Riders React to Influential Cross Country Day at Burghley

Andrew Nicholson speaks to reporters in the mixed zone. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It would be amiss to say that the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials ages like a fine wine – rather, it ages sort of like a bottle of black-market tequila that your best mate tries to get you to try at a party – the prospect never gets any less terrifying, but the pay-off is (usually) brilliant. And there’s a lot of dancing on tables.

Today’s action-packed cross-country session didn’t disappoint, and saw favourites fall from the leaderboard and outliers climb. I’ve nearly recovered from the several minor heart attacks I suffered throughout the day – most of which can be attributed to Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy – so until my heart rate evens itself back out, I’ll let the stars of the show tell their own story. Here’s how the day played out, as told by the rockstars who tackled the course.

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Mark Todd and Leonidas II (overnight leader after dressage, rider fall at Discovery Valley): “If I’m honest, I wasn’t expecting to be on the ground — it’s not what I like doing! I probably had too nice of a jump, he launched, and just lost his footing. He’s been a very good horse for a number of years now and always just missed out on a good one. He had a very good dressage and it was there for the taking, but I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. You have to pick yourself up, put things behind you, and go on to the next competition.”

Michael Jung and La Biosthetique Sam FBW (retired at Trout Hatchery) – “I was really too slow in my reactions and I lost the reins. That was my fault. The horse couldn’t see the jump and what he had to do. Now we have a really long drive home so we can think about everything. I will ride him at home and see how he is feeling. It was a stupid mistake from me and not from the horse. He galloped 7 minutes, so I can think he will do another round this season. At the moment he is in top form. He felt very super when he came out of the box.”

Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class, 1st (clear, 0.4 time) – “I definitely lost the second in the air at fourteen of the fences, but he’s different to what I’ve sat on for a lot of years, but he’s come here and proved what I’ve been saying all week. A few people said I shouldn’t have brought him here, but I thought, why am I listening to them? I know horses.

“He gave me a fantastic ride. I always planned to go long at the Trout Hatchery, just because I didn’t know what he’d do at the third element. He’s a big striding horse and a baby, so I wanted to take the long route. He’s 10 years old, so hopefully I’ve got him for another six, with any luck.

“I’ve seen good jumpers get four down in the Burghley show jumping, so who knows what will happen next. He’s done his bit for me, so I’m looking forward to the future. The feeling in team GB is very positive. We all really like and respect the two new managers. It’s good timing for them to step in and it gives us all a good feeling.”

Gemma Tattersall after being one of three riders to make the time. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Gemma Tattersall and Arctic Soul, 2nd (clear, inside time) – “He was seriously aggressive today and wanting to get the job done. He’s incredibly honest and he knows he has to go through the flags. I’ve had a horrendous cold all week and it’s gone to my chest — I didn’t feel strong enough to sit back and make the turn so I made the decision to go long at the Trout Hatchery. It rode massively, even on a big, scopey horse, and the time will really take some getting.

“Every day’s a clean sheet — you come out and what you did the day before doesn’t matter.”

Izzy Taylor and Trevidden, 3rd (clear, inside time) – “The highlight of my round? Coming through the finish line! It was one of those rounds where I was having such a nice time that I had to remind myself not to fall off at a silly fence. He’s finished super — he’d like to go again if there’s a spare slot!

“He was mega; he felt phenomenal! He’s only done one CCI3* but you can see that he’s a scopey horse with a scopey stride so you have to hope they have it in them.”

Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy, 4th (clear, 5.2 time) – “It was still a bit hairy, but his experience played a significant part there. He’s one to throw his heart over and then we have to figure out how to land from that, which sometimes equates to a hairy round, but he’s a real trooper and we know each other inside out.

“I wanted to be inside the time and in hindsight perhaps I could have pressed him on sooner, but sometimes you do that and you end up with a nasty situation. With him, I have to manage him in front of a fence and take away the pressure, giving him time to evaluate — that all takes time. The ground is definitely deeper this afternoon. His recovery has been superb and his heart rate came right back down, which is a testament to the team at home.”

