Burghley Horse Trials Day 3: Show Jumping & The Championship

If you have been anywhere near the news or social media then you know that Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy won the 2018 Burghley Horse Trials. It turned out to be more than just another Kiwi winning or the Britain v. New Zealand Competition. It was a fascinating and nail biting day for both competitors and spectators alike.

The morning started at 9am with the Trot Up. The Horse Trials had begun with a full complement of 80 riders, but the whittling away started quickly with 2 horses failing the first Trot Up. Friday morning had 2 more withdrawn and Saturday was decimating! So this morning it was announced that another 6 had withdrawn and would not continue competing in the Show Jumping. We were down to 39 to finish the event. The jury began looking the horses over for fatigue and injury. There were several quick discussions while the Rider and audience held their breath. The big shock came when Kristina Cook’s Star Witness was sent to the holding box for re-presentation. He had trotted up with a low head and lack of impulsion – was he tired? Was he lame? After a half dozen riders had been passed, Star Witness re-presented and was a lot more like himself. Again after a brief discussion he was passed and the crowd went wild with joy. Who says showing is boring?

The first round of jumping began at 11:15 over a course of 13 fences, 16 jumps. Jump 11, a triple comprising an upright at 130cm with 2 tight strides to a spread with 2 tight strides to an upright to exit, proved to be a real bugbear as pole after pole fell. The other the jump that caused problems was Number 8, sponsored by the National Lottery (how appropriate), which was also a tall spread. The faults earned this morning went from 4 to 20, some with time penalties. There were no clear rounds to be had. This lead the gossips to wonder if this was going to be the way of the day. Remember that the top 4 leaders had less than a fence between them!

Lunchtime offered a display by the Lancers in memorial to WWI. It brought a lump to the throat as we remembered the huge number of horses that were taken to France only to never return. By 1916 the majority of horses at the front had to be brought from the USA or Canada. They had 8 weeks training and then were sent to the front as either Chargers or Gun Horses. Mules, in their thousands, were used to move equipment and wagons. In spite of the best efforts made by their riders and grooms, 90% of the equines in the war died, most in horrific circumstances. Although horses are still used in active duty in the British Army, this war was the last that would see the horse soldier as a major player.

We were also treated to the Racehorse to Riding Horse final which would give the winner a place at October’s Horse Of The Year Show (HOYS) at the National Exhibition Center, Birmingham. It was wonderful to watch horses, some who were total failures as racers and some who were £750,000+ winners, compete side by side with an equal chance of winning. After 45 minutes the winners were announced. Unfortunately the horse who came in 1st with the HOYS entry failed to behave and stand when being awarded the prize. No matter what the Rider did to try to control the horse and not have it back up or swing it quarters, it just would not listen. The jury was heartbroken and the Rider, in floods of tears, knew that the jury had to obey the rules and disqualify them as winners. The prizes were re-awarded according to this change. It was a cruel way to remember how quickly things can change in the equine world.

The last event before the final Show Jumping was a display by the Gurkha Regimental Band. The band was excellent and provided a much needed break from the drama of competition. Each member carried a Kukri, and although not as big as the one Mark Todd fell at, it was still large enough for Crocodile Dundee to give it appreciation.

The Show Jumping resumed at 2:20, and Jumps 8 and 11 continued to cause mayhem. It took Camille Lejeune of France on Tahina Des Isles to break through and give us the first Clear Round. There still weren’t many, but enough for the tension to build as we drew closer to the final. As poles kept falling I was forced to wonder if it was because of tired horses or tired riders, and I do think it was more the riders than the horses. As the poles kept rattling in cups of Jump 11, I saw many riders taking a very sharp half halt in an attempt to put more power in the jumping flank. The most successful actually used a well set up stride with a softer hand. Andrew Nicholson gave us the Masterclass in how to do that jump and not look like you’re working! He ultimately came in 3rd. Piggy French and Vanir Kamira also made it look easy, but alas, Star Witness (Kristina Cook) wasn’t as good and took 11B down.

The final two…. Oliver Townend on Ballaghmore Class was defending his crown against Tim Price on Ringwood Sky Boy. Burghley 2017 had these two head to head and Townend came out determined to win once more. The ride began positively and Ballaghmore Class soared over the early jumps. Shockingly it was Jump 5a that Ballaghmore trailed a hind leg and dropped the pole. The cries of disappointment from the crowd were both loud and heartfelt. Not giving in, the pair rode the rest of the course like the champions they are, even floating over Jumps 8 and 11. Then came the challenger: Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy. Their round was filled with grit and determination as poles rattled in the cups and the crowd hoped and prayed for this winner to do it on a Clear Round. Their prayers were answered and Ringwood Sky Boy crossed the finish as the New Champion. It was so exciting!

It was a wonderful Burghley this year with lots of new faces and more competitors coming from foreign places. It was truly international, but bound by the love of the horse. The Americans’ technique differed slightly and the Swedish Rider has such style. The Irish proved how much they love their horses, giving pets and rubs between jumps. Yes Burghley is primarily British, but there are a load of Aussies and New Zealanders, which goes to show just how far people are willing to go for this amazing competition.

I am coming home with ideas and inspirations I want to share with my riders. I’ve been to some talks and even cornered someone in the BHS tent. This is a place where it shows what we can do if we are willing to work hard enough for it. I’m willing to put in my blood, sweat and tears, and I hope my riders are willing to as well. Not everyone will be a CCI4* Eventer, but we can all be the best we can be.

See y’all next week!