into nowhere-land. To have so much support has been incredible, and we’ve all been through so much together, and we’re here and we’re healthy and we’re ready to go on to the next 300 or so miles of the trip but then what? It will be tough saying goodbye to this. I might keep the Facebook page and use it as my general OTTB reporting page so people can still enjoy this, but in a slightly different magnitude and we can still correspond with the people who’ve embraced this.”

Following that, it’s all change as Valerie will drive back to California to pack up her house, which is under contract, and she’s re-locating to Virginia to be based there with her daughter, although she’ll still be making frequent trips back west to visit her parents, who have joined her on the trip for the last leg.

“I’m hoping that I can find a career, something to help with the OTTBs, maybe I can help people retrain them, I don’t know but I don’t want to just drop off the face off the earth after this ride, and then 10 years later look at the logo and have nothing to do with it. I want to have something to do with it for the rest of my life, whether it’s helping Laine, finding horses for her, or helping young kids get started with their new OTTB, or programs I feel that would work, if that would be my contribution I would love it.

“Until I die if someone wants me to pick a horse for them I will continually go to the track. I will go to the track and I will pick one, and there’s not a track that I can’t go to that I know I’ll find not just one, but probably three or four great prospects that in my opinion could be world class prospects, and I’ll take them back and put the necessary rest time and training on them and put them in a new direction, and I’m so confident of that, I’m my last breath confident that they’re out there, people just don’t give it merit.”

Nothing seems to perturb Primitivo - walking calmly through the outskirts of downtown Cincinnati with Valerie Ashker. Photo by Samantha Clark

Nothing seems to perturb Primitivo, walking calmly through the outskirts of downtown Cincinnati with Valerie Ashker. Photo by Samantha Clark

Solar has been with Valerie since coming 4 years old and owes her nothing, she says. He will be her responsibility until he takes his last breath on this earth; she is full of admiration and love for his strength and courage, still in front, still looking for the next mountain despite his age and some arthritic issues and PSSM.

As for Tivo: “I think Tivo would like to do long distance rides, I think that’s up his alley, this is great for him. I don’t think he wants to be an event horse and I still haven’t hung my eventing spurs, I’d like to do it for another year or two and then call it a day. So maybe I could lease him to someone who wanted to do this because he’s brilliant, I mean the live videos are testament to how awesome he is.”

The live videos are also of course testament to how awesome Valerie is too, and how amazing this journey is, and all that she has achieved thus far since setting off on May 9. She and Peter have been joined by her parents, George and Lillian ,who will accompany them all the way now through to the finish line in Virginia. They hope to reach Laine there by Nov. 9, and after that, as far as a Plan B goes, Valerie shrugs her shoulders: “If all else fails, hell, I might get on Tivo and ride him all the way back!”

Bettina Hoy Takes Blenheim Palace CCI3* Title, 3 U.S. Riders in Top 20

Bettina Hoy and Seigneur Medicott. Photo by Samantha Clark. Bettina Hoy and Seigneur Medicott. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Bettina Hoy led the Blenheim Palace CCI3* from start to finish on Seigneur Medicott and there could hardly be a more popular winner. Adding only cross country time penalties to her dressage score, she’s a worthy winner of this year’s title. There were only 12 clears out of 55 rounds this afternoon over Di Boddy’s course, and although it looked more straightforward than yesterday’s CIC3* course, obviously the horses were jumping after their cross country exertions, and the slightly holding ground was also a factor.

Bettina Hoy and Seigneur Medicott Photo by Samantha Clark

Bettina Hoy and Seigneur Medicott. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Our three remaining U.S. riders all ended up in the top 20 but it was obviously disappointing for both Hannah Sue Burnett to slip from 2nd to 5th with two rails down and Holly Payne Caravella to 13th from 7th with the same.

Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot Photo By Samantha Clark

Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot. Photo By Samantha Clark.

Hannah Sue told me Harbour Pilot wasn’t particularly tired but slightly affected by the atmosphere and jumping off grass. “He was a bit aggressive today. He gets nervous and he doesn’t always jump great off the grass. Obviously he worked really hard yesterday and you can tell today he wasn’t as careful as he has been. Silvio Mazzoni has been helping me a ton. I’m still really proud of him, he’s still the best horse in the world.”

Holly Payne Caravella and Santino Photo by Samantha Clark

Holly Payne Caravella and Santino. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Likewise, Holly said Santino tried his hardest and didn’t think yesterday’s exertions had too much bearing on today’s rails. “He felt pretty good. He can be a little tricky in the show-jumping. He’s not really a traditional show jumper and I’ve not jumped him on wet grass before. He felt full of energy, he just felt a little bit different off the ground than I’m used to having in the ring but I’m happy with him, he tried hard and he was good. It’s been a great two weeks over here, really awesome, but it will be good to be home.” Holly has not decided yet what her plan for Santino is next year.

Kurt Martin and Delux Z Photo by Samantha Clark

Kurt Martin and Delux Z. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Kurt Martin moved up to 17th place with a beautiful clear round on Delux Z. “I’m really happy with the horse, he really tried, it’s just been such a great experience. It really took a lot of people helping here and at home, and I’m happy that it turned out so well for all of us. It’s been so much fun, even going into the show jumping this afternoon was fun, watching everyone was fun. I mean the top 15 riders were all amazing, to be around all these people and watch has been such a wonderful experience.”

Andrew Nicholson capitalised on his fast cross country round yesterday and had just one rail down today to move up to take second place on his own and his father-in-law’s Teseo, and Lydia Hannon is the best British rider on her little mare My Royal Touch. Nicola Wilson added nothing but time to her dressage score on Bulana to finish fourth just ahead of Hannah Sue Burnett.

Bettina Hoy and Seigneur Medicott Photo by Samantha Clark

Bettina Hoy and Seigneur Medicott. Photo by Samantha Clark.

It’s been a crazy busy week here at The Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials with the CIC3* for 8 and 9 year olds, the CCI3* and this year also the finale of the ERM. Enormous and heartfelt thank you to all the riders, grooms, supporters, volunteers and organisers who make it all possible and who literally kept the show on the road.

Safe travels home to all our U.S. horses and riders who are on their way back this week and good luck to those who are moving on to Boekelo.

Thank you all for being a part of the Eventing Nation and don’t go away, we’re already getting ready for Plantation next weekend, and much more!

Blenheim Links: Website, Entries & Scoring, Live Stream, EN’s CoverageTwitter, Instagram

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Willa Newton Wins Blenheim CIC3* 8/9 Year Olds, Two U.S. Riders in Top 25

Kylie Lyman and Lup The Loop. Photo by Samantha Clark. Kylie Lyman and Lup The Loop. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Sunday couldn’t have been more different from yesterday’s conditions at Blenheim, and the footing this morning was practically perfect on David Evans’ CIC3* cross country course. Willa Newton was the eventual winner on the chestnut mare Caja 20 after a clear round cross country with just 2 time penalties. Laura Collett took second place on Mr. Bass, adding nothing to their dressage score, and Andrew Nicholson rounded out the top three with Swallow Springs, a rather eye-catching grey. The top three are all 8 year olds.

Kylie Lyman was practically foot perfect on Joan and Geoffrey Nichols’ very special 8-year-old Lup the Loop and came back clear with just 9.2 time faults to finish just inside the top 20 in 19th place. Apart from changing her plan at the corners coming out the the water, she told me she had a fantastic round.

“He was amazing! I think we both left the start box and then it was, ‘Oh my God, we’re at Blenheim!’ and we both got our act together after that and he did everything that I asked. I definitely had to work a little harder than I anticipated, but he’s such an honest horse and he’s so scopey. I don’t know what else to say, it’s still sinking in!”

“I knew that I was going to have to make a conscious effort to be deliberate in all the combinations because my natural inclination is to get a bit forward and ride a bit forward which isn’t always a bad thing, but he’s a big, scopey horse and his stride gets too long and I knew that I had to reel it a bit back in after Millstreet, so that all went to plan. The only place it didn’t was jumping out of the water–he has a little rub on one side of his mouth so he’s a bit sensitive with the steering, so I jumped the corner a little straighter than I had planned and realised jumping in there was no way I was putting a bend on it, so I stayed as direct as I possibly could, and he was honest and we got there. That was not the way I walked it but I didn’t want a 20!”

Kylie used her head, and this round has set her up perfectly for her upcoming competition at Boekelo. “I knew at the end of the course the dragons and the two houses at the top of the hill that I was going to have to be extremely patient, and I felt like he listened and I made myself wait, so I think it was definitely a good prep for Boekelo because I’ve never been there but I know I’m going to have to have a plan and not do the first thing that I want to and be a little bit more patient, and maybe wait for the next distance, so I felt in that way it was very educational.

“I know it’s not as busy as yesterday but it’s the most atmosphere we’ve had out on cross country and that was a good education for both of us and I’d say it probably affected me more than I’d anticipated, leaving the start box I thought I had my focus and my plan and I just got out there over the first couple of jumps and went, ‘Holy cow!’, and then got it back together!”

Kylie Lyman and Lup The Loop Photo by Samantha Clark

Kylie Lyman and Lup The Loop. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Kylie will go back to Ireland now and re-group. “This fills me with confidence, but it’s also a kick in the pants to keep working at it, to get a plan and stick to it, to be patient and let him do his job and make him accountable too and not just let him think he’s a good boy. Kick on and go, it’s a different level and I think I have to stay patient.

“He’s a pretty easy horse as far as fitness is concerned even thought he’s a pretty big horse and part warmblood, and I don’t jump him a lot–I do a little grid-work in between competitions. I’m getting some dressage help over there, and we’ll just keep on doing what we’re doing and not change too much and work on increasing his fitness a little more and keep our focus and do the best we can.”

Kylie was a working student with Bobby Costello for four years and now works for Lup the Loop’s owners, Joan and Geoffrey Nichols, and for her this trip has been invaluable, but also an exciting marker for the future.

“I still ride with Bobby whenever I can but I probably do a little too much on my own! I need to buckle down and work on our education on the dressage a little more! Bobby’s been stuck with us for a long time, but we know each other well and I feel like we always pick up where we left off. This was the first time I got to work with David so that’s been a new experience and a huge help. For me it’s almost tougher coming here and having someone in the warm-up, and having that extra pressure was a big thing, but it was also a great help and I feel like a have a lot to take home to work on. I definitely have homework to do and I’m very happy.

“I’m just so excited to be here. To have this opportunity is incredible, but for me the more exciting part is that he’s just 8 years old and it’s both of our first season at Advanced and I really couldn’t have asked for more, but I’m really excited for next year, to have a winter to put the time into improving the dressage for both of us, and him getting stronger and having this year’s experience.

“I’m really thankful to be here and have the grant to go to Boekelo, and I’m trying to be excited to be here and enjoy it and not let the pressure get to me too much. I don’t want to beat myself up too much but I want to be competitive, but I want to look back in a year, two years from now and remember how lucky I was to be here. There aren’t a lot of horses like him, nor people like Joan and Geoffrey. They are amazing.”

Tamie Smith and Dempsey II Photo by Samantha Clark

Tamie Smith and Dempsey II. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Tamie Smith went about half an hour later and must have been relieved to be riding in much more pleasant conditions, although she wasn’t taking any chances and borrowed some reins from Hannah Sue Burnett regardless. She needn’t have worried, Dempsey II jumped and galloped round like a pro, coming home clear taking all the direct routes and collecting only 7. 2 time faults to finish 23rd.

“He was super, everything was right out of stride and I felt like the course was very suited to him because it was lots of galloping and then quick turning, technical lines, he felt fantastic. I was very happy after a day like yesterday, it was good to have another horse to come out and get around. One of the corners I was planning on getting four but he added and got five but he was perfectly fine. He’s so quick on his feet and such an athlete. I’m lucky to have him, he’s a phenomenal horse.

“I’ve always had a ton of confidence in him and I haven’t had the struggle with him that I’ve had with Chloe (Twizted Syster). He’s not as strong as her, he’s opinionated like her but he’s not physically as strong as her and I’ve had him since the beginning. He’d never jumped until I got him and I think that helps when you put a foundation on them that you want and you make them your own. Chloe had already done a one-star when I got her and everybody has a different ride.”

Tamie had a pretty high-powered crew helping cool out Dempsey – Holly and Marilyn Payne were helping USEF Director of Eventing Joanie Morris carry buckets of water and wash him down and scrape him off…team work!

As the ERM finale is about to kick off, the CCI3* show-jumping is already underway. It’s non-stop here at Blenheim and we’ll be back with news of our top 30 U.S. riders Kurt, Holly and Hannah, and the final results as soon as possible. Go Blenheim, and Go Eventing!

Blenheim Links: Website, Entries & Scoring, Live Stream, EN’s CoverageTwitter, Instagram

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All 3 U.S. Combinations Move to Show Jumping at Blenheim Palace CCI3*

Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot share a quiet moment. Photo by Samantha Clark. Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot share a quiet moment. Photo by Samantha Clark.

All three remaining U.S. combinations in the Blenheim Palace International CCI3* were accepted this morning at the Final Horse Inspection under thankfully sunny skies, and so will move forward to the show jumping phase this afternoon. Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot are of course in second place behind Bettina Hoy and Seigneur Medicott, Holly Payne Caravella and Santino are in 7th place, and Kurt Martin and Delux Z are in 25th place.

Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot Photo by Samantha Clark

Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Harry Dzenis withdrew Above Board from the holding box. Two other combinations were sent to the holding box: Emily Prangnell and DHI Beaunesse, and Richard Jones and Alfies Clover, but they were both passed upon re-inspection.

Holly Payne and Santino Photo by Samantha Clark

Holly Payne and Santino. Photo by Samantha Clark.

The first group are due to jump at 12:15 and the top 30 placed competitors will show jump in the main arena from 3:45pm GB time. I’m headed back out to the cross country now to catch Kylie Lyman and Tamie Smith in the CIC3* and will be back with much more from Blenheim later. Don’t forget to watch the ERM live stream, it’s all GO GO GO Eventing!

Kurt Martin and Delux Z Photo by Samantha Clark

Kurt Martin and Delux Z Photo by Samantha Clark

Blenheim Links: Website, Entries & Scoring, Live Stream, EN’s CoverageTwitter, Instagram

A Chat With Blenheim and Badminton Cross Country Course Designer Eric Winter

Eric Winter Photo by Samantha Clark

Eric Winter. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Today was a particularly special cross country day at Blenheim. It was the tenth year that Eric Winter has designed the course here and also his last, as next year he’ll move on to Badminton and hand all three courses over to his builder and protege David Evans who is responsible for the ERM and CIC3* course this year. I was lucky enough to catch up with Eric after the CCI3* wrapped up and pick his brains about today’s action and what we might be able to expect at Badminton next Spring.

On the riders

“I thought the course worked really well today. We had lots of different routes and the riders used their brains–we had 50/50 split on a lot of fences, they went to a lower rail or a higher rail.”

On the weather

I think it played into how many we had inside the time but not too much. The footing was actually really good out there; when you walked it they were printing but they weren’t going deep. The ground always holds up really well here. I wasn’t overly worried about that but it always creates a bit more pressure, and I thought the track was quite big anyway. There was quite a lot to jump, but I thought the riders rode fantastically and the course really did what we wanted to, really.