“I’m a bit of a natural rider and he’s a horse who you need to throw away the rulebook with, so I try to use that to my advantage.”

Piggy French and Vanir Kamira, 5th (clear, 3.2 time) – “She was absolutely brilliant — the best she’s ever been by a country mile. She didn’t fight as much as she usually does; she was just relaxed and was so super. She’s one of those mares that sees the flags and does whatever she can to get through them. I’m annoyed now — I shouldn’t be greedy, a few seconds is a few seconds! I was down on my second minute marker and thought, ‘You’ve got to get a move on, old girl!’

“I used to think my whole life depended on it, and it was all a disaster. Now, I’m not going to cut my head off if it doesn’t happen, but while I’m competitive, I’m hungry. You have so much running through your mind when you’re here, but she was fantastic and I’m so grateful to everyone who got us back after my year off.”

Andrew Nicholson and Nereo, 6th (clear, 7.6 time) – “Qwanza is a very bouncy, buzzy little thing and she felt fantastic, but the fence before, she looked at it, so I gave her a squeeze which I don’t usually do and she flew at it. She jumped into Doris big and I’m sure there was room for a second one, but that’s what she’s like at the start of a course. I thought for a second she was going to make it, but I think I was kidding myself!

“I got winded earlier but I’ve fallen off enough to know immediately if I’ve broken something. Getting winded is the worst for the first few minutes, but once you’re not suffocating anymore and you know you’ve not broken anything, then off you trundle.”

“I got it wrong a few times, but he’s so honest and experienced that he can get himself out of it. He might lack a bit of the pace, but it’s like he’s read the course plan before he goes. All I can do now is jump a clear round and make the others do their bit. It’s Burghley — all sorts of things can happen on the final day. For me, he’s the best horse in the world. What Nereo has done for me is incredible, and if he can win two four-stars this year then maybe people will treat him like the legend he is.”

Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser, 7th (clear, 1.6 time) – “It’s not about the lead — I’m thrilled with him. He’s careful, and when I moved him to CCI4* a lot of people worried he was too careful. A horse that’s willing is worth a thousand of them; I’m very grateful for him. I got some slightly too-tight lines but he sorted himself out. I took the routes I wanted and went straight, and I’m delighted with him. He reacted when I asked, even to the end.”

Lynn Symansky and Donner, 8th (clear, 3.6 time) – “I’ve really come to rely on him. He comes out and is so reliable and so quick that I could afford to take a few long routes. … For him, it actually rode a little bit better than I anticipated. He’s struggled with right-hand corners and runouts in the past, but now we can really put that behind us. The highlight was definitely the finish line! I had the advantage of seeing lots of people go, and seeing what worked and what didn’t work. There wasn’t one thing that I was really worried about, it’s just about keeping your head in the game and reacting to what’s in front of you.”

Boyd Martin and Steady Eddie, 9th (clear, 2.0 time) – “This is Eddie’s third CCI4*. He’s a funny one; I tried to sell him for two years and couldn’t get anyone interested. Then it all started to click into place. To have him get to Burghley is pretty unbelievable. The course was pretty tough. I had him very fit and he was still tired. It’s the toughest four-star in the world. To be honest, I was in my own little world at the stables, listening to music, so I didn’t know about Hannah Sue and Andrea. There’s no shame in having a crack at something so they shouldn’t be too hard on themselves.”

“There was a long time when Eddie looked like a real lemon and I was trying to get my money back. He broke my leg awhile back and I just wanted to get rid of him, but in the last 18 months he’s really come right. I was talking to Toddy this morning and he asked me who he was by. I said he was by Jetbull, who’s a New Zealand stallion, and Toddy said, ‘Jetbull! They’re all f*cking mad!’

“He nicked a pastern a bit but he’s absolutely fine. I’m kicking myself a bit — I should have gone straight at the Leaf Pit and made the time. Even if you ride the fences well he’s still a bit leery and tends to start out pretty quirky, so I could have made more time at the beginning.”

