Burghley Horse Trials Day 3: Cross Country

Burghley Day 3 means it’s Cross Country Day! It was so beautiful that I am now sporting a wonderful late summer sunburn. I spent the last 2 hours under the arena roof in the shade. That is not to say I didn’t do my fair share of wandering around and looking at the fences. And what fences they are!

Burghley’s Country Country course has had a major facelift. In spite of how challenging the obstacles are, there is simply no way to avoid the damage that wind, rain and Storm Doris can do to a course. To be honest, it was looking tired and a bit dated last year, so I am very pleased that Captain Mark Phillips, Burghley’s expert course designer, and his team gave us something to new to look at and consider. Mark Philips, one of the top if not The Top equestrian designers has been actively involved with Burghley for years and has created some of the best new jumps on the site, so this year’s offering was super exciting. There were 30 fence combinations which comprised 50 separate jumps. A herculean task for horse and rider!

This year’s course started in the usual manner with the opening jump being over the Olympic Legacy Horseshoe. The route then heads to the Main Arena where there is a combination that includes jumping through the Land Rover 70 Anniversary before heading out to Discovery Valley. Discovery Valley is completely different. Gone are the palisade and brush shaped vehicles and in are some positively terrifying logs. The trees that had fallen from Storm Doris have been de-barked and moved to the Valley. These trees are between 80cm and 100cm in diameter with the Papa being even bigger. I jumped logs when I was younger and this made my stomach clench. The combination at 5 has 2 offset monster logs with a ditch in front on the rear one. You get 2 strides to between. Yes, this did claim Polly Stockton who missed the line on the first and ended up with both her and her horse on the ground – actually, Polly was in the ditch. She’s fine but her horse decided to finish the course without her and we had a long delay on the course.

If you survive Discovery Valley Part 1, you get to fly on to a redesigned Elephant Trap which is now the Rolex Grand Slam Rails before heading to the Leaf Pit. To be honest, you can’t redesign the Leaf Pit but the alternative jumps didn’t really make it that much easier. Yes, we had 2 off at the Leaf Pit mostly due to not being balanced before taking the triple rail combination that completes the jump. Then you are off back to Discovery Valley for Part 2 – a large log with a downward landing before coming back up to take a skinny log with a back bar.

You leave Discovery Valley and head for the new jump – the Gurkha Kukri. This big knife shaped log took the scalp of Mark Todd. The Trout Hatchery also saw a few folks swimming. The new big thing is The Fly Over. Because Phillips wanted to turn the course back on itself, it was necessary for the riders to be able to cross paths without hitting each other. An oncoming rider is NOT another fence to contend with! So they built a 3 and a bit meter high Fly Over. One horse goes over the top and on to Winner’s Row while another flies down the hill from the Dairy Farm and through the underpass to The Cuttings. In an ideal world, there would be a moment when the riders would cross, but in reality, they didn’t. We hoped, but they just couldn’t comply.

The back half of the course seemed far more controlled and, dare I say it, safe. There were lots, more than normal it seemed to me, of retirements. This always makes me happy because it means the rider knows and cares about their horse. They know when their friend just isn’t up to doing any further. It show sense, compassion and safety. Yes, we all like to see our favourite doing amazing things, but I personally prefer to see my favourite make it home safely.

So today ends with tomorrow being an all out Great Britain v. New Zealand affair. With less than a fence separating the top 4, the Show Jumping will be the most vital component in years. I have no clue who will win as they are all hungry for this victory. If I must choose, then it will be Oliver Townend who has been the most consistent over the last 4 days. But it is all to play for!