On moving on

It’s always sad but I’ve been here for ten years but then I apprenticed under Mike Etherington-Smith for five years before that so I’ve been involved with it for about 15 years effectively. It’s been a real evolution of the event, we used to just have the Horse Trials and now they have entertainment rings and bits and bobs, and it was my idea to do the 8/9 year old competition. I thought it was a great class for here and it allowed us to do cross country on the Sunday which allowed us to have ticket people coming in on the Sunday. The event has changed its shape quite dramatically over those ten years which is good, and I hope it will go on and progress from strength to strength.

Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot gallop and jump through the rain to move into 2nd after XC Blenheim Palace CCI3* 2016 Photo by Samantha Clark

Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot gallop and jump through the rain to move into 2nd after cross country Blenheim Palace CCI3*. 2016 Photo by Samantha Clark.

Moving on to Badminton

Very frightening! I just need to do the same as I did this year (52% clear, none within the time) there which will be a whole lot harder because I know this place inside out, so you know which bits of ground and what works in different places whereas Badminton is a little bit of a different thing but hopefully we’ll develop together and get to the same sort of thing.

(Event Director Hugh Thomas) asked me on the Thursday of Badminton this year and you could have knocked me over with a feather to be quite honest! Over the course of that weekend I kept walking the course and bits of ground and came up with next year’s track. I walked it Friday, Saturday and Sunday and spent those days sort of playing around with it in my head and by the time I’d left there I was pretty sure what I wanted to do.

We live half an hour away and I first walked the course there when I was about 8 or 9 years old, and it’s something you think about all the time but you never really expect it, to work at that level.

What to expect next Spring

I don’t think you’ll see anything hugely different next year, I think Giuseppe did a great job. I want to stick with that real traditional thing, I don’t want to go too portable. We have a lot of portable fences. I want Badminton to be that traditional old Badminton with some real rider-frightener type fences and big, scary stuff but that the horses read well and jump well. Hugh said to me, ‘Don’t mess with my traffic plan. My car parks and my entrances and exits are absolutely sacrosanct’, but beyond that he said I can do what I want to really.

The centre, the deer park, you can’t do much with that, but we’ve re-shaped the ground around the water, we’ve re-shaped some other bits down at the old Stockholm fence and we’re playing around with some different things. We’re also going to go back to that old traditional swapping direction each year. That’s worked well here at Blenheim, it keeps the riders on their toes because they can be very similar courses but slightly different, your horses get tired in different places, the whole feel of riding round is slightly different so I think that’s quite a positive thing of the swap round every year.

Ideal statistics

I think at three-star level personally I would aim for 50/60% clear rounds, and probably at four-star too, but I think that certainly everybody aims for no horse falls and that was the greatest thing about today. I’ve never managed to achieve it before. I’ve come very close: I’ve had 40% clear here one year, one horse inside the time and one horse fall and that was so close to my perfect stat but never quite got there. This time with the 52% clear, no one inside the time and not putting any horses on the ground, that was my absolute goal and for that to happen in my last year made me really pleased. A certain amount of that is luck but it’s great when it happens.

Sir Mark Todd and Obos Columbus Blenheim Palace CCI3* XC Photo by Samantha Clark

Sir Mark Todd and Obos Columbus on Blenheim Palace CCI3* cross country. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Eric’s design philosophy

I design what I don’t want to ride! I think my weakness in my riding is that I was never quite brave enough and I was never very good on those forward, open distances. I design what my average horses couldn’t jump and what my good horses could jump, and what I found difficult and what Mr. Nicholson and the elite people find easy. I try and pitch stuff that good cross country riders ride forward and have a really good core balance and that good cross country horses travel across the ground and have range. I try and pick up the things that let those horses proffer and look fantastic and the horse that’s not quite good enough gets found out but without putting it on the ground or having anything too dramatic happen, and that’s always where I’ve come from. I want the best riders and the best horses to make it look easy.

It’s nice when you have a course like today–the good cross country horses had their day, they looked fantastic. On the Brash (Sam Griffiths) at the end was a great way to finish. He jumped round like it was a Pony Club track and that’s what I really want to do. Then some of the people who have got learning to do made it look harder, they made it look harder work; just like an examination that said you need to go home and work on this because this isn’t good enough, and I think that’s what good course design does. Hopefully they’ll come back next year better educated and better horses.

On Pierre Michelet’s Rio track

I thought the Rio course was great. I thought it asked loads of different questions and I thought they had to be really balanced and organised to jump it. There was nothing tricky and you watched some of the fences jump fantastically but they had to be on it all the time. If there was a moment when the horse lost concentration and threw his head up in the air then they would pass something and it was too late. That, for sure, to me is the heart of cross country riding: a little bit of unpredictability, a little bit of riders working and making a good job.

Many thanks to Eric for his time this afternoon, and congratulations on both a job very well done and a job to be undertaken; we look forward with excitement to Badminton next Spring.

Kylie Lyman & Tamie Smith Tackle Show Jumping at Blenheim CIC3*

Tamie Smith and Dempsey II Photo by Samatha Clark

Tamie Smith and Dempsey II. Photo by Samatha Clark.

We just wrapped up the CIC3* 8/9YO show jumping here at the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials and it’s just after 6pm. Kylie Lyman and Lup the Loop had the third fence down and one time penalty for 5 total, and Tamie Smith and Dempsey II had the first fence and the middle part of the treble down for 8 total.

Dressage leader and 2014/2015 winner Jonelle Price had three time faults on her grey mare Ascona M to drop behind Tom McEwen on Toledo De Kerser who’ll go into the cross country tomorrow in the lead.

Kylie Lyman is using the competition here as part of an extended European preparation for Boekelo. She’s been based in Ireland since July, and has competed at an Advanced/Intermediate level horse trial at Tattersalls, the CIC3* at Millstream and now this. She told me she was delighted with the way her horse jumped today and is looking forward to riding the cross country tomorrow.

“Historically he’s been a very good show jumper and it’s easy to go in and be as confident as you could be despite all the atmosphere. He tends to handle all that well but this is the most he’s ever seen, and we don’t get to jump off grass very often let alone this. I’ve never jumped him off this type of footing before so I didn’t know what to expect and I could not be happier with him.

“I take full responsibility for the rail we had, I needed to get him straighter out of the turn and I didn’t, and I think I could have helped him out more but he felt like he was careful and rideable and did everything I asked and didn’t get too distracted by anything or the footing, so I’m just so excited by him. He always go out and tries. and doesn’t get too phased by anything. I love him, he’s a great horse!”

Kylie Lyman and Lup the Loop Photo by Samantha Clark

Kylie Lyman and Lup the Loop. Photo by Samantha Clark.

The course caused its fair share of trouble today, probably in part due to the footing which was torn up in parts where the ERM arena had been earlier, and in part because it was a twisty course. “For us,” Kylie admitted, “walking it, it wouldn’t be a course that I would have thought would have suited the two of us, but he was super, he was great.”

Kylie liked David Evans’ cross country course for tomorrow much better. “I think it’s amazing. I’ve never been here before and didn’t know what to expect but every part of being here is just amazing. I think the cross country asks a lot of questions but there’s not any one thing in particular that I’m concerned about but rather the whole course and I know I need to stay patient. I want to be quick but not by letting it get too forward. The grounds are beautiful and I think the way the footing took all the rain today… I just couldn’t be more excited about it.”

Kylie is temporarily based at her Irish husband’s yard just outside Goresbridge where they have a couple of youngsters, and their 2-year-old daughter is getting to spend some time with that side of the family. “It’s been quite the trip already! It’s been a lot of fun but she’s not here this weekend as she’s not at a horse show friendly age; she’s a little too full of it. But she’ll be at Boekelo–I have no choice!”

Ashley Adams produced Lup the Loop to the one-star level and then Kylie took over the ride for Geoff and Joanie Nichols. “When I came back I did a couple of Preliminaries, and then we did our first Intermediates and two-stars and he’s been my first real Advanced horse. I did a couple before with Trading Aces (also sourced by Geoff and Joanie) but not a full season of anything, so my first CCI3* and all of that was with with him. He’s young but you couldn’t have a better brain or a better temperament for it all so he gives you a bit of time to enjoy it all too.”

Lup the Loop is an 8 year old Irish gelding. “He’s very trainable and rideable and athletic and has everything you’d look for in a horse. I’m excited about him.”

Kylie will start the cross country in 27th position, and Tamie will go forward in 41st position. CIC3* cross country starts at 9am tomorrow morning but before that we have the CCI3* Final Horse Inspection. We’ll also be bringing you the CCI3* show-jumping, and don’t forget to tune in and watch the ERM finale. It’s all going down at The Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials!

Blenheim Links: Website, Entries & Scoring, Live Stream, EN’s CoverageTwitter, Instagram

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Bettina Hoy Holds Leads in Blenheim CCI3*, Hannah Sue Burnett Jumps to 2nd

Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot Photo by Samantha Clark

Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Saturday at Blenheim brought the promised rain – on and off between steady, pouring and torrential. This made the CCI3* cross country course even tougher, and for the U.S. contingent especially it was a day of real highs and low lows.

We’re thrilled for Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot who blasted round clear and fast to move up to second place overnight behind dressage leaders Bettina Hoy and Seigneur Medicott. Likewise we’re delighted for Holly Payne who moved up into the top ten after another super fast clear round in the wet, this time on Santino, and for Kurt Martin who piloted Delux Z round clear to creep into the top 25. However our hearts are aching for Tamie Smith who pulled up Twizted Syster after some braking and steering issues halfway round, and for Will Faudree who barely got started on Pfun before he retired.

Bettina Hoy and Seigneur Medicott Photo by Samantha Clark

Bettina Hoy and Seigneur Medicott. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Bettina Hoy coaxed Seigneur Medicott round clear with a handful of time, 8.4, to retain her dressage lead going into the final phase tomorrow. Bettina shared that Micky, as she calls Seigneur Medicott, is a much different ride to her Burghley horse Designer 10.

“He’s very reliant on me. He has a trust in me and he will do it even if he’s insecure and a bit nervous whereas Designer is a completely  free spirit and I have to, in certain situations leave it to him and let him do his job. It’s sometimes a bit difficult for me because I really have to forget about last week and think about this week, and giving him a very different ride. Mickey does need the rider at the moment whereas Designer doesn’t. I think he’d do it on his own – he knows where the numbers are and that the red flags have to be on the right and white on the left. He’s so smart!

“I got both of them when they were five year olds and they had only show jumped prior to that which is what I like best. I like to get them early because I do believe at the end of the day we ask these horses to do such a lot for us, and the more they trust us and believe in us the more likely they are to do it in the end.”

Bettina Hoy and Seigneur Medicott Photo by Samantha Clark

Bettina Hoy and Seigneur Medicott. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Bettina’s training paid off in spades and Seigneur Medicott did do it for her, beautifully. “He was good. It was hard work out there, I have to say. He is still very green at this level. He missed half a year when he was six and he missed half a year when he was eight so he’s more like an 8-year-old than a 10-year-old but he kept going. He kept jumping and he kept galloping and I’m really proud of him.”

“It certainly helped that I’d done Blair and Gatcombe already, he keeps his speed up whether you go uphill or downhill,whether the ground is good or not so good which is great and I guess that’s where all the blood he has comes through. I could feel the crowds and the weather adding to his insecurity a little bit today, but then about halfway around the course I think he realised it was alright and he just got on with it.”

Bettina never comes to Blenheim underestimating the track. “There are enough good questions out there and it’s a perfect stepping stone if you’re thinking of doing a four-star next year. The hills certainly play a big role and I do believe you have to have the horses a lot fitter than you obviously have to have on a flat course. I think Boekelo is a lot, lot easier as a three-star than this.”

Sadly, Seigneur Medicott’s owner has decided to put the horse on the market and so Bettina is actively searching for two additional owners to join a syndicate so she can keep the ride, “It would be a real shame to lose the ride now. I love him. He’s a very special horse. I’m actively trying to put a syndicate together.”

Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot Photo by Samantha Clark

Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot looked fantastic everywhere I saw them, and after she finished she told me he felt pretty wonderful the whole way round. “He started really strong and usually he gets stronger and stronger but this time, by the end, I think because it’s so twisty and turny and has so many downhills, when I said whoa he would start to slow down and listen which is really not like him and really nice! Usually he’ll just keep going but he learned as he went and really listened to me really, really well.

“I didn’t watch anyone go because I went pretty early and I didn’t want to watch anyone else. He’s so powerful through the combinations, he just covers the ground and I can just steer him and he jumps really well. Number 7ABC he covered the two-stride beautifully, no problem. The big water–the two corners I think I did four there but he’s so honest, even if he’s deep he just pats the ground and stays between the flags. The whole round kind of went like that; he was pulling me round and I was just kind of steering him! I think it definitely helps to have something that’s taking you around a course like this and especially on footing like this. He was really good.”

With 5.2 time faults Hannah’s round is one of the fastest of the day, and she said it felt like it. “I was pushing and pulling, it felt like Motocross out there, but I couldn’t be happier!” They are just 5.6 points behind Bettina Hoy and Seigneur Medicott in second place overnight.

Lydia Hannon and My Royal Touch is the best placed British rider in third place after cross country. Lydia, in her twenties, has had the mare since finding her at Tattersalls after she’d done the 1* as a 6-year-old and says they’ve been learning together. “We’ve been at three-star together now for quite a long time and I’m just learning everything on her, and throughout the year we’re getting better and better and better. We didn’t have a happy run at Luhmühlen which is why we made the decision to come and have a really good run here and so far so good. The cross country was great, she gave me a really, really good ride.”

Lydia is fairly local to Blenheim; she only lives 45 minutes away and is excited to be doing so well here. “It’s been building, the mare doesn’t owe me anything. I don’t really know what to say. We came to get a Badminton qualification and anything else is a bonus.”

Holly Payne Caravella and Santino Photo By Samantha Clark

Holly Payne Caravella and Santino. Photo By Samantha Clark.

Holly Payne Caravella had some practice last week at waiting all day in the rain to ride, and it stood her in good stead today. She repeated her Burghley performance, giving Santino a fantastic ride and bringing him home with 9.2 time penalties to finish in 7th place heading into the show jumping.

“I think having ridden round Burghley last week definitely helped me get into the spirit of it. Here with the rain and the mud it didn’t walk terribly intimidating but you definitely had to ride strong and get it done and I think last week inspired me, it got me in that style of riding and was helpful for today.”

“He was really good, he was super. I was a little bit slow. I just lost it at the end. I was on my minutes at the water but that minute through all the water and the corners coming out gets a bit slow there and I couldn’t catch back up but he was super. He was really genuine the whole time. It actually rode really well. I was conservative in a couple of spots because Hannah and Kurt had said it had gotten quite slippery by the coffin and there’s quite a tight turn getting into that so I really took my time there and that was the only place he did slide a little bit, but I think the footing everywhere else held up pretty well.”

“We kept on galloping all the way to the end. I had to help him jumping wise at the end, I felt like that was the only place he got a little tired but he was still full of run, he wanted to keep on going. He’s got an amazing gallop but he’s one that is just a little slower with his footwork at the jumps. He actually wastes time jumping but he’s got a great gallop in between, but it was super. It rode really well. It was raining quite hard when I started off so I couldn’t see very well and I was just focusing on finding my jumps. I had no idea if there was a crowd out there at all!”

Holly tries not to let the fact that she’s in England impact her at all and thinks the events are actually pretty similar to those on the East Coast. “I think it’s pretty much the same. I kind of zone out. I try not to get affected by the crowds and just treat it like I’m just going out for a school!”