Tina Cook and Star Witness, 10th (clear, inside time) – “I always like to worry Mark Phillips! There were no surprises at all — you had to work jolly hard and I had the upmost respect for the whole course.”

Harry Dzenis and Xam, 11th (clear, 4.8 time) – “I feel really chuffed and relieved, but slightly nervous that I’ve got to go do it all again!

Clare Abbott and Euro Prince, 12th (clear, 15.2 time) – “He was throwing huge jumps and really landing running, so I think he’ll do better the next time he does something like this.”

Lauren Kieffer in the mixed zone. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Lauren Kieffer and Veronica, 13th (clear, 28.0 time) – “She’s not the fastest horse in the world and we’ve had a bit of a rough summer after Badminton, so I just wanted to give her a good clear. Time did just tick away with us, but I’m thrilled with her. She’s taken me around Burghley and just kept on jumping great.

“Burghley definitely favors exceptionally fast horses, and you have to take a few risks — even the horses that were flying and jumping beautifully couldn’t make the time. She’s not got much Thoroughbred in her so I wasn’t sure how she’d feel at the end. Everyone’s got a lot of opinions about it, but at the end of the day you’re riding a horse and stirrups are adjustable.”

Alan Nolan and Bronze Flight (clear, 34.8 time) – “He was bought to be a hunter and his owner got a bit fed up of him putting her in trees, so I got the ride!”

Harry Meade and Away Cruising, 16th (clear, 17.2 time) – “One of the big things about Burghley is the terrain. You don’t quite know how a horse will cope with it until you get there. I had to just be mindful that Away Cruising might not get the trip around, but he’s a forward, galloping horse. As long as he can see the fence in front of him. Now he’ll get plenty of TLC and have a good rest before tomorrow.”

Tom Crisp and Coolys Luxury, 17th (clear, 16.8 time) – “You have to give it ultimate respect out there. It’s a big track, and you need a fit horse. You can ride in very different ways: You can ride to complete or to be competitive. Last year I was up on my minute markers but this year, I don’t know how many Burghleys he has left in him, I didn’t have the test I wanted, and I wanted to just give him a classy clear, rather than try to ride for the time. Hopefully I’ve left enough horse in the tank for tomorrow, where it’s all won or lost.”

Paul Tapner and Bonza King of Rouges, 19th (clear, 29.6 time): “It’s big, it’s bold, it’s long, it’s hilly, but it’s not tricky or trappy so if you’ve got a brave horse you can get around. I didn’t feel my horse got tired in the slightest — plenty will make the time today. He’s the one horse in my yard I want to be sat on on the last day of a three-day.”

Tim Price and Xavier Faer, 20th (20 jumping, 11.6 time) – “I can only blame myself. My reins got a bit slippery and I didn’t regain my composure down the hill. Nine out of 10 times you’d get away with it. On course, I needed to create more momentum than I’d expected. I thought I’d be able to let him roll along for the first few. After Tina’s round I thought it would be easy to get the time but it was really hard. There’s a sweet spot for take-off that gets smaller as the fences get bigger. You want the horse to feel as though he’s having a good time. The horse is magic, and is suited to this course every day of the week, but I just lost my ribbons a little bit.”

Harry Dzenis and Dromgurrihy Blue, 21st (clear, 26.8 time) – “I had him here two years ago, and then didn’t have him for two years, and have just had him back a few months. He’s a bit of a heavier sort, so I just wanted to make sure I got him home clear. I didn’t push him as much as Xam. I used a lot of the confidence I’d got in the first round, though!”

Louise Harwood and Mr Potts, 22nd (clear, 26.8 time) – “As I got more and more into the course I started to remember that oh yeah, Potts is good!”

Richard Jones and Alfies Clover, 23rd (20 jumping, 32.0 time) – “The horse was good, if a little green in places. I lost my finger in an accident at Bramham so my left hand started to hurt a bit quite early on. He still had plenty of gallop left in him when he finished but he also tired quite early on.”

