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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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!