Kurt Martin and Delux Z Photo by Samantha Clark

Kurt Martin and Delux Z. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Kurt Martin is here on his first trip to England and rose to the occasion, giving Delux Z a strong, positive ride to bring him home clear with 15.6 time, good enough for 25th place at the end of the day.

A delighted Kurt described his round to me: “He was really good at the beginning, not too spooky about the people and that had been my concern. He jumped really well and we were up on our minutes until we crossed the first water and did three strides at the corners. He got a little flat at the top of the hill but he was very honest and he keeps jumping, he gave me such a great feel, he’s got such a great jump so it really gives me a lot of confidence. I think this was a great decision to come here and do a CCI3*, to get me out to see a lot and educate. He’s a great horse for that and I really love him for what he’s doing for me and I really had such a great ride.”

Kurt didn’t think the weather affected Delux Z but perhaps the speed did. “He’s not the fastest horse and I just have to keep at him all the way around. I was a little bit cautious around the turns but I don’t think the crowds affected him this time, and the jumps are never going to be too big for him so it’s awesome.”

Kurt, unlike a lot of event riders, is actually looking forward to tomorrow! “He’s a great show jumper and I enjoy that phase a lot. This was a great feeling and I even had fun out there, for once! As I was spurring and kicking, but I still had fun!”

Tamie Smith and Twizted Syster Photo by Samantha Clark

Tamie Smith and Twizted Syster. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Unfortunately Tamie Smith had no fun at all on Twizted Syster. Probably going out in this weather without gloves didn’t help but she pulled up about halfway after she lost her brakes and steering, and walked home bitterly disappointed. At this point she wasn’t sure what she’d do next, or quite what went wrong.

“I just couldn’t hang on to my reins. I don’t know. She was great, she was strong but I have to have my reins when she’s strong like that. I probably went a little bit further than I should have but I’m here so…I don’t know, I just have to figure out what reins to use in this weather. I guess it’s better when you have an equipment failure than when you have a horse that won’t jump. Maybe we’ll go to Gatcombe next weekend, I don’t know. I have a lot to think about right now. I’m not going to have her go home to California next week like I was going to because I’m here for a reason, to figure all this out, and to bring my riding to the next level, so I have to chalk this up to inexperience. It’s hard. I’m at Rodney’s (Powell) and he’ll help me, Mark Todd is up the street and he’ll help me. I’ll figure it out.”

“She jumped everything really well, I just couldn’t stop. She’s fit enough though – I wasn’t sure if she was, but I’m pretty sure she is! Maybe I’ll take her to Boekelo or maybe I’ll look at doing something else. She’s always been a difficult horse. It’s so hard because I believe in her, I know she has it, it’s just been hard to figure it all out. I worked with Phillip (Dutton) this spring and that was really helpful but he’s not here, I wish he was. It’s so hard when you come over here and you feel like you let everybody down, because I know she’s capable and I know I am.”

It speaks volumes about Tamie’s strength of character that she not only talked to me so honestly right after such a difficult round, but that she put a brave face on and was back in the finish box an hour later helping to cool out Holly’s horse, along with Kurt Martin, still in his breeches. This, I think, is what will put the USA back on top – real teamwork, and it must have taken real guts on Tamie’s part.

Will Faudree and Pfun Photo by Samantha Clark

Will Faudree and Pfun. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Equally, Will Faudree came back after retiring after two stops at the skinny at part B of fence 4 and was lost for words. “He started out really good and I went to make the turn to the fourth jump and there was a bunch of umbrellas in the crowd, and he’s never looked at stuff like that and he really spooked at those and jumped off my line. I got him into the combination; it was an oxer to a chevron and he jumped the oxer and was just looking off into the crowds and just stuck his head into the air and ran past it and never even really saw it.

“It’s really frustrating because he’s a good cross country horse and he’s never done anything like this. He was going great leading up to it, it’s just bad luck, but it’s frustrating The only good thing is it was early on so I can take him home and do something else with him this autumn, but it’s really disappointing as I think he’s a really top horse and it’s frustrating for this to happen here.”

US Team Coach David O’Connor summed up the day, “Three great rides: Kurt went out and was strong and aggressive and put a great round in. Hannah’s round was class as that horse and rider have shown before, so it’s great for her to be in that position. Both those horses jumped really well. I think Holly put in a really good round too, was pretty quick and for a younger horse I think that was great. Tamie just got in a bunch of trouble with reins and things, and I haven’t had a chance to look at Will’s round yet, he told me he was spooking at the crowds. It’s a tough track but it’s the first time some of these horses are maybe seeing crowds; I think it’s a good event for an experienced nine year old, I wouldn’t bring a horse here for it’s first three star. It’s a good event especially on a rainy day, and I think it’s a good event to bring our horses too for what we need to do.”

Nilson Moreira Da Silva and Muggle didn’t have much of a happier time here at Blenheim than they did at Burghley – they once again elected to retire after some trouble early on.

Andrew Nicholson and Teseo Photo by Samantha Clark

Andrew Nicholson and Teseo. Photo by Samantha Clark.

First out this morning, Andrew Nicholson was the fastest round of the day on Teseo, coming home with 0.4 time despite taking two long routes. There were 42 clear rounds (52%), 16 rounds with 20 penalties, 13 retired and 5 eliminated. There were no horse falls and no one was injured.

It’s been a long, wet day and we’re waiting now for the CIC3* show-jumping to start. An enormous thank you to the riders for chatting as always, and especially to all the volunteers who stood outside in foul weather and were bar none the most cheerful bunch I’ve ever encountered. Props again also to the organisers for the mammoth task of fitting in three enormous divisions, and a special personal thank you to Catherine Austen and Kate Green in the press tent who are making magic happen in the most testing of conditions.

Blenheim Links: Website, Entries & Scoring, Live Stream, EN’s CoverageTwitter, Instagram

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Bettina Hoy Keeps Lead, Hannah Sue Burnett Third After Blenheim CCI3* Dressage

Pippa Funnell and Billy Cuckoo. Photo by Samantha Clark. Pippa Funnell and Billy Cuckoo. Photo by Samantha Clark.

The top three from Thursday after dressage in the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials CCI3* remain unchanged as we head into the cross country on Saturday. Hannah Sue Burnett keeps her third place on Harbour Pilot, Holly Payne Caravella and Santino slipped down to 12th and Tamie Smith is just inside the top 20 on Twizted Syster. Will Faudree and Pfun, and Kurt Martin on Delux Z are further down the pack but less than a stop cross country separates them from the leaders.

We saw some great riding on Friday, but with the windy conditions and a lot of quite green horses to the level, it never looked like anyone was going to come close to Bettina Hoy’s score.

Ibby Macpherson moved into fourth place on her Burghley re-routed ride Ballingowan Diamond after an almost flawless test (it’s Friday afternoon, come on!) in the worst of the weather, “He was really good, I was really pleased with him, it was just as we were cantering around the arena that it started blowing a gale and raining and was pretty gross. I watched it on the video and my tails were up my back, banging him on the back, but he was just so good, he kept doing his thing, he was a real pro.”

This was a personal best for Ibby and her 12 year old Irish chestnut Ballingowan Diamond that she bought from Anne O’Grady in Ireland as a four year old. Anne is also responsible for Ballynoe Castle RM, and Ballingowan Pizazz and Ballingowan Ginger. Ibby was stable jockey to William Fox-Pitt for three years and still considers him a mentor.

Ibby is hoping for a better finish to this week than at Burghley last week when things didn’t go to plan on Saturday,

“He’s always pretty consistent on the flat and every dressage test we’ve done he’s got better. I was thrilled to bits with him last week because there’s obviously nothing that prepares you for that atmosphere at Burghley and he was such a good boy. He was jumping really well on cross country and then the hook on our stud guard that you attach the martingale to, got caught on the fence when he landed a bit steep going into the Anniversary Splash and basically pulled the saddle and the girth quite far back. So I ended up sitting where I wasn’t meant to be sitting, jumped the next few fences and when we got to Capability’s Cutting and had to go down the hill and up the other side he stopped because I was way too far back.”

The only upside might be that Ibby’s sitting in fourth now, and perhaps the jumps look a tiny bit smaller this weekend, “I think there’s still quite a lot here to jump. The course here is actually really long, it’s only 200m shorter than Burghley so I’m pretty pleased that hopefully I got him Burghley fit so we’ll just see. There’s enough to jump out there, I wouldn’t say it was big but there are quite a few questions that need you to be thinking and accuracy questions of jumping things on angles.”

I managed to catch up with Tamie Smith and she agrees with Ibby that the course is long, and is also looking forward to riding it tomorrow, “I think it’s great – lots of galloping and terrain, and long, it’s almost 11 minutes. The water going into the first crossing is pretty significant I think, and even coming out there, I think the corners will ride really tough, but everything else looks….if your horse can gallop and if it can turn then it will be good. But it’s big and I think it’s going to be a really good test and if you can get around here I think you’re ready for a four star.”

Tamie had walked the course three times already, “and I’m going to go and walk it again in an hour, just to go over my gallop lines and see where I can save some time and just really study it because I go pretty early on tomorrow. Thank God because it’s supposed to start raining at 2am and not stop. I’m not really worried, the harder the weather the harder it is for everybody else so it will make it more of a cross country test so I’m hopeful for it. I’ve had my fair share and I’ve ridden both of those horses in mud and they’re mudders so I’m not worried about the ground or anything like that. Plus Chloe (Twizted Syster) is twelfth to go so she’ll probably have perfect going as it’s actually a little bit firm right now but I think as soon as the rain comes it will be great. I’m excited!”

Pippa Funnell showed us how to manage a hot, spooky horse in the ring, conjuring a 49.8 out of Billy Cuckoo. This tidy little mare looked ready to bolt when the crowd cheered for the rider before her, but Pippa packaged her up and except for a break in the second serpentine, skilfully rode her through the test with some really nice moments, especially in the trot.

Pippa, who is currently 2nd after the dressage in the CIC3* 8/9 year old section, and has Mirage D’Elle in the ERM tomorrow, thought that was probably the best test Billy Cuckoo could have done for now.

“She is a little bit spooky, you can see that in there, but I think that’s a little bit of the carefulness of the Billy Congo in her,” Pippa said. “She needs to grow up now and see these sort of atmospheres, and people and flags and things. She wouldn’t be the easiest on the flat but she’s a nice mare. This would definitely be her biggest test to date here. It’s more of a fact-finding weekend with her for me really rather than necessarily being out to be very competitive.”

Nicola Wilson and Bulana Photo by Samantha Clark

Nicola Wilson and Bulana. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Equally Nicola Wilson, another experienced Team GB competitor, was a pleasure to watch and a demonstration of how to execute a test. Bulana, although only a 10 year old, has quite a lot of experience at this level already having won Boekelo last year and now campaigning at Advanced for her second year.

Nicola was happy with her effort. “I was really pleased with her, there were obviously a few little mistakes here, there and everywhere but on the whole I was very pleased with her. She’s a really exciting, lovely horse and she’s a pleasure to ride and a pleasure to work with and I think the world of her.” Nicola and Bulana scored 48.8.

Chris Bartle was on hand to help Nicola and Bulana warm up, and Nicola confirmed he’s been a presence in her career for a long time.

“On the flat I train with Ian Woodhead but Chris has been my mentor since we were paired in the Pro-Am contest at Bramham in 1997,” she said. “He obviously only lives half an hour away from me and has remained an important person in my career and support team since then. I’m very fortunate to have him as a pair of eyes on the ground when needed and to bounce ideas off and guidance, and it’s always good to chat these things through with someone as experienced as he is.”

Bulana contested the ERM classes at Gatcombe and Blair, which Nicola says “worked in quite nicely as a preparation for her three day event. I didn’t think she was quite ready to go four star yet this autumn and I think Blenheim is always a challenging course and it’s well-built and the hills have an influence so I thought it would be good for her experience and education.”

Nicola doesn’t give Bulana any special treatment on account of her being a mare, but instead as a special horse. “I think you just have to be sensitive to whatever horse you’re riding and treat them as individuals and that’s the only difference; treat them as individuals whether it’s a mare or a gelding.”

Aoife Clark and Wasting Light Photo by Samantha Clark

Aoife Clark and Wasting Light. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Spare a thought for Aoife Clark and Wasting Light who were stopped mid-test by Eric Lieby in the Ground Jury during what was turning out to be a super test. Aoife, who won this event a few years ago on Fenya’s Elegance told me afterwards it was just pure bad luck, the horse struck into himself and was momentarily unsound but recovered quickly to complete the test without any further incident,

“He was doing a lovely test and he must have just knocked himself behind as he came across in the right canter half pass. He obviously just picked his leg up for a few strides going ‘ow, ow, ow!’ and then he was absolutely fine, he’s totally sound, he trotted out the rest of the test beautifully, it’s just a bit annoying but never mind, these things happen.” It’s hard not to wonder if their score of 46.4 might have been better had that not happened.

Wasting Light is a very nice stamp of a horse, a 9 year old who finished 6th in the CIC3* here last year and so Aoife decided to contest the CCI3* with him this year.

“Although he’s still eligible for the 8/9 year old CIC3* this year I think this is a better step for him thinking about moving up to four star next year. He’s a really galloper and he loves to gallop and with the time usually being tight here that should suit him. He’s been going well so we’ll see. The course looks amazing, it’s always beautifully presented here — challenging, enough questions but fair. I’m really looking forward to riding it.”

Aoife, of course, is one of Ireland’s top riders, but comes to Blenheim as a local hero as she lives just down the road. “There’s great local support here even though I’m Irish! It’s one of my favourite events and it’s definitely always a main aim on the calendar.”

Caroline Powell and Sinatra Frank Baby Photo by Samantha Clark

Caroline Powell and Sinatra Frank Baby. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Caroline Powell has a nice ride in the big, rangy Irish grey Sinatra Frank Baby that she’s had for a couple of years and they went shortly before the lunch break scoring 48.9.

“He was good, he’s sort of new to this level, it’s only the second time I’ve tackled it in this type of atmosphere. He’s a lovely horse and we’ve come here looking for qualifications and a good result at the end of the weekend would be a real bonus. He’s been a really consistent horse and everything’s becoming a lot more solid on him and I think he’s going to be quite a nice horse for the future.”

Like so many of the riders here, Caroline has come straight from Burghley but she comes off the back of an 8th place finish and says that helps.

“Well the fences certainly look smaller!,” she said. “No, Burghley was amazing; just to get Onwards and Upwards there was a pretty good effort with the vets and farriers and everything. Over the last two or three years we haven’t had the easiest time with him but horses all develop at different stages so hopefully now he’s had his bit of time off and I’ve got him for a wee while!”

Don’t for a moment think Caroline will be complacent on the course tomorrow either. “It looks good, it’ s quite long and slightly twisty, a few unnecessary bends and twists here and there but on the whole I think it looks great and the ground feels really good underfoot so I’m looking forward to it.”

Cross country starts tomorrow at 9 a.m. GB time and props once again to the organisers who have to somehow fit in the riders who have horses in all three divisions (ERM dressage starts tomorrow at 8:30 a.m., and the CIC3* is also underway.

Many thanks as always to the riders for stopping to chat after their rides, and hoping for safe rides for everyone tomorrow. We have an exclusive interview with Lucinda Green to bring you later, reviewing Burghley and previewing the Blenheim course so don’t go too far away, but Go Eventing!

