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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