Oliver Townend and Samuel Thomas II, 24th (20 jumping, 3.2 time) – “It’s a fantastic course to ride around and I don’t think the course or the course designer get enough credit. If you take the bad bit out, I think it would have been the round of the day. He was fantastic the whole way around, just perhaps a bit ungenuine at the wrong place. Everything was riding ridiculously well. This is the best course there’s been for a long, long time anywhere in the world.”

Woodge Fulton and Mackenna Shea after their cross country rounds. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Mackenna Shea and Landioso, 25th (20 jumping, 22.0 time) – “They told me to be careful at Discovery Valley. I thought he’d get there in five and that late in the course, he just didn’t appreciate me putting him there. It was always my plan to go long at the Leaf Pit. At that point he was tired so I felt like I owed it to him to go a bit easy on him.

“I could beat myself up about it all but as I said to Rodney — one down, a lifetime to go. There was some green inexperience on my part, but I thought everything was fair to the horses and even with my changes of plan it rode well. I just have to keep strong for my horse and not let him think he did anything wrong.

“This is like nothing I’ve ever jumped before — the whole time I was going around I was thinking, ‘Holy crap!’ And that feeling never stopped. Even the second-last jump was huge; it never let up. Everything is a whole different level.”

Georgie Spence and Wii Limbo, 29th (20 jumping, 27.2 time) – “”He was class. I made the error, sadly. In previous years I’ve taken long routes, but I thought I had nothing to lose. I can’t fault the horse. He’s not at full fitness and has only had two runs back.”

Paul Sims and Glengarnock, 35th (20 jumping, 41.2 time) – “He was absolutely class the whole way around and made it feel like an Intermediate. I don’t really know what went wrong but hey ho, these things happen!”

Caroline Powell and Spice Sensation, 36th (20 penalties, 34.4 time) – “It rode the same way that it walked, but bigger. The ground is quite holding. I’m really pleased with her. She grew the whole way around.”

Woodge Fulton and Captain Jack, 37th (clear, 41.6 time) – “I feel very lucky — not everyone gets to compete here so I feel so fortunate to be here. I wasn’t here for the dressage — this is what he’s made to do, and he was still pulling at the end. He’s made for it. I always pick him to the base and Buck said I had to go forward to everything so I think we did better at that. I buried him sometimes and went long sometimes and he just said, ‘Come on kid, let’s go!’

“It’s the hills that make the course so huge. I tried to prepare myself for being completely overwhelmed, but riding it felt great. Kentucky is amazing but this is a whole different level.

“Ian (Stark) was great, and to walk with him and see his insight has been huge. It was definitely nerve-wracking to watch the others go. When Andrew fell, Buck said, ‘Ride everything forward, but not that forward.’ My horse is kicking and biting everyone now, and that’s him at his best.”

Ludwig Svennerstal and Balham Mist, 38th (40 jumping, 24.0 time): “When I got to the warm-up they changed and delayed my starting time and then when I got here they’d already started the clock, so I had to chase the time constantly. It’s a disaster, and it’s a real shame they can’t communicate. I’m really disappointed, and it ruins my whole competition. I couldn’t stick to my plan. The horse, overall, was good, but we had a miscommunication in the water and he lost a bit of focus after that.”

Andrew Hoy and The Blue Frontier, 41st (40 jumping, 29.6 time) – “The horse could have gone but he decided to run by, but overall I’m absolutely thrilled with the horse. Last year we ended up in the Trout Hatchery and this year he was foot-perfect through there.”

Simon Grieve and Drumbilla Metro, 42nd (20 jumping, 51.2 time) – “He’s only 10 and it’s his first time at his level, so he went really green – he came to fence 4 and just went ‘woah! What’s all this?!’ At Doris, i thought it walked quite short so I showjumped it, so I’ll do that differently.”

Angus Smales and MJI Mount Echo, 45th (40 jumping, 55.6 time) – “Ultimately, I didn’t ride well enough. That’s what I’m there for; I should have reacted quicker. I knew I was on a green horse and I should have been riding what was underneath me.”