Blenheim CCI3* dressage top 20: 

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Will Faudree and Pfun Put in Solid Blenheim Palace CCI3* Dressage Performance

Will Faudree and Pfun. Photo by Samantha Clark. Will Faudree and Pfun. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Friday morning at Blenheim dawned much like Thursday afternoon — bright and very breezy which although it makes dressage somewhat more complicated with flapping flags and rattling marquees, is an improvement on the forecast rain we were supposed to have.

Will Faudree and the gorgeous grey Pfun are our only U.S. representative in the CCI3* today and they were fourth in the arena this morning. To look at this horse is to want to take him home with you — his earnest expression, pricked ears and willingness to try, and did I already mention he’s grey and gorgeous?

Only 9 years old Pfun went into the arena and did a very workmanlike test with no glaring errors except for dropping down to a trot in the second change. Afterwards Will reported that he was delighted with him, and that he’s just the same to ride as he looks.

“I was really happy with him; it’s the first time he’s been in an atmosphere like this and the atmosphere actually always helps this horse so I never do the ring familiarisation with him. I went in there and he did spook at the judge’s stand at first and then he was fine. As the test went on I could have used a bit more atmosphere even to help, I needed the crowd to start clapping to get him excited but for where he is it’s a big ask for him to put in a consistent, steady test. I’m happy with it. He’s just a really fun horse to be around, he’s very easy to be around, he’s a big teddy bear!”

Will Faudree and Pfun. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Will Faudree and Pfun. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Bobby Costello, who’s here watching, originally found the horse as a youngster, I think in Ireland, and competed him at the lower levels under the name Fernhill Teddy Two Two.

Will was glad to have had a practice run on grass a couple of weeks ago, but wondered if he’d chosen the wrong studs for this morning.

“We rode on grass at Chatt Hills two weeks ago which was actually a huge help,” he said. “I did go with a bit bigger studs in here today because typically this ring can be a bit slick which worked a little bit against me; in that second change when I was going to ask for it he just felt like he got stuck so I don’t think he was used to it, but he’s just a 9 year old horse and hopefully this isn’t his last time on grass.”

Will Faudree and Pfun Photo by Samantha Clark

Will Faudree and Pfun. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Will and Pfun scored 50.6 which places them about midway down the pack at this point, but with everything to play for on cross country day.

We still have a couple to look forward to this afternoon that might shake up the leaderboard. I’ll be watching Pippa Funnell and Aoife Clark carefully and bringing you a wrap up of the day later. In the meantime, enjoy your Friday and Go Eventing!

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Bettina Hoy Leads Day 1 at Blenheim, Holly Payne Caravella Joins Top 10

Bettina Hoy and Seigneur Medicott take control of the CCI3* on the first day of dressage at Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials Photo by Samantha Clark

Bettina Hoy and Seigneur Medicott take control of the CCI3* on the first day of dressage at Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials. Photo by Samantha Clark

As expected we were treated to a beautiful display of dressage this afternoon by Bettina Hoy and Seigneur Medicott, and accordingly their score of 32.9 gives them a whopping overnight lead over Harry Meade in 2nd on 39.6 and then Hannah Sue Burnett on Harbour Pilot in 3rd on 41.7.

Seigneur Medicott was one of the few horses not to get a little rattled by the flapping flags and rattling in the grandstand — it’s very windy here this afternoon. Bettina said he noticed the distractions but she was proud of the way he handled them.

“It felt really good, he’s just an amazing horse, he’s so lovely to ride. I was very pleased with him, he’s only a young horse and a beautiful mover. I would say that test is pretty much in line with the other tests he’s done although obviously it’s easier to ride on sand like at Aachen. I could feel him every now and then losing his concentration a little bit but he tries so hard to then come back and concentrate on me so it was only for a split second. He’s a very sweet-natured horse and I think that makes it a lot easier in the test.”

Bettina Hoy and Seigneur Medicott take control of the CCI3* on the first day of dressage at Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials Photo by Samantha Clark

Bettina Hoy and Seigneur Medicott. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Bettina has had the horse since he was a five year old and all he’d done was show jump so she he has spent his entire eventing career thus far with her. Seigneur Medicott is not related to Mr or Mrs Medicott; it’s their original owner that is the connection.

Bettina walked the course for the first time yesterday. “It’s a beautiful course, it’s really nice,” she said. “The ground is great, even if we get a bit more rain (yes, rain on Saturday is in the forecast naturally!) I think the ground will be able to cope with it. It’s Blenheim: it’s up and down and they have to be very fit so I’m glad I’ve done Blair already with him so he’s a little bit used to some of the hills at least!”

Holly Payne Caravella and Santino move into the top after the first day of dressage at Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials CCI3* Photo by Samantha Clark

Holly Payne Caravella and Santino move into the top 10 after the first day of CCI3* dressage at Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Holly Payne Caravella and Santino were a couple of horses later and produced a level, mistake-free test. Santino’s changes were expressive but clean, and Holly looked like she kept him relatively calm despite all the distractions outside the arena; it was only when everyone clapped and cheered (we have a fantastic U.S. support crew here!) as she left the arena and he almost galloped away that it was clear just how close to the boil he was!

Nonetheless their score of 46.2 is good enough for 8th overnight. (Yes, we have two Americans in the top 10 after the first day of day of dressage here at Blenheim!)

“He was pretty good, I was pretty pleased with him. I’m always going to be critical and there were things I’m not going to be happy about it but it’s super windy and flowers were blowing over and the tents were flapping and he didn’t seem phased at all by that which made me really happy. I was really happy with him.”

Santino has spent the last week at Burghley keeping his stablemate Never Outfoxed company and perhaps this helped. “It probably helped him settle into the atmosphere, he was real quiet at Burghley,” Holly said. “I hacked him around Burghley and I think he’s definitely getting used to it, he’s not affected by the atmosphere here.”

Holly Payne Caravella and Santino leave the Blenheim Palace main arena after their test which has them in 8th place overnight. Photo by Samantha Clark

Holly Payne Caravella and Santino leave the Blenheim Palace main arena after their test which has them in 8th place overnight. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Holly has had a quick peek at the cross country. “I think it looks really good, it looks way more do-able than Burghley!,” she said. “I mean there are definitely questions out there but I thought it looked really inviting. When I was here in 2009 we ran the course backwards so you got to run through the water once before you had the big crossing so I think that will ride pretty hard going away. I think you have to know what you’re going to do and hold your line, but it’s good and galloping and inviting. I think it will be a good course for him.”

Likewise Hannah thinks the cross country will suit Harbour Pilot well also. “It looks really big actually, I was a bit surprised at how substantial it is, it looked kind of like a four star when I walked it the first time,” she said. “I like the way it builds — the first couple of minutes look really nice, it’s large but you can ride against it and the combinations are inviting. I think the middle bit is really, really serious especially if we get the rain we’re supposed to get. I think it’s going to ride really tough there in the middle of the course and then it’s a bit nicer on the way home. So … a lot to do!

“I like the in on the first water. It’s really, really big and that’s actually good for him because I’ll be able to ride against it a little bit because he can get strong down the hills, and then the out is really difficult (fence 15A and B) — it’s a very, very sharp angled three strides corner to corner. Everybody’s going to have to be on their toes, that’s for sure!”

David O’Connor is in agreement with both riders. “It’s a good course, it’s well-presented. Not going through the main arena is a fairly unusual thing for us here (due to ERM and timing). I think all the exercises are appropriate, I think the first water is strong, it’s probably the strongest combination in the whole thing. I think everything else seems to be kind of right — bulletproof and predictable — but the first water is quite strong.”

David seemed happy with the U.S. squad’s performance in the little white box today. “I think everybody’s ridden really well, everybody rode their horses very well. Hannah really went in there to compete and looked good. I think Tamie’s first horse did the same thing. I think everyone has ridden really well today so I’m excited about that.”

Tamie Smith and Dempey II in the CIC3* for 8 and 9 year olds at the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials Photo by Samantha Clark

Tamie Smith and Dempey II in the CIC3* for 8 and 9 year olds at the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Tamie Smith rode the 8-year-old Dempsey in the CIC3* for 8 and 9 year olds later this afternoon and but for a couple of bobbles they did a nice test. They scored 49.3 to sit in 20th place overnight.

There’s plenty more to come from this young horse and Tamie did well to contain him with the wind and the atmosphere. “He was pretty wound up — it’s really windy and the flags are flapping. This ring almost feels more electric than the CCI arena,” Tamie said. “I’m really proud of him, he tried really hard and he had some good moments. I’m really happy with his first time here and he’s come a long way.”

Dempsey is in the CIC3* because Tamie wasn’t sure if she’d get two horses in the CCI as this is such a popular and oversubscribed event; he heads over to Boekelo after this.

Tamie had not had a chance to walk the course yet — “I’ve been a bit busy!” she said — but with both her dressage tests behind her now she was excited to have a look at it and promised to let us know her thoughts tomorrow morning.

Kylie Lyman sits in 18th place in the CIC3* on Lup The Loop on a score of 47.7 with one error of course. Apologies for not catching her today, but I hope to track her down tomorrow.

The forecast is for rain tomorrow and Saturday but that might well change. The wind was a real factor this afternoon, and having to take the fact that the weather is probably going to be influential is what eventing is all about. We have some heavy hitters due to enter the CCI3* arena tomorrow, not least our own Will Faudree and Pfun at 9:22 a.m. GB time but also Pippa Funnell, Nicola Wilson, Sam Griffiths and former winner Aoife Clark on Wasting Light.

Well done to all the U.S. riders today, and thank you as always for taking the time to talk right after your rides — I certainly appreciate it and I’m pretty sure everyone sitting on tenterhooks back home does too. It’s great to see Lisa Barry, James Daniel Connor and Carol Anne Parker here amongst many others cheering and whistling for all the Americans. “We’re the morale officers, we’re here to boost morale,” said James last night, and they certainly are.

Go USA at Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials and Go Eventing!

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Harry Meade leads Blenheim CCI3* Dressage at Thursday Lunch, USA’s Hannah Sue Burnett 2nd

Harry Meade and Orlando take an early lead at #BPIHT Photo by Samantha Clark

Harry Meade and Orlando take an early lead at Blenheim. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Harry Meade got the Blenheim Palace CCI3* dressage ball rolling early Thursday when he and Orlando entered the arena as one of the first combinations to go and set the benchmark that the rest to follow would need to try and match.

Orlando, previously an Izzy Taylor ride, is capable of doing a nice test, and didn’t disappoint here to Harry’s relief as he has only had the ride since July.

“It’s our first CCI together, he’s done some really smart tests and we had a good run together at Hartpury so it was nice to get into a big arena,” Harry said. “It’s always interesting because you’re a little bit still experimenting with different warm-ups when you’re a new partnership but I was really pleased with him. He has a lot of natural elevation and engagement and power in his work so I just worked on having the relaxation to go with that and I was happy, I don’t think he threw away any marks.”

Orlando is missing his left eye after bumping it in the stable a few years ago; he was starting to go blind in it and so the decision was made to remove the eye at the beginning of this season.

Harry doesn’t think it will impact him in his eventing career: “When I first started riding him I took him cross country schooling and progressively put him in a more and more difficult position around a tight, left bend to a fence that he didn’t know was there and I watched his ears to see that moment of realisation when he could see the fence — and amazingly he can still see with what I would call pretty normal vision. To me, it doesn’t affect him. The only time it does is if things like a marquee or something similar flaps on his blind side and he can’t see it he’ll be more worried than if he could.”

It’s hard not to gush about Harry’s wonderful commentating at Burghley recently, so I did, and he modestly replied, “I love eventing, I love cross country riding; my first love is being in the saddle and being the one doing it and if I can’t do that I get enthusiastic chatting about it so I’m quite happy either way!”

Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot loving the #BPIHT arena Photo by Samantha Clark

Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot loving the Blenheim arena. Photo by Samantha Clark.

The next break saw three of our U.S. riders and Hannah Sue Burnett brought the goods on her experienced partner Harbour Pilot. Their test was relaxed, forward and mistake free, and with a score of 41.7 they’re sitting behind Harry in second currently.

Hannah was pleased with Harbour Pilot who she said was happy to get up to the main arena with more people around and strut his stuff. “He was great! He felt really good. He was a little bit tense yesterday when I was riding him at the barns and a little bit this morning as well but then as soon as I got him up to this practice ring before the test he was really, really rideable and easy and fun — I could push on him and he felt like his normal self at home which was encouraging.

“I’m really, really excited. The last time we came to England was at Burghley and he was so wonderful there but we didn’t get to finish so I’m excited to have a repeat performance, hopefully better, and finish the event!”

This is Hannah’s first visit to Blenheim. “It’s beautiful, I love it! It’s got a great atmosphere and everyone’s excited to be here and friendly, it’s fun!”

Hannah has yet to walk the CCI3* cross country, explaining “If I go on Thursday I usually try to wait until after my dressage so I can focus.” But she has promised to tell us her thoughts on it later.

Tamie Smith and Twizted Syster rise to the occasion at #BPIHT Photo by Samantha Clark

Tamie Smith and Twizted Syster rise to the occasion at Blenheim. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Tamie Smith was the first of our U.S. riders to go into the ring and did America proud. She kept Twizted Syster focused and rideable and the overall impression was very nice. The changes were not quite clean but there were some lovely moments promising much more from this pair.

Tamie was happy with her test and how hard her mare tried for her. “She was great, she was really workmanlike,” she said. “Normally she can get a little hot and tense in the ring and she didn’t at all, she felt great. She’s been going really well, she thinks she likes England! I like the grass actually, it kind of keeps them slow! The atmosphere didn’t bother her, I feel like I’ve just had a really good horse since I got here so I’m really excited for Saturday.”

Tamie Smith and Jacky Green Photo by Samantha Clark

Tamie Smith and Jacky Green. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Tamie was off to walk the course so we’ll bug her for her thoughts on that later too, but she said she came away inspired from spectating at Burghley last weekend.

“Burghley was amazing. I can’t wait! I can’t wait to go out the start box there. I thought it would be more intimidating, I expected it because everyone says it’s the biggest and the hardest in the world but I felt like I have a horse to do that with so I’m really excited about getting there. I don’t know when I’m going to get there — maybe in a couple of years.”

Kurt Martin and Delux Z at #BPIHT Photo by Samantha Clark

Kurt Martin and Delux Z at Blenheim. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Kurt Martin rode a fairly tense Deluxe Z beautifully, managing the tension with tact and their test improved as they progressed and the horse relaxed a little.

Kurt was philosophical when he left the arena: “He was a little bit spooky and tense which he hasn’t been in the warm-up but I’m sort of accustomed to that. I thought it improved as he went around. I’m happy with him. It’s such a great opportunity to be here and I’m really thankful to be here on such a nice horse, it’s really a dream and I’m lucky to be here.”

Kurt hasn’t done a test on grass on Delux Z since he was at Intermediate level and was slightly surprised by the effect. “It felt tighter, the arena felt a little bit smaller and he’s a big horse,” he remarked.

Riding in front of Blenheim Palace, Kurt Martin and Delux Z in the CCI3*. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Riding in front of Blenheim Palace, Kurt Martin and Delux Z in the CCI3*. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Kurt has had a little look at some of the cross country but hasn’t managed to walk the entire course yet. “I think it looks good, a lot of galloping space and an opportunity to get rolling at the beginning which is really important for this horse.”

Delux Z came over from the USA with the Burghley horses and has been based at Jesse Campbell’s yard. Kurt also got to visit Burghley: “I got to walk around and support my friends there so that was really exciting, this is a growing opportunity for myself, it’s such an education to see the best in the world compete and ride and train.”

