There’s just no stopping Oliver Townend, apparently. As the morning session of Friday’s dressage drew to a close, he remained well-situated at the top of the leader board with pathfinder MHS King Joules on a score of 27.2. Second place, too, was unchanged — Sarah Bullimore and the bad-boy-come-good Reve du Rouet maintain their stronghold just a tenth of a penalty behind the leaders on 27.3.
But there were some new entries into the top ten further down the line. German team stalwart Andrea Dibowski might not be one of the usual faces in the crowd here at Burghley, but he made the most of a rare trip to the feature event, delivering a solid score of 28.5 and moving into third with the experienced four-star campaigner FRH Butts Avedon. Andreas is Germany’s sole representative this week, fitting in a sojourn to the UK before he’s whisked away to Tryon with his teammates. It’s these reliable championship duties that ordinarily prevent him from contesting this event, but this year, with two horses at the top of their game, he was able to make an entry.
“Burghley, for me, is the highest level,” said Andreas after his test. “It’s mostly too close to championship events, so I don’t get to do it often. But this year, after the horse did well at Sopot and Aachen, and after having done Pau, Luhmühlen, and Badminton in the past, I felt that it was time for him to do Burghley.”
The crowd expected an impressive test, and the longtime partnership delivered, with fluid, correct, and impressive work. In the warm-up, too, they looked a fearsome combination, schooling canter pirouettes and higher-level work in preparation for their test.
“The preparation for today was perfect — I only worked him for about ten minutes, and he was really calm so I could prepare him well. His canter is sometimes a little bit flat, so a working pirouette really helps me to take him under the gravity and work him up under my seat. I’m very, very happy with him today; the atmosphere is not so easy to ride in, and he was really crazy and a little bit nervous in the first horse inspection.”
FRH Butts Avedon benefits from the heavily Thoroughbred influence that tends to aid in a successful trip around the Burghley course, and Andreas hopes that this will push them to one or two better after tomorrow’s big test.
“I had the feeling when I walked the course that it was uphill, uphill, uphill — I was waiting all the time for the downhill to come! It’ll really test the condition of the horses, but he’s my most experienced horse and he’s a good galloper, and much easier to ride in a long-format CCI. I’m not the fastest rider in a CIC; I need the time to find my lines, so we can make up that time in a long-format like this.”
Oliver Townend‘s second ride of three, Badminton runner-up Cooley SRS, came forward for his second outing at the level, delivering a score of 29.4 to sit in fourth. Though the test didn’t quite rival his Badminton effort — he scored 25.9 on his debut at the level — a consistent stream of 7s and 7.5s mitigated the damage inflicted by a sprinkling of 4s and 5s in the rein-back and changes.
“This is his second time at the level, and that’s often the trickiest one for them, as they start to feel that they’re very good at what they do and they start to enjoy the crowd. They’ve been to prizegivings, and you think, ‘okay, you’re a superstar, but it’s time to calm it down’,” said Oliver. “He’s as fit as I’ve ever had him, and a bit on the fresh side, but he’s a lot more strengthened in his body, too. He’s a natural backwards and weak horse, but we’re pleased with his progress — he’s always improving, and it’s exciting to feel that there’s still more to come.”
Fifth through eighth place saw familiar faces in familiar places; yesterday’s third-placed Harry Meade and Away Cruising ringlead this group of remainers, followed by Piggy French and Vanir Kamira, Georgie Spence and Wii Limbo, and Mark Todd and NZB Campino. To read more about their tests, check out yesterday’s morning and lunchtime reports.
A new face moved into the top ten, tying for ninth place. Emilie Chandler and Coopers Law might not yet be household names, but they finished 14th at Pau last year and 20th at Badminton this spring, as well as 21st at Burghley in 2015. Excitingly, they haven’t had an international cross country jumping penalty since 2014, and would be a strong pick for a dark horse top-ten finish, if they can minimise their rails on Sunday.
Today, though, is just about the first phase — and they delivered a good score of 31 to feature among the big boys after a solid test. This doesn’t rival their Badminton first-phase mark of 27.9, but with just eighteen combinations left to present before the ground jury, it’s certainly a strong position to be in.
“I’m very pleased with him — he was very relaxed and managed to contain himself in the walk,” said Emilie. “Three years ago he went very well here, and then sadly had a niggle of an injury and some time out. It’s nice to come back with a bit of experience — although I don’t think it’ll make it any easier!”
