Overheard on the Battlefield: Riders Talk Burghley’s Influential Final Phase

Our top three – Piggy French (2nd), Oliver Townend (1st) and Gemma Tattersall (3rd) in the final press conference. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

There’s something about a CCI4* that just brings on an intense emotional reaction regardless of the result. When that CCI4* is the biggest, toughest track in the world, and the winner hasn’t tasted victory at the level in eight years despite being the hardest-working man in eventing, it becomes extra special. By extra special I mean, of course, that I wind up crying on everyone sporadically and shamelessly. Sorry, Piggy.

Richard Jeffery’s show jumping track at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials was a masterclass in how to design a fair but influential final phase, taking into account the constraints that both horses and riders will be working under — stay tuned for our full report for a play-by-play of what went down, who made it happen and how they got the job done.

In the meantime, enjoy the reactions from some of our final 25 riders, who rode into the pressure-cooker and came out with coveted Burghley completions — and, in some cases, placings. From the mouths of babes, people. Imagine a continuous quiet sobbing noise in the background and it’s basically like you were in the mixed zone, too.

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Mackenna Shea and Landioso (8 faults, 24th place): “I’m just so happy I finished — that’s pretty much it! He was so good and so rideable, which I was happy about, because sometimes he can be a bit feisty, but it backed him off a bit. Maybe that’s the trick — Burghley!

“I don’t know if I’ll ever really believe it happened — it’s all gone so smoothly and he felt so good that I don’t know if it really happened. I thought I’d be alway more scared the whole time but I was actually able to enjoy it. He came into the atmosphere today and lifted his head, which I was happy about because he was napping an hour earlier, so I’m glad he kind of woke up!”

Paul Tapner and Bonza King of Rouges (8 faults, 19th place): “It’s a little disappointing to have those two down — he went in there and started to spook a bit, but he can be a bit tricky like that. When I first got him he used to ride like that sometimes, and I don’t know why he did it today, but that’s horses and we’ve got our completion.

“It’s actually a really hard question of a course, with lots of related distances on long strides, so it’s hard to keep the horses compact and up in the air — it’s suited to having poles down. I got through the finish flags in all three phases, so I’m happy!”

Tom Crisp and Coolys Luxury (5 faults, 16th place): “I didn’t know what my time was — needless to say, he’s not the quickest and he spends a lot of time in the air. As my youngest son said, ‘It was the wind that knocked the fence down, not Cooly!’ You’ve just got to ride what you’ve got for the week and let the results look after themselves.”

Harry Meade and Away Cruising (4 faults, 15th place): “He’s an average jumper, but I’ve always felt that in the show jumping you can get an average jumper to go clear sometimes, which you can’t do in other phases. All the ducks fell in a row today, and I’m delighted with that. It’s a good match for the cross country — yesterday opened them up, and then today the distances are quite short, so it counterbalanced what the cross country had been testing us on. I think that if you nail the process, the result just happens.”

Imogen Murray and Ivar Gooden (clear and inside time, 14th place): “The more you dare him and say, ‘There’s the fence, go on, jump it’, the higher he goes. I’ve thought for a really long time that he’s a really good horse, but his record hasn’t shown it. It’s nice now to be able to show how amazing he is, with double-clears at both Burghley and Badminton.”

Clare Abbott and Euro Prince (4 faults, 13th place): “He was jumping superbly, but I over-collected. Sometimes he can be quite alert in his mind but his body can be tired — today he felt soft, and relaxed, and athletic so I’m delighted with how he finished. With every four-star you learn more about your horse and his capabilities, and then you can come back and use it next time. It’s a pretty big achievement to get to the finish line.”

Lauren Kieffer and Veronica (1 fault, 12th place): “Veronica was great ‚ she wants to be a careful horse, and she felt great after yesterday. It was a fair course if you rode well — it caught out little mistakes but there was nothing unfair about it. The plan would have been to win, but you know, it’s all gone to plan otherwise. Burghley really tells you about what type of horse you’ve got — you just don’t know until you get here.”

Harry Dzenis and Xam (8 faults, 11th place): “It was quite pressurised in there — the first horse felt the nerves, and Xam got nervous but I had to just get him through it. I’m absolutely over the moon and I couldn’t ask for more, really.”

Boyd Martin and Steady Eddie (8 faults, 10th place): “It’s a brilliant event — one of the best in the world — so I’m very pleased with him. He had the last fence down, which was a bugger, but to finish in the top 10 is a great achievement and I’m really proud of him. He was a bit all over the place in there — yesterday really took it out of him, but it’s a great result. This is by far the biggest, toughest four-star in the world — it takes a special type of horse and a brave rider. It’s an epic event.”

Izzy Taylor may not have had the round she’d hoped for, but is looking ahead to Trevidden’s future. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Izzy Taylor and Trevidden (12 faults, 9th place): “Obviously I’m disappointed — he just went a bit green in there, like yesterday; it’s just more expensive in the show jumping ring. I’m thrilled with him though, to finish where he did in his first four-star. There’s always a big atmosphere, the pressure’s on in the top three, and it’s a good four-star course in there. It’s very exciting, and we’re always looking forward — we’ve got a lot of homework to do but the overall picture is very exciting.”

