Since 1961, the glorious Burghley House has been a picturesque backdrop for the equestrian world’s most demanding competition. Last weekend, the estate was again bustling with the manic energy of the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials CCI4*.
Heading in to the Cross Country phase, Clare Balding observed an ‘international’ scoreboard, with New Zealand’s Mark Todd leading. The legendary ‘Toddy’ was followed by the USA’s Burghley debutant Lauren Kieffer in second and Germany’s Michael Jung in third after a small mistake in his Dressage test. Indeed, Thursday and Friday saw some truly wonderful Dressage; the top five all achieved scores under 40. A 43 from Gemma Tattersall saw her cinch a personal best aboard Arctic Soul, proving the ex-racehorse’s capability as a top event horse.
The gelding also made easy work of formidable new elements woven in to the Cross Country track. Taking inspiration from the elements, Captain Mark Phillips used trees felled by Storm Doris to create a new combination on the course named after the tempest. The bold and technical fences fitted perfectly in to a course characterised by rider-frighteners and a demand for accuracy. Favourite from the outset, Michael Jung was enjoying a harmonious ride with his wonderful ‘Sam’ until the infamously tricky Trout Hatchery caused the pair to incur a refusal. Speaking to Clare Balding about the incident, Jung blamed his lack of ‘reaction’ speed on this mistake and his subsequent decision to retire. He claimed that his horse, now seventeen years old, ‘owes him nothing’.
With the FEI Number One out of the competition, the opportunity for usurping the top spot became a vivid possibility. There was no shortage of positive riding, and it was delightful to see so many combinations seemingly breezing around the Cross Country in the summery climate. Crowds flocked from all parts of the globe to line the fences of the course in support of their favourite combinations, and the mood was as sunny as the weather. With team GB still on top form following the European Championships, the scoreboard was dominated with the Union Jack after Cross Country. Oliver Townsend then took the top spot, closely flanked by Gemma Tattersall and Izzy Taylor.
As usual, scores were close heading in to Sunday’s Show Jumping phase. Grey and gloomy at the estate, the previous day’s atmosphere of jubilance had given way to one of tension. For some, there was misfortune. Andrew Nicholson’s dream to win Badminton and then Burghley was dashed after knocking three fences with Nereo. Izzy Taylor also suffered an expensive round that resulted in her finishing ninth. Despite this, the afternoon bore witness to yet more beautiful riding. Tom McEwan, based with Zara Tindall, put in a poetic clear round. There was also joy for Piggy French, who enjoyed an enthusiastic clear on Vanir Kamira to finish with the horse as the highest placed mare.
Oliver Townend was last to go. In previous years, partnered with Armada, the Show Jumping has been a jittery phase for him. However, astride Ballaghmor Class, he seemed totally cool over the first few fences. The young grey has certainly proved every inch the event horse over the past four days, jumping with such scope that you’d be forgiven for doubting his exertions Cross Country just a day before. Yet, a rather dramatic knock of the white gate midway round the course ensured that everyone was living on the edge of their seats. The combination recovered quickly to fly round the latter efforts with style. Upon crossing the finish line, Townend evidently thrilled with the horse’s debut performance at CCI4* that saw them obtaining the much-coveted trophy.
It was lovely to see the handsome grey looking relaxed and muddy in the field at home in a picture posted from team Townend’s official Instagram account yesterday. The fame hasn’t gone to his head just yet!