Luckily though, he assured me that riding against them here at such a prestigious event such as Blenheim doesn’t affect his own nerves. “I was walking up here and thinking about it: It’s just about this horse and I and the four years that have gone into our relationship. It’s about competing against ourselves and the course that has been set and I don’t worry about other people.”

Nilson Moreira Da Silva and Muggle taking each day as it comes Photo by Samantha Clark

Nilson Moreira Da Silva and Muggle taking each day as it comes. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Nilson Moreira Da Silva had a nice outline with Muggle and looked to be set for a nice test earlier but unfortunately he forgot his test a couple of times and lost his way.

He explained, “I was quite happy with the horse, but not happy with myself, I basically gave six points away but it’s another week and I’m looking forward to the cross country and seeing what I can do.”

Nilson of course has re-routed from Burghley where he got as far as fence 5 on the cross country, the second water crossing. “I think he got a little shy, and when he got into the water the first time he was looking around at everything more than actually focusing on the jump. It’s hard at a competition like that, the second jump into the water was so big and I didn’t have his attention. We’ll keep on working and every day is another day, that’s my goal.”

We have lots more to look forward to at Blenheim this afternoon: Holly Payne Caravella and Santino do their test, and we’re also expecting great things from Bettina Hoy and Seigneur Medicott.

There is so much going on here at Blenheim and it’s so spread out that it’s impossible to cover it all — in fact I was sorry to miss Kylie Lyman and Lup The Loop who went in the CIC3* at about the same time as our U.S. CCI3* contingent. Tamie Smith goes in that division later this afternoon on Dempsey, very shortly after Holly’s test up here in the Marlborough arena so I’ll try and do better, Run Samantha Run! In the meantime it’s all systems go here at Blenheim Palace. Go Eventing!

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All U.S. Combinations Accepted at Blenheim First Horse Inspection

Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot Photo by Samantha Clark

Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot. Photo by Samantha Clark.

A giant division of 78 horses was presented before the ground jury of Eric Lieby, Joanne Jarden and Harry Payne for the CCI3* at the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials this afternoon. All the U.S. combinations were accepted without any incident, but we are sad not to see Sinead Halpin and Allie Knowles here representing us too as they are late withdrawals.

Tamie Smith and Twizted Syster photo by Samantha Clark

Tamie Smith and Twizted Syster. Photo by Samantha Clark.

There are a few horses here who’ve re-routed after early trouble at Burghley. Look for Vicky Brake and Cooley’s First, Angus Smales and Master Crisp, and Nilson Moreira aa Silva and Muggle. Nilson and Muggle were sent to the holding box but passed upon re-inspection. Roo Fox and Fleet Street, who had a heavy fall at the Rolex Combination at Burghley, were sent to the holding box and subsequently withdrew.

Nilson Moreira Da Silva and Muggle Photo by Samantha Clark

Nilson Moreira aa Silva and Muggle. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Pippa Funnell did not present Majas Hope, nor did Paul Tapner present Prince Mayo. Ludwig Svennerstal’s Win and Love has also been withdrawn.

Holly Payne Caravella and Santino

Holly Payne Caravella and Santino. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Two other combinations were sent to the holding box and then accepted upon re-presentation: Dani Evans and Smart Time and Sara Squires with Sula Blue.

A few other horses were asked to jog twice, and Gubby Leech jogged Zebedee for Tim Price. It has now been confirmed that Gubby Leech will ride the horse, not Tim.

Kurt Martin and Delux Z Photo by Samantha Clark

Kurt Martin and Delux Z. Photo by Samantha Clark.

I managed to catch up briefly with Will Faudree and get his opinion on the cross country, which you can preview here. “I think it looks like a lot of fun, no pun intended! There’s a lot to do as soon as you start out but it’s a good, galloping track.”

Last time Will competed here it ran the other way round with the long gallop through the water without jumps as the first crossing. This time they have to jump straight in which is more challenging he thinks, “but it’s got good hills, good gallops, it asks a lot of questions and it’s beautifully presented.”

Will Faudree and Pfun Photo by Samantha Clark

Will Faudree and Pfun. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Will flew over on Saturday to be reunited with Pfun, who was at Jesse Campbell’s yard, and they arrived at Blenheim yesterday: “I’m excited to be here, it’s good to be back.”

David O’Connor was hoping to get his first look at the cross country either this evening or tomorrow morning and promised me his thoughts on it then. I’ll be catching up with all the U.S. riders after their dressage in much more detail.

Dressage starts tomorrow at 9 a.m. BST, 4 a.m. EST after Nicky Roncoroni does the guinea pig test at 8:40 a.m. BST. There is a free live stream you can register to watch at this link.

It’s a miracle how the organisers are going to fit everything in with the enormous divisions already established at this popular event, and now the Event Rider Masters finale too. It will certainly be exciting, and props especially to Catherine Austen in the press tent who has everything running as smoothly as silk.

The weather so far is muggy, but looks like it might be changeable all weekend. Much more to come from the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials all weekend, don’t go away, go eventing!

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Blenheim Palace International CCI3* Cross Country Course Walk

Here’s your first look at Eric Winter’s CCI3* cross country course at the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials. Team USA has five in the CCI3*: Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot, Holly Payne Caravella and Santino, Will Faudree and Pfun, Kurt Martin and DeLux Z, and Tamie Smith and Twizted Syster. 

Nilson Moreira da Silva and Muggle have also re-routed to Blenheim after retiring early on course at Burghley. Unfortunately, Sinead Halpin has withdrawn Manoir de Carneville from the CCI3* after he sustained a minor injury at Millstreet in Ireland. Kylie Lyman and Lup the Loop are also competing in the 8/9-year-old CIC3*, as are Tamie Smith and Dempsey.

The first horse inspection is underway at 4 p.m. BST, 11 a.m. EST. Stay tuned for a full report plus comments on the cross country from the riders. Go Eventing!

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Chris Burton Wins Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials, 3 U.S. Riders in Top 20

Chris Burton wins The Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials 2016 Photo by Nico Morgan

Chris Burton wins The Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials 2016. Photo by Nico Morgan.

What an exciting finale to the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials — the show jumping phase was certainly influential and as the track took its toll it began to be obvious that clear rounds would become very valuable.

Course designer Richard Jeffery speculated that it was the holding going, neither wet nor dry but in between, combined with the undulations, that caught so many riders out. Richard assured us that he took yesterday’s gruelling test in such challenging conditions into account when he amended his course this morning with the Ground Jury.

“The cross country courses are getting more and more technical, the dressage scores are getting lower and lower and I think the show jumping has to keep up with it,” he said. “When we built the course last night the ground was very wet and holding, and when we walked it this morning it was what I would call in-between.”

“We wheeled it a little generously this morning because of all the turns, we didn’t want to see the horses slipping (the time was amended after the first three horses and three seconds were taken off the optimum). Equally the spreads were much narrower than they were last year, we pulled them in and ramped a few more of the oxers with the footing in mind. I think the footing certainly has an effect, and that arena has a lot of ups and downs that unbalance the horses, it does have an influence on the horses when they’re a little bit tired.”

Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugitive finish 18th at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials 2016

Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugitive finish 18th at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials 2016. Photo by Nico Morgan.

Chris Burton, who had four down, agreed, “I think the ground in the show jumping was still a little bit dead today, along with tired horses because of very dead, very holding ground yesterday but that’s the sport of three day eventing.”

Chris also wondered if speed the day before took its toll on the scoreboard of the top riders this afternoon. “Maybe if I’d gone a little slower yesterday then I’d have had three down or two down, or … you start thinking like this and you really don’t know.”

Jonelle Price, 3rd, agreed but added that the course was also more difficult this year. “I think it was a bit more technical than we’ve seen here in the past few years, obviously the terrain on cross country day is always influential and I think you really notice it at the top end, the ones that have gone a bit faster. I thought the horses all came out this morning looking really good, I think it was just more that it was a slightly more difficult track than we’ve seen in the past few years.”

By the time he entered the arena, Chris Burton had an unbelievable four rails in hand over his closest competitor, Andrew Nicholson on Nereo, but even more unbelievably he used them all up before the last fence. I think almost everyone watching breathed a huge sigh of relief when he cleared it and most unbelievably of all claimed the 2016 title.

“I tried to keep it interesting for everyone by getting as close as I could! I don’t know if I’ll ever win a four star in such a way ever again. He warmed up ok, he’s basically a careful show jumper and I expected him to go well but in the end he got a bit tired and had a few down.”

Elisa Wallace and Simply Priceless finish 14th at The Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials 2016

Elisa Wallace and Simply Priceless finish 14th at The Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials 2016. Photo by Nico Morgan.

Chris never dreamed he would come to Burghley this weekend and lead from the start to the finish, “Not in my wildest dreams. On Wednesday I walked up Winner’s Avenue and saw all these old boys’ names there (gestures at Andrew!) and thought how amazing it would be to have my name on a plaque up there one day!”

Andrew Nicholson moved up a spot to second (the third time Nereo has been second here at Burghley) with just one rail down and two time faults, benefiting from Tim Price’s three down which moved him down to fourth on Ringwood Sky Boy just behind his wife Jonelle on Classic Moet who had one pole fall during her round.

Andrew shared that Burghley probably isn’t Nereo’s favourite event. “It’s one of the few places he feels like he doesn’t really enjoy going round the terrain here. The up and down bits of the course is quite hard for him because he takes a very big stride but he still does it.”

Jonelle was thrilled to finish in the top 3 after what she’d admitted at the time was a disappointing dressage score. “I feel like I’ve been digging myself out of a hole all week really, ever since the dressage and then obviously when I took the long route, unplanned, out of the Dairy Mound, but we’ve managed to stay in the competition and claw our way back and I’m delighted. Classic Moet really does make my job quite easy.”

Frenchman Cedric Lyard and Nadeau Du Roi jumped a clear round and moved up from 8th to 5th while Bettina Hoy and Designer 10 slipped down a place with two down.

Oliver Townend is best British rider in 6th place on Samuel Thomas III, Sir Mark Todd slipped to 9th on NZB Campino after knocking down two fences, and Britain’s Tina Cook rounds out the top 10 on Star Witness.

Elisa Wallace and Simply Priceless complete The Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials 2016 Photo by Nico Morgan

Elisa Wallace and Simply Priceless complete The Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials 2016. Photo by Nico Morgan.

All three of our U.S. riders who were still in the hunt today finished in the top 20, which is an outstanding achievement, especially as Elisa and Holly are first-timers here.

Elisa Wallace and Simply Priceless are our highest placed pair, they’ll finish in 14th place, Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugitive are 18th and Holly Payne-Caravella and Never Outfoxed are right behind them in 19th place.

Phillip Dutton rode Fernhill Fugitive in a hackamore and was desperately unlucky to just have the very last rail down but overall was very pleased with his round.

“He jumped great, he had the last fence down which was totally my fault, I should have waited for another stride but I couldn’t be more pleased with him. He struggled in the show jumping at Kentucky this year so I wasn’t really sure how today would go but he’s really matured and come out great today. He felt good this morning and he’s come out of the event well. I love Burghley, it’s the toughest event in the world but it’s good to be here and be a part of it. Unfortunately we weren’t right up there but … next time!”

Fernhill Fugitive flies home with super-groom Emma Ford on Wednesday and you can expect to see Phillip competing at Plantation Field this weekend.

Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugitive complete The Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials 2016 Photo by Nico Morgan

Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugitive complete The Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials 2016 Photo by Nico Morgan

Elisa Wallace came out disappointed with three rails down but in the grand scheme of things it’s no disaster by any means.

“Well it was unfortunate, I wanted to go clean but on the positive side it’s a qualifying round and we finished, and my horse was trying really hard and I couldn’t be prouder of him. It was really tough out there because it’s a little sticky and then as the course went he realised, ‘Oh this is how I jump show-jumping in a grass ring!’ We started to figure it out and I couldn’t be happier with him.

“It’s been amazing this weekend, all the people, all the atmosphere, it really has been a great experience to come over here, the camaraderie with everybody, it’s really been a pleasure.”

Unlike any other rider I know, and even myself this morning, Elisa swore she wasn’t too nervous. “Actually I’ve been pretty relaxed, I was just like, ‘Well, we’re going to come out and do our thing, it is what it is, I want to be that tough competitor that keeps the rails up and we’ve been working really hard at that and he didn’t feel tired, he just felt like he was trying to figure out the footing. I was a little concerned about that but he was jumping well in the warm-up ring. We’ve had a bit of a tough time figuring out our show-jumping and we’ve been really good at getting just one pole and today we had three, but oh well, we’re just going to keep on cracking at it.”

Elisa intends to apply for a USEF grant to come to Badminton next spring and if that’s unsuccessful she told me she’ll start fundraising. “We’re just going to keep knocking off those goals of ours! He’s recovered great — it’s amazing to have such an incredible horse as he is.”

Holly Payne-Caravella had three down on Never Outfoxed and shared that she had a different horse today than what she’s used to,

“He’s never really show-jumped that rough really; he felt really good in warm-up and I think he just got away from me a bit in there. He felt more relaxed than he normally does and so maybe I should have ridden him a little stronger in the warm-up to make him more like what he usually is. He went in the arena and started off a little bit quiet and then he just started building so I wasn’t really expecting it.

“It was a different experience than normal, he’s normally quite hot all time and I was glad that he was so happy and relaxed and he felt comfortable, and it was just a bit of a different ride from what I’m used to. In the future I think I’ll just need to change my warm-up strategy a little bit so that I have the same horse that I’m used to riding in the ring because he’s usually a pretty good show-jumper.”

Fox will now head to Blenheim with Holly to keep his stable-mate happy as they’re used to being together and travelling together, and then they’ll fly home together after Blenheim. Next Spring Holly thinks they will head back to Kentucky.

“Overall I’m really pleased with him the whole weekend, super-happy, and Burghley has just been such a great experience. It’s been amazing and definitely an experience I won’t forget.”

Holly Payne-Caravella and Never Outfoxed complete The Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials 2016

Holly Payne-Caravella and Never Outfoxed complete The Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials 2016. Photo by Nico Morgan.

It’s been an unforgettable weekend for so many reasons, and I maintain that we can be very proud of all five of our U.S. riders and their horses. They came to Burghley — widely acknowledged as the toughest event in the world — on a particularly tough weekend and they can leave with their heads held high and know they all achieved something special here.

The horses have grown from the experience and our four ladies, all first-timers, will take away valuable lessons that will serve to make them even better during the rest of their careers. Can Phillip get any better? Possibly not!

Thank you as always to the army behind the scenes that makes an event like Burghley possible, and the army of support behind every horse and rider that makes every event possible. It’s been another vintage Burghley, peace out and catch you at Blenheim!

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All 38 Horses Plus 3 U.S. Combinations Accepted at Land Rover Burghley Final Horse Inspection

Elisa Wallace and Simply Priceless Photo by Nico Morgan

Elisa Wallace and Simply Priceless. Photo by Nico Morgan.

All 38 horses that were presented before the Ground Jury this morning at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials Final Horse Inspection were accepted to move on to the show jumping phase.

Sadly first timer Imogen Gloag withdrew Brendonhill Doublet and Bill Levett withdrew 9th placed Improvise before the trot-up this morning.

It’s bright and breezy this morning and a cool wind made lots of the horses fresh but they all passed without incident. No one was held or even asked to jog a second time.