Coopers Law’s history with Burghley goes back further than just that 2015 result — he contested the four- and five-year-old classes, finishing in the top ten in his five-year-old year, but delivering a rather less dazzling result as a four-year-old: “it poured with rain, and I think he managed to kick out six showjumps — they were only 90 centimetres!”
Fan favourites Alex Bragg and Zagreb also produced a 31 test to tie with Emilie and Coopers Law. Their score represents the first time since Belton at the start of the season that they’ve scored in the 30s — normally, we expect a mid-to-high 20s score from this pair.
“I’m a little bit disappointed,” said Alex after his test. “The beginning was great, and then I just got a bit cautious in the canter and allowed him to slip a bit behind my leg. Then we were a bit up and down and short behind in the changes. I just needed to be a bit more positive to get in the 20s, which is where I’d hoped to be.”
Alex and Zagreb produced their best test to date at Jardy’s ERM in July, where they won on their dressage score of 23.6.
“As a rider, you’re always trying to supersede your personal best, which does put the pressure on. It’s hard to do a test on grass with a bigger horse, too — you can just lose the impulsion as you try to balance them. Perhaps I should have gone less deep into the corners and kept the forward motion going, but I’ll analyse it and try to work out how to ride this test better for next time.”
The rangy Zagreb isn’t one of the most blood horses in the field, but Alex points out that no course is perfect for any horse: “the style [of the course] suits him down to the ground but the long hill up Winners’ Avenue doesn’t — but then, you have strengths and weaknesses with all horses. He’s got a big heart and all the attributes you need to get around a course like this.”
Reflecting on the last few seasons, which have seen him rise stratospherically into the public eye, Alex notes that riding at a competition like Burghley has changed for him.
“Sometimes, when you’re naive and it’s your first time, you have this belief that you’ll succeed, no matter what. Now, I have more knowledge and experience — so I hope I go out with more than just grit and determination. This time, I’ve got a decent plan and some experience behind me.”
We saw our second North American representative in the ring this morning. Lillian Heard and LCC Barnaby rode their sophomore test at Burghley, returning after an early end to last year’s effort. They scored 36.4 and sit in provisional 34th position.
“He was really good in there — last year, he got really excited, but this time he was very relaxed, for him,” said Lillian. “The trot felt good, and I felt like I could ride him forward. He got a little nervous in the canter and thought that it could go either way, but then he relaxed again. I travelled him as late as possible, hoping that it would tire him out a bit — it didn’t work at all! Couldn’t they have ridden him around the airport or something?!”
Lillian trains with Boyd Martin, who was due to compete with Steady Eddie, but made a last minute withdrawal. Because of his team commitments, he wasn’t able to make the trip over as a coach, forcing Lillian to make a quick change of plans.
“Boyd dropped out, and the whole time I’d assumed he’d come, so for a day or two I was completely beside myself! But then I pulled myself together and thought, ‘this is ridiculous — what would Boyd have done anyway?’ So I asked Buck [Davidson] if he would help, and he said he’d give me as much or as little help as I wanted. I was like, ‘I want as much as possible!'”
Lillian and LCC Barnaby’s Burghley ended at the Leaf Pit last year, where they took a tumble. The horse became wedged against the fence, but after the ministrations of the ground crew, both horse and rider walked away in one piece. The incident propelled Lillian to reshape her training plan in preparation for a second attempt.
“I walked the course and saw that they’ve put the same combination at the Leaf Pit, but it’s harder this year — they must have put it there for me,” she joked. “Last year, I got around with bold force rather than skills, but I’ve been working hard — I’ve probably cross-country schooled more than anyone in the world!”
This afternoon’s dressage session re-commences at 2.00pm BST/9.00am EST. We’ve got some heavy-hitters in the final session, as well as our final US representative — Buck Davidson takes to the arena at 2.24pm BST/9.24am EST with Park Trader. We’ll also have our eyes on the following:
- 3.04pm BST/10.04am EST: Mark Todd and Kiltubrid Rhapsody
- 3.59pm BST/10.59am EST: Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy
- 4.15pm BST/11.15am EST: Andrew Nicholson and Swallow Springs
- 4.31pm BST/11.31am EST: Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class
As always, we’ll be bringing you everything you need to know, as soon as you need to know it — so stay tuned and, as always, Go Eventing!