Today was the first day of the Burghley Horse Trials – a 3 day event that tests the world’s best horses and riders to highest level of their ability. It is a spectacular 5 days.
Yesterday was the Trot Up, which checks each horse’s health and fitness. Something which is vital when the animal is going to be asked to show a level of gymnastics and athleticism few will ever experience. Unfortunately 2 horses did not pass the Trot Up and were withdrawn. A real heartbreak for both horse and rider. There were a couple of close calls which means those horses will be carefully monitored throughout the event.
Today, 30 August, was the first of the Dressage Days. To bring you visually into the scene, the gentle breeze blew, ruffling the flags which lined the low white fenced dressage arena. Warm sun shined down on the gleaming horses who performed on the thick green grass while the steel drums played Caribbean music softly in the background.
The Test was new – only created last year, 2017. I was surprised because it did not have the usual elements of a Serpentine, or Counter Canter. Instead it has a large section of Medium & Extended Walk. There is a big trend right now to develop and improve the walk, making it a positive and dynamic part of dressage and not just the relaxing poor cousin. I was very pleased to see it and even more pleased to see how serious the judges took it as reflected in the often lower marks that the trot and canter sections.
The Test is loaded with “Bends and Balances”. There is a lovely ask of a Shoulder In down the quarter line moving to a Half Pass. To do this properly, the horse and rider must move absolutely straight down that quarter line with the outside should perfectly in line with the inside hind foot. A quick straighten and rebalance in 1 stride to move into the Half Pass. Wow! Hard! Impressive. Missed a fair few times with 3.5 – 5.5 marks being given.
The hardest move, based on the fact that several riders missed it totally, was a Half Pass from V to I, then down the centre line to a 20m Circle Left – Lateral, Straight, Bend. I think this was more of an ask for the rider than the horse as the buzzer went 5 times to tell the rider of their error. I was rather surprised that the riders could take a buzzer and repeat a move then go on to the missed move and finish the test. In Pure Dressage, to have missed a move would be a 0 on that moves score. There did not seem to be this penalty as Mark Todd on Campino, second rider of the day, was the first to miss the circle and ended the day in the top 10.
The Flying Change also was score breaker. The judges were looking for a fluid change that was both elevated and straight with both front and hind changing at the same time. I think our Tuscany would have shined at this! The judges were definitely looking for the big step into the Change and the preparation was 3 steps of Collected Canter. Lots of horses showed they could do it on one rein but not equally well on the other. Of course we do need to remember that these horses are not Grand Prix Dressage horses or trained to that level, so this is a big ask of them. I was very pleased to see how well they responded to the questions.
The last thing I noticed today was the number of new rider faces as Burghley. It is always lovely to see the previous champions and Olympians, but it is a treat to see the riders coming up and through. It shows that this sport is very much alive and growing. And these new riders are every bit as good as the old friends we know and love. The level of riding I saw was very impressive and I can see an exciting week ahead!