Holly Payne-Caravella and Never Outfoxed Photo by Nico Morgan

Holly Payne-Caravella and Never Outfoxed. Photo by Nico Morgan.

Several spooked at the Land Rover show jump right by the jog lane, especially Tim Price’s overnight 2nd placed Ringwood Sky Boy, and Kirsty Short’s Cossan Lad.

Frenchman Denis Meples trotted up Oregon De La Vigne in his show jumping clothes, complete with boots and helmet, and when we saw how naughty his horse was being we understood why he didn’t take his hat off. The ground jury excused him from halting, for fear perhaps of being ploughed over, and were happy to see him go, I think!

Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugitive Photo by Nico Morgan

Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugitive. Photo by Nico Morgan.

The only nerve-wracking moment came when the Ground Jury took a minute to confer, and then passed Fernhill Fugitive, but apart from that it may have been the quickest, most trouble-free Horse Inspection I’ve been to.

Best Dressed Awards go, deservedly, to our Great Meadow International Team GB riders (hmm, lucky omen?!) Ben Way and Ros Canter. Best Cared for Horse was judged to be Becky Woolven’s Charlton Down River Dance, and the best shod horse Tom Crisp’s Coolys Luxury.

Sunday morning is a fashion spectacle. I admired lots of the outfits and it’s such fun to watch the horses and riders looking their absolute best. We’ll have lots more pictures to come on the EN Facebook later and you can decide your own Best Dressed and let us know.

Show jumping for the first division starts at 11: 15 am GB time, and our 3 U.S. riders are in the final division this afternoon which is due to get underway at 2:25 pm.  As always we owe an enormous thank you to Nico Morgan for supplying us with so many stunning images, and we’re trying not to get too nervous about the show-jumping this afternoon. It’s another exciting day here at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials – Go Eventing!

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3 U.S. Riders in Top 25 at Burghley, Australia and New Zealand Dominate

Holly Payne-Caravella and Never Outfoxed. Photo by Nico Morgan.

Holly Payne-Caravella and Never Outfoxed. Photo by Nico Morgan.

It’s been a long, wet, drama-packed day at Burghley that saw 68 starters, 40 completions, 28 clear rounds and none within the time. Chris Burton hung onto his lead, and 10 of the top 20 positions are held by Aussies and Kiwis.

Paul Tapner fell at Herbert’s Hollow fence 22 and was taken to hospital, but his wife reported that he was up and talking and they hoped it was a not too serious shoulder injury. There were five horse falls and seven rider falls, but apart from Paul they are all reportedly fine. Five horses all stumbled upon landing into the Trout Hatchery in exactly the same place, three of them falling and one unseating the rider. Sam Griffiths’ stirrup broke right before the first water and after trying to get his foot into the leather and jumping another 10 fences or so without it he admitted defeat and retired.

Libby Head and Sir Rockstar negotiate the Trout Hatchery at Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials  Photo by Nico Morgan

Libby Head and Sir Rockstar negotiate the Trout Hatchery at Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials Photo by Nico Morgan

Course designer Captain Mark Phillips admitted that he would have liked less falls and was surprised by how much trouble the course caused, especially the influential Discovery Valley fence which was responsible for eight combinations either retiring or faulting.

“It was harder work for the riders than I thought it was going to be,” he said. “I think all the combinations required a forward ride on the way in. For me the disappointing thing was the number of falls we had today. I thought Discovery Valley was a gimme. You saw every fence ridden really well, a lot of people made every fence look fantastic but I’d like to have seen a better picture overall.”

Phillips blamed the falls on riders having to work extra hard today, “the rain didn’t help,” and on riders being pitched forward on landing. He also speculated that a lot of riders “haven’t learned how to ride Burghley this way round,” explaining that they perhaps used up too much of their horse in the first three minutes.

Bunnie Sexton and Rise Against sail over Capability's Cutting Photo by Nico Morgan

Bunnie Sexton and Rise Against sail over Capability’s Cutting Photo by Nico Morgan

Christopher Burton seemed to cruise round on Nobilis 18, giving him the trademark smooth and stylish ride we’ve become used to seeing from him. Coming home with just 3.8 time faults, the second fastest of the day after Jonelle Price, he now has a whopping 11.5-point lead over Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy.

Riding essentially an unknown quantity at this level in the lead after the dressage in such horrible conditions meant the pressure was on for Chris.

“I was very nervous today. I sat in the riders’ tent and watched a heap of riders and horses go and that didn’t help me at all. Then I went back to my truck and said to my wife, ‘Why don’t we just curl up in bed and have the afternoon off and forget this whole thing?!’ I’m delighted though. He went really well. He gave me a good feel. I guess I was just lucky today. The distances were coming to me, and he’s a good easy horse to ride forward to a fence so it was nice that he came in so well.

“I had one rare moment where I changed my mind about taking the option — instead of going long at the Trout Hatchery because I’d seen so many do it on four and a half strides I realised how far down on my minutes I was and decided to go straight instead, which is quite unusual for me to change my mind and go the other way instead.”

Elisa Wallace and Simply Priceless. Photo by Nico Morgan.

Elisa Wallace and Simply Priceless. Photo by Nico Morgan.

Tim Price must be relieved to finally break his duck and get a solid, fast clear round under his belt at a major three-day, and he made it count, adding only 6 time faults to his dressage score to lie in 2nd place overnight. It wasn’t completely without incident though as he was held three quarters of the way round for fence repair (“I stopped myself at Rio at about exactly the same time, 8 minutes!” he joked) after Shane Rose all but demolished the Cross Rails at 25.

“I know Skyboy inside and out. He’s been round here before; we’ve had a good time here before so I was looking forward to his round and he coped with it very well. He grew a leg where he needed to, he found better balance, he wasn’t affected by the going, he knew when to have a second wind when he needed it at the top coming down the hill and he freshened up. It was a nice round and I enjoyed it.

Elisa Wallace and Simply Priceless Photo By Nico Morgan

Elisa Wallace and Simply Priceless Photo By Nico Morgan

Andrew Nicholson and Nereo were clear with 12 time penalties to add, retaining their third place from dressage. “I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for him. Avebury was lovely to ride and very gentle whereas Nereo is a big strong horse and always found everything a little bit harder than him. I’ve lugged him all around the world and whenever he has to he’s come up with the goods for me. I’m very proud of him. It felt like most of the course he’d looked at the map and was reading the numbers for me because for sure a couple of times I wasn’t in the place I wanted to be. Up at the Dairy Mounds was one of them and he just spotted the corner at the bottom of the slope and took himself to it — that’s what we feed them and work them for, isn’t it?! He knows his job very, very well. The ground felt fine; maybe they were sinking in a little further than in the beginning of the day but it felt fine to me. I got time faults but it’s not because the ground felt too soft, basically I just probably didn’t go fast enough!”

Oliver Townend is the only British rider in the top ten, lying tenth on Samuel Thomas III. Bettina Hoy demonstrated her sheer determination to get a very sticky Designer 10 round clear and she lies 5th. Cedric Lyard’s lovely grey horse Cadeau Du Roi never stopped trying and they are in 8th place going into the final phase tomorrow. At one point during the day we had three New Zealand former Burghley winners out on course all at the same time — Blyth Tait, Andrew Nicholson and Caroline Powell who had a really fabulous ride on Onwards and Upwards to move up to 7th place. Sir Mark Todd is just ahead of her in 6th, and Bill Levett brought Improvise home clear with 20 time to claim 9th place overnight.

Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugitive. Photo by Nico Morgan.

Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugitive. Photo by Nico Morgan.

After a long wait in horrible conditions, Holly Payne-Caravella finally got to go out and attack the cross country at the very end of the day and that’s exactly what she did. Never Outfoxed jumped his heart out for her and looked more and more confident the further they went. Holly rode strong and forward and positive and Never Outfoxed responded in kind. They never took their foot off the pedal and came home with just 18.4 time to move up to 17th place and best of the Americans.

I asked Holly if she felt Burghley was completely different from Rolex or not: “It was very similar in that I feel like at the three star level it still feels kind of nice, but at the four star level it’s like going to war! You’ve just got to get it done and it doesn’t always feel that great. Kentucky has definitely ridden the same way for me as it did here, so I don’t know if it’s ever going to feel smooth and easy jumping round a four star! It was similar in that it walked harder, and I think stuff may have been tougher but he handled it really well, I think he actually came out of this one a bit stronger, I think he was more tired finishing at Kentucky than he was here. He was super!”

Holly Payne and Never Outfoxed jump clear round the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials XC. Photo by Nico Morgan

Holly Payne and Never Outfoxed jump clear round the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials XC. Photo by Nico Morgan

The only sticky moments for Holly came when she said Fox just jumped so big, like at Cottesmore Leap fence 12 and then she had to squeeze in an extra stride on a turn to the brush hedge at 13, and the same at the Discovery Valley (24). “I took the option because he just jumped huge at the brush and then landed at the bottom of it and I thought I’ve gotten around this far, why risk it? I’d be really kicking myself if I had a run out there.”

Neither was the terrain a problem for Never Outfoxed, “He’s so quick on his feet that it didn’t really seem to phase him, he kind of runs like that normally, he can just throw his footwork in anywhere so I was definitely sitting on a good horse for that.”

Both Holly and Elisa Wallace ride full Thoroughbreds and both remarked to me at the end how much horse they had left at the finish. “Galloping up to the arena I thought, OK, I think I’ve got this done, but he was quite strong and I lost a little of my rideability at the end. I knew if I locked him onto the fences he was going to jump and go home. He was full of running but he had gotten tired where he didn’t really want to turn and listen to me anymore. He had enough power to still be pulling my arms out though!”

Holly will celebrate with a drink or two tonight, “give my pony lots of carrots and just hang out with everybody! I’m so happy all the Americans are here, it’s so awesome to have them all here. I’m so sad for Libby; she was having such a fabulous round and that was unfortunate. I gave Fox a big smack on take-off for that one! (Cross Rails Fence 25). He flew down the Leaf Pit drop. Phillip had told me they would back off and that I would have to kick; it’s a tight turn to it and he didn’t really see it but he did not back off at all, he just took off and went running down the hill and I had no reins but I made sure to put one more stride in before the skinny to be safe!”

Safe and sound, clear and relatively fast around what EquiRatings have confirmed is the toughest Burghley since 2004 with only a 41% completion rate.

Libby Head and Sir Rockstar. Photo by Nico Morgan.

Libby Head and Sir Rockstar. Photo by Nico Morgan.

Elisa Wallace will head into the show-jumping tomorrow just inside the top 20 after a fantastic clear round earlier in the day, coming home with 30.4 time penalties to sit in 20th place. After a slightly sticky start at the second water crossing Elisa sat down and in her words, grit it out, made stuff happen and got the job done.

“He’s been a little bit peek-y and a little unsure at water since I fell off him in the water at Great Meadow, not that he did anything wrong there but he saw me fall and I think it worried him, so I knew I was going to have to ride him hard. He jumped for me and I was like, ‘Alright buddy, we got it!’ and he just tried and tried and he helped me, and I helped him and that’s what it’s about out there! It’s about gritting it out; it’s not always going to be pretty. It’s Burghley and it’s raining which is what I asked for because I always tend to ride in the rain so it seems to be a good luck thing.”

Like Holly, they got better and better the further they went, and Elisa said it was a massive thrill to jump round the iconic course. “I felt like we just had to go and get this done! It was hard but it was definitely fun, I was like, yeah, we’re at Burghley, let’s go! It was an amazing feeling to start knocking out these famous areas; one of my favourite ones was when we came to the Cottesmore Leap because I’d been terrified of that, and we sliced it and angled it and he just pinged right over it and popped the four strides to the next fence and I thought, ‘Heck yeah! We’re going to get this today!’”

Elisa relished the famous Burghley spectators: “I love the crowds, you can hear them screaming for you and to hear ‘Go Johnny’ even all the way over here rooting for your horse is just incredible. This ranks right up there with my first Rolex, my first four star, it’s incredible. I was so proud of him!”

Elisa didn’t sleep much last night — after finally falling asleep at midnight she woke up at 3:30 a.m. and that was it for her, so I’m sure she’ll catch up on a little of that tonight.

Phillip Dutton was our third U.S. rider to complete and also to bring his horse home clear. “It went pretty well, it is tough no doubt, the ground is getting pretty heavy so they’re labouring every gallop stride; they are big jumps but the take-offs are still good but it’s a real test for the horses. In my opinion this is the biggest and the hardest four-star in the world. It’s designed and meant for the elite four star horses and riders so you shouldn’t come here unless you’re ready for that. This was much tougher than Rolex for Fernhill Fugitive. The up and downs are hard and he doesn’t accelerate very quickly so on uneven terrain it’s hard to get him going and he doesn’t go across the ground like a Thoroughbred would but he tried his heart out. He jumped beautifully and stayed brave and he’s always looking for the flags. He’s a pretty green horse still so this would be a big test for him. We’re going to reward him for putting in a great effort today, and we’ll worry about tomorrow then.”

Bunnie Sexton and Rise Against. Photo by Nico Morgan.

Bunnie Sexton and Rise Against. Photo by Nico Morgan.

Bunnie Sexton told me that despite not having the result she wanted today she’s happy to bring home a sound horse. “I’m home safe, he’s home safe, he’s sound, it’s still been amazing, it’s just a whole different ball game, totally different to anything I’ve ever experienced.”

The rain really started coming down at its worst while Bunnie was held waiting to go at the start and Bunnie thinks had she known the weather would change so quickly she would have used different studs. Rise Against was slipping quite badly behind from the very beginning. She told me, “I learnt what not to do in the wet. He tried his heart out but instead of compensating for his insecurity about the footing by being more aggressive I became more timid. The stop at the skinny brush at the Maltings was completely my fault, that was just a lack of organisation and then between there and the Leaf Pit he threw his left front shoe, which probably made him reluctant to drop down onto that foot. Every other big drop I’ve done, like at Bromont, I’ve let him look at it and slither down, but I know now that I shouldn’t have done that here. Hindsight is 20/20 and who knows, if he’d landed on one foot with a shoe and studs and one barefoot. I’m glad he’s safe and I come out of this feeling like he can jump anything in the world. We did all the jumps I was terrified of — I was scared of just about everything up until the Leaf Pit!”

Libby Head had been having the ride of her life on Sir Rockstar all the way until the Cross Rails at 25. This gutsy and talented little OTTB was eating up the course and Libby was riding with a poise and maturity of a seasoned four-star campaigner. Unfortunately one small error at the Cross Rails so near the end was to be their undoing.

“He was going really well until the oxer before the Leaf Pit. I took a different line than I had walked and unfortunately decided not to act on the first distance I saw, which put us right underneath it and towards the part that was higher in front. He tried his heart out to get over it but it being towards the end of the course he just didn’t quite have the springs he normally has to get us over it. I’m thrilled with how it all went up until that point though, so I won’t be going home completely disappointed!” Libby should be thrilled, they have proven themselves a classy combination on the biggest stage in the world and that’s certainly something to be proud of.

As Eventing Nation’s writer here representing the U.S. riders I couldn’t be prouder of our squad today. Both on and off their horses it’s been such a privilege to be associated with them, and a real joy to report on them. I’m glad everyone is safe and sound tonight, and looking forward to getting warm and dry. Tomorrow is another day — show jumping day — and we’ll do it all over again, in a manner of speaking!

The Final Horse Inspection is at 9 a.m. GB time and the show jumping starts at 10:30 a.m. with the top 24 (yes! all three of our riders will jump in the afternoon!) due in the arena at 2:25 p.m.

