After breaking out a serious sweat walking the XC course in glorious sunshine just before the trot-up, I sat down in very front corner of one of the stands blissfully confident that I would be fine without a coat. An hour later the threatening clouds did their worst and I got very wet and sat there shivering. This is what we go through to bring you these reports!
I had deliberately avoided the online course walk videos and photos, to come to the course with no preconceptions. Well, it’s huge. And seriously technical. Plus, with the track ridden this way around, there seem to be more hills. Winners’ Avenue is a very long way UP… usually they can just coast down it at the 10+ minute mark, a welcome breather. This time, 10 minutes is just as they come to the Arena fences. It’s very testing and I doubt it’s going to be a year where the time is easy to get!
The going is perfect but if it starts drying out it will get sticky. The forecast is sunshine and showers. If you’re heading to Burghley, take light layers, take light waterproofs, take everything! The wet areas of ground are already a bit muddy, but might dry out in a few hours… or not.
At the Competitors’ Briefing (which I get to attend to give out tickets to the Eventing Riders Association Dinner) Course Designer Captain Mark Phillips issued the following very sage warnings: “when the Burghley footing is drying out, sometimes it is more tiring than when it is wet” and “Far be it for me to advise riders of how to ride around Burghley, but… the Cottesmore Leap comes at 3 mins 30. Please don’t be early there, don’t chase the clock early on, or you might pay for it later.”
The course is seriously tough. There are hardly any let up fences, it’s huge, and it tests absolutely everything. If there’s a hole in the horse’s training, if it deviates left, or right, penalties will happen.
The Slate Mine (where the Stamford Station huge white parallel is usually) is a maximum-dimensions, seriously upright-fronted, potential knee-basher. The Cottesmore Leap is now a turning question, with a big skinny triple brush on the turn 5 strides after the infamous Leap. Yes, really. The gate at the top of the slope at the Land Rover Dairy Farm will take no prisoners, although it does have frangible pins if anyone really makes a total horlicks of it. The spread off the same mound a few strides later is HUGE.
The last element of the direct route at the Trout Hatchery is a brush spread on a very extreme angle, just begging for a run-out. Discovery Valley’s direct route asks for extreme, pin-point accuracy, control, faith, and honesty.
This course demands a horse who looks for the flags and is determined to get between them. There are very few let-up fences. It’s a proper, proper Burghley and whoever wins will be a master horseman or horsewoman on an exceptional horse.
If you can get there, do. The tradestands look absolutely fantastic, it’s a top class field, and it is going to be a phenomenal competition, definitely not a dressage competition! It’s worth every effort to attend.