Andrew Nicholson dissects his showjumping round aboard Nereo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Andrew Nicholson and Nereo (10 faults, 8th place): “I jumped the triple bar very well and he landed quick — the distance for him was just a bit quiet for him, and it got a bit too quiet. I ended up adding a stride. He’s for sure the best horse I’ve ever sat on. I don’t think many international riders have 3,000 points in their career and he has that — if that’s correct — I let my kids do the maths! It’s the top four-star in the world, we’re competitive, and we love winning.”

Tina Cook and Calvino II (8 faults, 17th place) and Star Witness (clear and inside time, 7th place): “I’m so pleased with Star Witness, because he’s fairly shocking in the one-days. He finds the dressage difficult and can be a bit naughty but he loves his jumping and tries his socks off. It’s beyond expectations — he has his physical problems, and I spend most of my time managing them. Every time he gets to an event like this it’s a bonus.

“I thought with Calvino II that I had a four-star win in my clutches, but with the way he jumped today we wouldn’t have won it anyway, so that’s fine. To have three horses at the very top and to be here at Burghley is amazing, and brings back so many memories — most of them good!”

Lynn Symansky in the mixed zone. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Lynn Symansky and Donner (4 faults, 6th place): “He was actually jumping really well but on a tired horse, going into the crowd, he lost focus for a second. I’m just kicking myself in the pants because we could’ve had a clear round. You need to ride according to the plan of your own horse and have a cool head about it. I’m much more relaxed this year, having done it last year, and I’d love to come back. You have to rely on the partnership. When you can taste it, it’s pretty disappointing, but I can’t be upset — I’m really pleased with him.”

Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy (five faults, 5th place): “It was good for him — he was popping a few good jumps there. We had one down, but for him that’s like a clear round! We needed a bit of luck but we didn’t have it. That’s life with him — I reckon he’s got a big win in him, but it’s not today. This competition is great fun; I really enjoy coming here and giving it a chance.”

Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser (clear and inside time, 4th place): “He’s a special horse — the only factor that would make him have a pole down would be me! He was super consistent the whole way — I didn’t know how I was doing on the time, so I had to pick it up in a few places.

“Today I walked it by myself so I asked a few people, like Tim Price, for help while they were walking. Eventing is a community and people are always willing to help out a young person like me. We just need to tighten up the dressage, but I’m super excited for the future. I didn’t realise how tough it’d be to get back here and how tough it was — I was so lucky with Dry Old Party. To come back on a special horse is so special.”

Gemma Tattersall and Arctic Soul (4 faults, 3rd place): “Without a doubt, Team GB are ascending — we’re all sat here and there’s plenty behind us as well which is really exciting — Tom (McEwen) and Izzy (Taylor) and plenty with very exciting young horses. Chris Bartle and Dickie Waygood have contributed to me and my career definitely; they’ve helped me a huge amount and I’m very grateful for that.”

Piggy French and Vanir Kamira (double clear, 2nd place): “It’s amazing, isn’t it? She’s just been such a good girl. I’m so proud. It’s amazing the difference a year makes — it’s amazing to be here and up the leaderboard. I don’t think it was that pretty but it doesn’t matter, the poles stayed up. These are really brave horses and to get them to respect the poles is a mission in itself.

“Burghley is the toughest four-star with the terrain and it’s probably my favourite, as it’s so friendly, so it’s always been a dream to do well. It was surprising watching, really — it’s amazing — for her, for my team, for the sport. Not in a million years did I imagine this! I didn’t actually find it that difficult to come back; I’m still a very competitive competitor. I find the drive to do it quite easy. I’ve paid more attention to the fitness side than I ever have done — we had a personal trainer once a week which was hell but physically and mentally it really paid off.”

Your Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials 2017 winner – Oliver Townend! Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class (5 faults, but nonetheless our WINNER!): “It’s very, very special — I keep crying! We’ve had him from the word go, and he’s a top class horse. It was up to him to do his job and up to me to do my job, and we both did. I was looking around the collecting ring and I thought, whatever happens, I wouldn’t swap him for any horse in here, and it’s been a long time since I last said that. I’m just desperate for top class horses, and I’ve had to play the numbers game to try to find them. I’m trying to cut down numbers now so you can see me perform like I did this weekend.

“It means the world to me — I have so much faith in this horse, and I’ve been blowing wind up him all week, so I’m glad he proved me right! When I had the gate down I thought, if you’re going to have one down you might as well do it right! I’ll have a look back and give myself a smack. It’s been a rough old year one way or another — I lost a good friend a year ago on Friday, and I’ve never spoken about it but everything shook me a bit.

“With being such a young horse, a lot can go wrong — he’s only just learned flying changes and only just learned a lot of things, so everything had to go 100% his way. On cross country I gave him as much time as I could before I pressed go, and he was just fantastic — a different talent than I’ve been used to sitting on for a long time. In the show jumping he can still be a bit babyish coming into a crowd, but I couldn’t be happier with him. When he’s naughty, I think he’s just had a fright at some stage — when he arrived he was fairly wild and fairly rank and we’ve all fallen off him properly, but I don’t think it’s nasty. I think it’s a bit of fear and a lot of blood.”