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Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugitive Clear Cross Country at Tough Burghley

Mark Phillips’ tough cross country, the infamous Burghley terrain and some horrible British weather (pelting rain) have all combined to make this one of the most difficult days riding most of the competitors will ever have to face.

If ever you had to rely on a jockey to get the job done it would be Phillip Dutton, and he did just that on Tom Tierney and Annie Jones’ Fernhill Fugitive. We’ve got his initial reaction after coming home clear with 38.8 time and we’ll bring you more later with a wrap up from the top three and news of our last rider to go, Holly Payne.

Sadly Bunnie Sexton and Libby Head put in valiant efforts and so nearly made it home but Rise Against really didn’t want to jump off the Leaf Pit, and they were eliminated there for two stops after an earlier stop at the skinny triple brush at the Maltings. Libby Head was giving Sir Rockstar a fabulous ride and he looked to be jumping beautifully but they came to grief when she fell from him at the Cross Rails at 25.

Stay with EN for more from Burghley and respect to all the riders out there today.

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Elisa Wallace Ecstatic After Fantastic Clear at Big Burghley

We’ll have a full report to come but in the meantime we couldn’t wait to share this video Elisa Wallace recorded with Burghley.tv after her fabulous clear cross country round on Simply Priceless. A clear round with 30.4 time penalties has them sitting in 10th place currently on a very wet day when time is proving very influential.

A massive congratulations to Elisa and her entire team and supporters. We couldn’t be prouder or happier and look forward to brining you much more from Burghley later. Go Johnny!

Follow the action live on Twitter @eventingnation, and you can follow along right on the EN homepage. Our only other American to go so far, Bunnie Sexton, was sadly eliminated on refusals at the Leaf Pit with Rise Against. They are both totally OK.

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Catching up with Nilson Moreira da Silva after Burghley Dressage

Nilson Moreira Da Silva and Muggle Photo by Nico Morgan

Nilson Moreira da Silva and Muggle. Photo by Nico Morgan Photography.

Nilson Moreira da Silva has had an incredibly busy summer, flying over to England with the Phoenix Syndicate’s Muggle to train with the Brazilian squad on the advice of team trainer Mark Todd, then flying to Rio as traveling reserve for the Olympic Games, and now he finds himself competing at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials before he returns to his home base in the States next week.

Nilson kindly stopped to chat after his dressage test about his preparation and training with Mark Todd and his thoughts on being at such a prestigious event.

Many thanks to Nilson and wishing him and Muggle the very best of luck for the remainder of the weekend.

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Chris Burton and Nobilis 18 Dominate to Take Burghley Lead

Chris Burton and Nobilis 18 Photo by Nico Morgan

Chris Burton and Nobilis 18. Photo by Nico Morgan Photography.

Friday afternoon is generally exciting at any three-day event and this year’s Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials proved no different. By the end of the day the top of the leaderboard is awash with Australian and New Zealand flags — ten in the top fifteen. Chris Burton and Nobilis 18 lead 30.2, followed by Bettina Hoy and Designer 10 in second on 34.5, and Andrew Nicholson and Nereo in third on 35.2.

Andrew Nicholson laid down the gauntlet right after the lunch break with a very smart test, almost mistake free but for an awkward moment when Nereo trod on his own hind leg with a front foot during the rein back. Apart from that they nailed it, and it wasn’t a surprise to see him leave the arena on a sub-40 score: 35.2 coming dangerously close to Bettina’s leading 34.5.

Not to be outdone, compatriots Blyth Tait and Caroline Powell, the very next in, also rose to the occasion and juggled the top ten even more. Caroline’s test was beautiful and she sits fourth overnight right behind Andrew Nicholson on 37.8, while Blyth conjured every single point possible out of Bayr Necessity to score 42.2 for 10th place going into the cross country.

Andrew Hoy and the former Sandra Auffaurth ride The Blue Frontier looked like they might challenge the top three until a couple of mistakes in the last change and canter let them down. Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy also were looking golden but uncharacteristically missed two changes; nonetheless both riders are still in the tightly packed top ten with everything to play for on cross country tomorrow. Oliver Townend is the sole British rider in the top ten, pulling a 38.1 out of the bag on MHS King Joules to lie in 5th place.

Chris Burton and Nobilis 18 take Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials dressage lead Photo by Nico Morgan

Chris Burton and Nobilis 18. Photo by Nico Morgan Photography.

Chris Burton went into the main arena about halfway through the last batch of riders and blew everyone else out the water, scoring 30.2 and smashing the British record for a four-star dressage score. Chris knew the horse was capable of doing such a good test and knew the horse had been in good form lately and so had been optimistic coming into today.

“He was just fantastic today, he was very relaxed, he let me ride him, he let me ride the movements and I was really proud of him. He’s done some good tests before and I’d told the owners I was hopeful because he’s been very relaxed all week; at Badminton he got very lit up by the crowd … so I’m pleased I was able to do a good test today.

“It’s always hard to feel confident when you’re facing the Burghley Horse Trials cross country course. (I’m) more terrified, but he’s a good blood horse and he’s a special cross country ride, so I hope he copes well. I think Mark’s built a fantastic course here and it really makes you attack it and if you’re lucky enough to have a good ride, you’ll really feel very special.”

There’s nothing in particular that Chris could pick out on course as terrifying: “Fence 1 to 30, they all are! It’s Burghley! It’s always big, it’s always tough, it’s relentless. I walked a friend up to the Leaf Pit the other day and it doesn’t matter how many times you walk that bloody fence, it never gets any smaller, and it’s a long way round. Of course I’m looking forward to having a go, but I can’t say I’m excited about it.”

Bettina Hoy now slips to second place and admitted she wasn’t sure if she’d retain her top place all day: “I expected Burto to go ahead of me,” she laughed, “it was a beautiful test. It was technically so well ridden and the mark is well-deserved.”

As for the course: “I think you need to have it very clear in your mind where you want to ride at each individual fence and it’s certainly an attacking fence and I think we three (her, Chris Burton and Andrew Nicholson) are all glad we’re sitting on such good jumpers because I think you’ll need a seriously good jumper and obviously a very fit horse.”

Andrew Nicholson and Nereo Photo by Nico Morgan

Andrew Nicholson and Nereo. Photo by Nico Morgan Photography.

Andrew Nicholson is another rider here this week making a remarkable recovery; last year he watched the event on television after a neck injury that was potentially life-threatening but it never occurred to him that he wouldn’t return. “I was quite sure I’d be back and here we are, I’ve always been very confident about it.”

Not just back, but back in the top three after the first phase, with his best phase still to come tomorrow. “Nereo is very, very nice to ride in the arena. He’s not a naturally gifted dressage horse — he’s a big, powerful galloper, he’s not meant to be crammed into a small arena — but he’s 16 years old, he’s done a lot of work, he’s been to an awful lot of events and he’s a pleasure to ride in there. You know he’s going to go in, he’s going to focus on what he’s got to do, not look at the crowd or the flowers or be surprised by anything, he basically makes my job very easy.”

Andrew, like all the riders, has respect for the test ahead tomorrow. “I think the cross country course is very nice, I think it’s very demanding, I think it’s pretty difficult all the way around. I think the way Mark Phillips has got the jumps very close together at the beginning — three water crossings in the first two minutes — will make you be slower I would have thought, then you start chasing the clock to make up time and you get to all the big, technical fences.

“You’ve got to ride it properly for the whole course, not doze off anywhere, know where you’re going and ride it properly. I think it’s very fair to the horses where they’ve got to jump and it’s up to the riders to show them where they’ve got to go.”

Holly Payne Caravella and Never Outfoxed Photo by Nico Morgan

Holly Payne Caravella and Never OutFoxed. Photo by Nico Morgan Photography.

We had to wait until almost the very end of the afternoon to see our last U.S. rider Holly Payne Caravella go with the Never OutFoxed Syndicate’s Never Outfoxed. By that time we were all reeling somewhat from Chris Burton’s scores and the ever-changing top end of the scoreboard and the mid-test elimination of Frenchman Rudolph Scherer Makara De Montiege after his horse was judged to be unsound. You could say the atmosphere was somewhat electric.

Luckily there was no such drama with Holly and Fox. They went in and did as good a test as they could in the circumstances, and Holly was pleased with her score of 55.8,.“He’s always a difficult horse on dressage day but I was really happy with him. I had no idea how he’d handle this atmosphere and the long hack up through the cross country is a little bit challenging for him but I was really pleased with him. I thought he was really good.

“I was just trying to stay calm and keep him calm and keep him relaxed. He definitely got a little bit amped up when he heard the crowd applauding the rider before me, then he settled a bit again. He went hot and cold a bit, but he’s only ten and he hasn’t been around that much. He’s done Kentucky twice but this is his first time overseas and I’m really proud of him. He’s got a big future ahead of him and I think this was a step in the right direction.”

Holly Payne-Caravella and Never Outfoxed after their dressage at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials Photo by Nico Morgan

Holly Payne Caravella and Never Outfoxed after their dressage test. Photo by Nico Morgan Photography.

Holly has competed at Blenheim before but this is her first Burghley. “It’s huge and intimidating. I’m sitting on a really great cross country horse so that should make me feel a bit better, but it’s enormous and it’s long and there’s just so much to do out there. He’s totally capable of doing it but I think it’s going to be a big challenge. It’s definitely the hardest four-star I’ve ever seen.

“Hopefully the weather holds off. I heard it’s supposed to start raining and being the second last to go the footing is always a concern. He’s actually run both times in Kentucky in pouring rain so we’re used to it.” Holly will probably walk while people are going tomorrow and watch to see how the course is riding, and then she said she’d probably go back to the riders’ tent and watch some more and ‘stress out’ while she waits some more.

Thank you to all the riders for all their time and patience talking to us, and wishing them safe and speedy rounds tomorrow. You can catch up on comments from more riders in the top 10 here and read quotes from Phillip Dutton and Libby Head here. Stay tuned for an exclusive interview with Nilson Moreira da Silva!

Cross country starts at 11:15am GB time (6:15am US eastern) and the last horse is due on course at 3:45 pm (10:45am US eastern). Elisa Wallace will be first out for the US squad at 12:23 GB and she’ll be wearing a jockey cam for the BBC and Burghley TV coverage so we’ll get to see her and what she’s seeing!

Bunnie Sexton and Rise Against set off at 1:21pm GB, and then Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugitive at 2:04pm. Nilson Moreira da Silva and Muggle are due to leave the start box at 2:12pm GB, followed by Libby Head and Sir Rockstar at 2:27pm. Holly Payne Caravella, second last to go, 3:41pm.

Eventing Nation will be live tweeting most of the day as much as possible and then bringing you our U.S. riders’ reactions and wrap up of the day. The cross country will be live streamed in the U.S. on Burghley TV, but it will be shown on a delay and will not start until 8 a.m. EST. Hoping we all get some sleep tonight and that the weather behaves tomorrow. It’s been another fantastic day at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials and we cautiously excited for the next two.

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A Busy Friday Morning of Top Dressage Tests at Burghley

Sam Griffiths and Happy Times in the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials 2016 dressage arena Photo by Nico Morgan

Sam Griffiths and Happy Times. Photo by Nico Morgan Photography.

Sam Griffiths and Happy Times, his loyal campaigner who he calls the Roger Federer of Eventing, were the last to go before the Friday lunch break at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials, but you’d have kicked yourself if you’d snuck off early and missed his test. With an Olympic Games (London) under their belts together and two third places right here at Burghley they, know when and how to turn it on.

“I was really pleased with my test. Warming up he was actually quite tense and I thought it might all go pear-shaped but he trotted out into the middle of the arena and went, ‘Oh, it’s Burghley, I’m just going to relax and do a nice test!’ There were a couple of little mistakes in there but he went really nicely. I’m really pleased with that score, that’s got me really competitive but there’s a couple more days of competition to go with a really demanding cross country track, but my horse is experienced, I know he goes well around here, so hopefully I can be right up there at the end.”

“I’d love to say I’m really relaxed but it’s a daunting cross country and it’s a tough competition, but I’ve done it a few times before so I know I can go well here. Whenever you say the word Burghley you know it’s going to be massive, whenever you watch it on telly you never quite get the idea of the size of some of the fences but you’ve got to have a super-talented horse, a really brave horse and a well-trained horse to go well around this course. I’d love to win it if you really want to know, my horse is getting towards the end of his career and I feel he could still really win this but a lot’s got to go right over the next couple of days.”

Happy Times was inducted into the Event Riders Hall of Fame for horses last night. This is his seventh time at Burghley and his 11th CCI4* start.

Sir Mark Todd and NZB Campino Photo by Nico Morgan

Sir Mark Todd and NZB Campino. Photo by Nico Morgan Photography.

Sir Mark Todd and NZB Campino had already gone earlier in the day and performed as expected for a horse with four CCI4* starts and four placings under his belt, did a nice test. “I was very happy, the horse is pretty experienced now. He’s not flashy in this phase but he’s pretty solid, there was just one little mistake in the first change and I was very happy with the mark. There’s a lot of good horses here and the course is tough and will play a big part but it’s always nice to be up amongst the leaders before you set off across country.

“I think it’s a typical Burghley, it’s big all the way round, I think we jump something like ten or eleven fences in the first two minutes so it’s pretty intense with two water crossings, the second water is a difficult fence and then all the way around there’s just big questions, there’s no let-up and of course you’ve got the ups and downs, the hills as well. That’s my biggest worry with this horse and why he hasn’t been here before, he hasn’t got a lot of thoroughbred in him and he’s not the fastest thing on four legs but we’ve got perfect going and that will help him and we’ll see what we can do.”

Sarah Cohen and Treason Photo by Nico Morgan

Sarah Cohen and Treason. Photo by Nico Morgan Photography.

Sarah Cohen, who now professes to be a ‘semi-retired’ eventer as she only has Treason and is also a mother to two children aged 3 and 7, also staked her claim on the sharp end of the leaderboard this morning with a very nice test and as I type this the only Brit currently in the top ten.

“He was great! A little bit of tension crept in towards the end but we held it together, I was really pleased with him, he did some lovely trot work, it’s one of the best tests he’s perhaps done. I couldn’t have asked any more. It’s a bit frustrating about the first couple of changes because he is great at those but when the tension creeps in they can just go a little bit not to plan, but generally I was really pleased with him.”

Sarah is a local rider, she only lives half an hour away, and when she competed here on Treason 3 years ago she’d only just had her second baby some six months prior. Between that and an insignificant but annoying injury four years ago that put paid to their London 2012 team chances. Sarah feels this might be their year.

“I’d say he’s fitter than he was three years ago and he had a great round back then so I’m hoping for an even better round this time. Because I do it just for a bit of fun now and I only have him at home, I wanted to give it our all, not that I haven’t before but this was a bit the last chance and he’s feeling so fit and well and we’ve got nothing to lose!

“I think it’s a really nice track, it’s a big track but it’s Burghley, it’s always going to be big. I think there are a lot of places you could have silly mistakes but there are a lot of places where if something doesn’t go right there is always plan b, plan c and even plan d here. He’s been a bit cheeky a couple of times this year but he’s had two really good runs at Barbury and Gatcombe so we come here full of confidence.”

Ben Hobday and Ramilo at Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials 2016 Photo by Nico Morgan

Ben Hobday and Ramilo. Photo by Nico Morgan Photography.

