Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials 2017
Words By Stephanie DeWitt Photography Julian Portch @lrbht_official
Eight years after his first Burghley win with Carousel Quest, Oliver Townend topped the leaderboard at the end of this year's competition, partnered by the 10 year-old Irish sport horse Ballaghmor Class. And for the first time in nine years, a line-up of British riders took the first four places.
It was a completely different story after the dressage phase. New Zealand's Mark Todd, the oldest rider in the field, led the way with Leonidas II on a score of 36.7, closely followed by Lauren Kieffer of the USA on Veronica II and Germany's Michael Jung riding La Biosthetique Sam FBW.
The tough cross-country course took its toll, however, with Michael Jung retiring after his horse ran out at the Trout Hatchery, Lauren Kieffer picking up 28 time penalties and Mark Todd uncharacteristically suffering a fall in Discovery Valley.
Even Mr Stickability, Andrew Nicholson, came to grief when Qwanza fell at the huge log corner of new fence Storm Doris, constructed from fallen tree-trunks. And Zara Tindall gave a show of petulance after High Kingdom gave her a soaking, again at the Trout Hatchery. According to her father, course designer Captain Mark Phillips, Zara rotated too much on her approach to the skinny in the middle of the water.
With half the field of sixty coming home clear, only three completed within the optimum time of 11 minutes 14 seconds: Gemma Tattersall on Arctic Soul, Tina Cook with Star Witness and Trevidden ridden by Izzy Taylor, great-niece of Anneli Drummond-Hay, winner of the first Burghley in 1961 on the great Merely-A-Monarch.
Last to go with Ballaghmor Class, Oliver Townend was held at the start for quarter of an hour due to a faller on the course.
"My first ride on Samuel Thomas II filled me with confidence that Plan A was good," said Oliver. "I knew Ballaghmor Class wouldn't be as fast as Arctic Soul or Trevidden, so I tried to keep him as straight and fast as possible."
Only adding 0.4 time penalties to his dressage score of 40.2, Oliver took the lead at this point ahead of Gemma and Izzy. Captain Mark Phillips remarked on the perfect conditions for the cross-country phase and was surprised that more riders didn't go the long route through Discovery Valley.
"A great day's sport and entertainment for a massive crowd," he said, and this sentiment was echoed by Elizabeth Inman, the Event Director.
Ground conditions for the showjumping phase were also good and the fences stood at maximum height and spread. Out of forty starters, only five horse and rider combinations posted clear rounds. Jumping in reverse order, the lead kept changing as fences fell and the odd time penalty was incurred.
Izzy and Trevidden lowered three fences to go down to 9th place while Gemma, who had been suffering with a bad cold all week, and Arctic Soul added four penalties, finishing in 3rd. With clear rounds, Tom McEwen on Toledo de Kerser and Piggy French with Vanir Kamira went up the order to sit 4th and 2nd respectively. Having one fence in hand, Oliver and Ballaghmor Class lived dangerously and incurred 1 time and 4 jumping penalties, celebrating their win with a couple of delighted laps of honour round the arena!
"I'm very proud of him," said Oliver of his mount. "Being such a young horse a lot can go wrong! He gave his absolute best in the dressage phase, especially as he's only just learned to do flying changes. He was very babyish in the crowds and can lose concentration. He's not a nasty horse but generally sharp."
Richard Jeffery, the showjumping course designer, said that the course rode as expected; for once he was pleased with the treble combination and happy at the way it jumped, with the time allowed being alright.
Elizabeth Inman summed up the whole event: "It's been a wonderful four days of sport with a wonderful finale and we were delighted with the record crowds yesterday - perhaps the highest number of visitors ever!"