This time last year Ben Hobday was watching Burghley from his hospital bed, but he didn’t let himself think about that before he went into the arena this morning on Ramilo. Instead he focused on helping get the best performance he could out of his first time four-star partner. Once he’d finished though the enormity of what he’s achieved began to sink in.

“It’s pretty amazing to be back here doing it. I just focused on keeping the horse together and keeping his focus on me. Once we’d finished the test, well, I’m just letting it all soak in really. I’m pleased with the horse, he tried, he doesn’t find the dressage very easy, I thought they were a touch harsh on him, he isn’t going to challenge the leaders by any means in the dressage but it is what it is and we’ll have to kick on tomorrow and try and make up the difference.

“You can never come to Burghley without respecting the jumps, he’s (Captain Mark Phillips) has done a real job of building a big, technical course so I hope my horse is up to it and so am I. It’s the horse’s first four star so to complete and give him a safe round is the number one priority and number two is to try and chase the leaders as best we can!”

Ben Hobday and Ramilo finish their Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials dressage test Photo By Nico Morgan

Ben Hobday and Ramilo finish their dressage test. Photo By Nico Morgan Photography.

Ben was also supposed to bring Mulry’s Error the super cob to Burghley but the horse “missed a couple of canters due to little niggles and he’s a big lad and needs to be on top of his fitness.” Ben and the owners decided to err on the side of caution: “I just felt he wasn’t as fit as I’d like him and although it’s a shame it would be more of a shame to bring him here and not do him justice. ” We’re happy to hear that all is okay with him and look forward to seeing him out again soon.”

Still more dressage to come this afternoon especially USA’s Holly Payne Caravella and Never OutFoxed, and the leaderboard keeps changing. Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugitive went earlier in the day, and you can catch up on their comments on their tests here. We’ll have a full round up and quotes from the press conference at the end of the day, but until then go eventing!

 

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Phillip Dutton Scores 50.5 at Burghley, New Personal Best for Libby Head

Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugitive Land rover Burghley Horse Trials 2016 Photo By Nico Morgan

Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugitive. Photo By Nico Morgan Photography.

Friday has dawned grey and gloomy at Burghley with the persistent threat of rain, a completely different day to the bright sunshine and warm temperatures we basked in yesterday. There’s a lot more people here and also a lot more atmosphere. We thought that Bettina’s score of 34.5 yesterday would be hard to beat, and as we head into the lunch break on Friday only Sam Griffiths and Happy Times have come close, the only other combination to break the sub-40 barrier scoring 39.6.

Mark Todd and NZB Campino have taken over the number three slot so far on 42.2, just 0.1 ahead of Sarah Cohen and cross country specialist Treason in fourth place. We’ll bring you pictures and reports from them shortly.

Phillip Dutton was first to go today for the U.S. squad near the end of the first group in the morning and scored 50.5. Tom Tierney and Annie Jones’ Fernhill Fugitive looked fantastic in the warm-up and indeed Phillip said he started off feeling better than ever. “I’m a little disappointed; it started off as good as I’ve ever started, he was really good and then he just got a little bit backed off in the last part and missed three changes, which was very costly.

“He was going so well maybe I got a little bit too relaxed on him. He does tend to back off and not express himself so I should have anticipated that and ridden him a little better.” Olympic medalists are their own toughest critics!

Phillip acknowledged that Burghley is far from a dressage competition but wonders if he’s left himself too much to do. “It’s a big track tomorrow so we’ll take it a day at a time and see if can do a bit better there. There’s not one area of the course that stands out, it’s strong all the way. It brings you back to realising that you still need a really fit horse that can gallop for four miles and can jump big fences.

“Every jump is big and wide … you’ve got to have a horse that’s going to fight, they’ve got to have a lot of fitness, a lot of endurance. It’s a pretty special course; it’s a fair bit different to everywhere else in the world. The degree of difficulty and the terrain, it’s a real endurance test and Mark Phillips has built a really strong track. They have to gallop for a really long time and they also have to jump about 40 big jumps as well.”

Fernhill Fugitive after his Land Rover Burghley 2016 dressage Photo by Samantha Clark

Fernhill Fugitive after his dressage test. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Fernhill Fugitive stayed at home at True Prospect Farm while Phillip was in Rio and was ridden by Jenny Caras and Emily Hamel, but before that underwent quite a demanding summer as he was still an Olympic prospect and so is apparently very happy now to be settled in at Burghley.

“He’s had a pretty tough summer. We did the Great Meadow CICO3*, and then we had to travel to Ocala and train in the heat there, and then back again so it hasn’t been the easiest time, but he likes it over here. It’s much cooler for him. It’s pretty horse-friendly for the summer.”

Luckily, Phillip is constantly being asked how it feels to be the newly minted Olympic bronze medalist. “It’s good when everyone reminds me! It’s obviously a childhood dream to stand on the podium, and I’ve done it fortunately in a team situation but not in an individual situation so it was a lifelong dream come true.”

And if he were to win Burghley? “Well, this would be another dream come true, this one! I might be a bit too far back I think to win from here but maybe another time we’ll give it another shot. This guy (Fernhill Fugitive) deserves his chance. He’s done Rolex twice now, and this is a bit of a step up for him but hopefully he’s ready for it. It’s fun to be in England where everybody is pretty much an educated event person and they know what they’re looking at, so it’s cool for us to come over and be a part of it.”

Nilson Moreira da Silva went a couple of horses after Phillip with the Muggle Syndicate’s Muggle, scoring 57.5 to best their score from Rolex by nearly 10 marks. We’ll bring you a video interview with him later, wifi permitting!

Libby Head and Sir Rockstar Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials 2016 Photo by Nico Morgan

Libby Head and Sir Rockstar. Photo by Nico Morgan Photography.

Libby Head and Sir Rockstar warmed up with Shaun Mandy, who’s been helping her a little this summer, and they looked like dynamite outside the arena. Happily, they carried that with them all the way through the test, and they also came out with a four-star personal best of 53.7.

A beaming Libby told me afterwards: “I couldn’t be happier! He went in there and did some of his best work and he actually did it in the ring, I’m just so happy he held it together really! He does tend to feel better on grass to me. I think it just feels like a little bit less of an atmosphere, it’s seems like it’s not such a big change from warm-up into there, so he keeps his cool a little better and I think getting into atmospheres like this more often, he’s finally settling down. I

“t was kind of crazy to be going in there in that atmosphere, but he walked in pretty quietly and that made me happy immediately, so I could enjoy it a little bit better. Usually I’m still holding my breath until he’s entering the arena and he seems like he’s going to be good, and then I can take a deep breath and know we’re going to be okay.”

Libby Head, Devon Brown and Sir Rockstar share a moment after their Land Rover Burghley 2016 dressage test - a new personal best Photo by Samantha Clark

Libby Head, super groom Devon Brown and Sir Rockstar share a moment after a personal best test! Photo by Samantha Clark.

Libby will probably walk the course a couple of times this afternoon and tomorrow. “I’ll just try and keep calm and not get too nervous, try not to think about it too much. I like to watch some go out, and that will be good because I’m later so I can see how the course is riding. I’ll definitely go out there by myself in the morning and walk it again.”

Well done to both Phillip and Libby. Stay tuned for more riders’ assessments of their tests. We talked to Sam Griffiths, who’s right behind Bettina, Sir Mark Todd lying third currently, Sarah Cohen in fourth and fab favorite Ben Hobday. Also still to come after the lunch break: Burghley specialist Andrew Nicholson on Nereo, Tim Price, Chris Burton and our very own Holly Payne Caravella. Don’t go away. Go Land Rover Burghley Eventing!

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Bettina Hoy and Designer 10 Lead After First Day at Burghley

Bettina Hoy and Designer 10. Photo by Nico Morgan Photography.

Bettina Hoy and Designer 10. Photo by Nico Morgan Photography.

Bettina Hoy is always a force to be reckoned with in the dressage arena and today was no different at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials as she took a commanding lead with Designer 10 on 34.5, eight penalties ahead of Bill Levett and Improvise, who are a further four points ahead of third-placed Paul Sims and Glengarnock.

No one could begrudge Bettina any success though as she’s so delightful and always gives all the credit to her horse despite her beautiful riding. “He just felt great outside and actually great all week, and I’ve had some fantastic help obviously from Christopher Bartle our coach, but also my home trainer Sebastian Langehanenberg.

“We’ve worked a special programme out for him that works really well; when I feel him getting a bit excited in the last few minutes, I do rising trot and then he relaxes his back and lets me ride him much more in the test. He felt amazing today. I’m so excited and so happy for my horse because there’s not one horse that I’ve had that tries harder than him. He really wants to do the right thing, and I think he had a chat with his stablemate, Seigneur Medicott, who kept beating him in the dressage, and I think he wanted to show him he could do it as well!”

While she’s thrilled to currently be leading, Bettina said she knows anything can happen on Saturday. “It’s a very good score and it’s nice to be on that score but this is definitely not a dressage competition. This will all be decided on Saturday and Sunday, so fingers crossed. I don’t feel any pressure going into the weekend now because I just take every step as it comes; I’ve got great support here and I’m positive. I was hoping for a good dressage test and I’m excited to be here.

“I was a trainer in Rio (for Russian rider Aleksandr Markov) and was really inspired by all the great riders and fantastic horses I saw, and I feel really motivated. For me it’s very important to have a very good relationship with my horses because as an event rider you get into situations, especially on cross country, where they have to help you out.”

Burghley will always hold a special place in Bettina’s heart: “I won the European Championships here many years ago. I think the course is big, even the in-between fences are all up to height, maximum width. You do need to sit on a proper, proper jumper and they need to be really fit, as they always have to for Burghley.

“I’m glad I’ve done Badminton twice on this horse (and Luhmühlen once) and I’m glad I’ve had all these runs with him because they’re certainly important to attack a course like this. So far I would say I’m going to take all the quick options but I’ve only walked the course once.”

Bill Levett and Improvise. Photo by Nico Morgan.

Bill Levett and Improvise. Photo by Nico Morgan Photography.

Bill Levett and Improvise are slightly adrift in second on 42.5, but Bill maintains there are still points on the table and that this 12-yea- old slightly quirky gelding has a lot of improvement to come yet. “It’s probably his best test at the four-star level so that’s really pleasing. I took him up to Blair last week and he did a 37 at three-star, and it’s nice to know there’a few more marks in there.

“I think he’s a potential leader after the dressage. He’s not easy, he’s quite a difficult little horse and I’m in second, so I’m pleased. There’ll be some very good tests tomorrow no doubt, but hopefully we can keep in touch with the leaders, and then around Burghley you’ve always got a chance.”

Bill has walked the cross country twice already, and this horse jumped clear here last year with just four time penalties. “It’s very strong … you’ve got to have a particular type of horse with engine and jump. My fellow has been around here before; I know he’s got enough stamina. You don’t want to bring a horse here if they don’t have enough stamina because the hills will find you out, and my horse has got that so I’m confident in him and hoping for a good run.

“The ground is for us which is great because if you get a lot of rain it can turn the whole competition on its head. Like always, you’ll have to give them a good ride round here, otherwise they’ll start losing their confidence. The rider’s responsibility is just as important as the horse’s around a course this size.”

Bill has had several top 10 four-star finishes but is still chasing that elusive podium finish. “I’d like to finish in the top three if I could. That’s always been an ambition and I’ve never done it; sixth is as close as I’ve got. Burghley is like one of our grand slams; it’s always one of the highlights of the year.”

This is Paul Sims’ third appearance at Burghley, and it worked a charm for him as he sits in third place on 46.6 overnight after a calm, professional test early this morning on the striking Glengarnock. “This is fantastic. I always knew he was capable of doing a test like this, but to actually have done it and be sitting here (in the press conference) is pretty incredible.

“We all try and target the big events for our best performances but it’s hard to get it all right on the day. I think possibly going earlier in the day helped. He’s been here a couple of times now and he was second to go last year. He’s been really relaxed all week since he’s been here; he was really relaxed this morning. He’s been working a lot more within himself, and maybe if I’d gone later in the day it might have been more difficult.”

Paul had just returned from walking the course, and he commented: “It looks as strong as it always does: big fences, big questions. We’ll see how it rides on Saturday!”

Of course we’re thrilled that our own Elisa Wallace and the Simply Priceless Syndicate’s Simply Priceless sit in fourth place after the first day on 46.8. We caught up with Elisa earlier in the day, and you can read all about her test and see quotes here. Ros Canter, whom we also spoke to earlier in the day, rounds out the top five on 47.0 with Allstar B.

Jonelle Price and Classic Moet.

Jonelle Price and Classic Moet. Photo by Nico Morgan Photography.

The ultra-competitive Jonelle Price came out of the arena and shrugged her shoulders after her test with Classic Moet, which left her in sixth place overnight on 48.5. “It was fine for me, probably a little bit more exciting for her! I don’t understand why horses think dressage is exciting but some do, and she does verge on that side but she tries and she did keep it together.

“She just perhaps didn’t show as much quality as we needed to. She’s a few marks adrift of her personal best which is probably the 45/46 mark. It’s not a million miles away, it’s certainly not a disaster, but naturally I would have loved to somewhere around the low 40 mark. Thankfully it’s a three day event and she’s going to be in the hunt. Aside from Bettina we haven’t seen anything particularly classy today.

“Tomorrow is another day, of course, but it is Burghley. The cross country is typically very influential here, the time especially. There were only two us last year that got the time and this mare was one of them, so hopefully if it pours with rain on Friday night then the cross country could play its part and we could be in the mix! She’s magic to ride cross country, she’s got experience at this level now so hopefully it’s influential and we can climb the leaderboard a bit.”

Jonelle followed Bettina into the arena but naturally that didn’t phase her in the slightest. “That’s the perks of living in England. We ride alongside each other day in day out, it’s just another day at the office.”

And how does Jonelle feel about riding at Burghley? “It would be my favourite competition on the calendar. It suits the brave and the bold. It’s absolutely beautiful riding up from the stables to the main arena every day past the house. It’s a really magical place, certainly when it’s bathed in sunshine like it is today.

“The Kiwis are a small but mighty group I would say. There’s not many of us, but everyone we have is very involved and very supportive. Both Tim’s mother and my mother are over from New Zealand for this week, so we’ve certainly got a good bit of support here.”

Finally, Jonelle shared her thoughts on Saturday’s course: “You certainly respect it as Burghley. The fences are big, every fence is big, and that can definitely have a cumulative effect so it’s important you get a good start and keep them confident and hope luck’s on your side.”

We’re also extremely proud of Bunnie Sexton, our other U.S. rider who went today, scoring a personal best of 61.0 with 17-year-old OTTB Rise Against to sit in 29th place. Bunnie was all smiles and happy tears after her test, and you can read her comments here.

Wishing the best of luck to all the horses and riders on Saturday, but we have a whole day of dressage to get through tomorrow first, including our three remaining U.S. riders and our adopted Brazilian rider Nilson Moreira da Silva. The day starts at 9:30am GB time, and Phillip Dutton enters the arena on Fernhill Fugitive at 10:26am (5:26am EST).

Nilson Moreira Da Silva and Muggle are first to go after the first break at 11am GB (6am EST), Libby Head and Sir Rockstar are half an hour later at 11:32am (6:32am EST) and then we wait for Holly Payne Caravelle and Never Outfoxed, the penultimate combination of the day at 4:18pm GB time (11:18am EST). Check here for the live stream link tomorrow. Signing off after a fantastic first day at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials and looking forward to Friday. Go Four Star Eventing!

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