Wendy Nix previews the upcoming Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials September 3-6
The original question hanging over the 2015 Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials had to be whether Andrew Nicholson and Avebury could make it four in a row, having made history last year when winning for the third consecutive time.
However, a ghastly fall at Gatcombe Park during the CIC 3* (9 August) has almost certainly put paid to that. The fall left Andrew with a neck injury requiring surgery at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, though his many fans will be relieved to know he has full movement of his limbs.
He could, of course, still make the start line as Burghley starts just days after any compulsory lay-off- it’s a case of watch this space.
Whether he takes part or not, it’s the course that could cause a few sleepless nights for competitors as it is to be run in the opposite direction to normal. After starting out over the Olympic Horseshoe and getting into a rhythm, riders will have to conserve their horse’s energy with increased diligence.
Competitors view of the first fence with Burghley House beyond. Photo: Kingswood Associates
After the Anniversary Splash (fences 5ab, 6ab and 7), it is a long pull uphill with a serious question at Capability’s Cutting (9 and 10) and through Winner’s Avenue – normally a downhill breather towards the last part of the course – to the Cottesmore Leap (13ab) with its massive ditch in front.
Bearing the uphill run in mind, course designer Capt. Mark Phillips has introduced an alternative for the first time at this, the furthest point of the course. Then it’s a gentle run down to the Land Rover Dairy Farm (14abc) which requires more head scratching as the quick route involves an upright five-bar gate on the lip of the mound followed by a huge roll-top feeder and drop.
Course designer Mark Phillips and Event Director Liz Inman at the final fence Photo: Kingswood Associates
Those with a non-podium finish on their minds will be tempted to take the alternative, longer but easier, route.
From there competitors will return across a jump-free Capability’s Cutting to what Mark describes as a “true four-star Burghley fence”, the Rolex Combination (15abc). Get it wrong here and a dip in the ditch is likely; accuracy is paramount, as it will be at the Land Rover Trout Hatchery (20abcd and 21), “the hardest fence on the course,” says Mark.
The revamped Trout Hatchery, water to be added Photo: Kingswood Associates
A brush fence behind a tree leads to a turning four strides into the first water with another turning four strides to a step and bounce over an impressive log then it’s into the water again to tackle a brush set at an angle. There are alternatives and Mark has provided a ‘get out of jail card’ by opening the flags on the first water exit but, as usual, it is a longer, if safer, way round.
While the most difficult part of the course will be behind them, competitors cannot relax as there will be another nine fences (four of them combinations) to go before the end is in sight. One of these, fence 29abc, is the Up and Under featuring grandstands, a rugby ball and rugby goal posts in the main arena.
The link between eventing and rugby is thanks to Burghley’s title sponsor which is also world wide partner to the 2015 Rugby World Cup being played in this country mid-September. The World Cup Trophy will be on display on the Friday of Burghley as it makes its 100-day tour leading to the sport’s Opening Ceremony.
With the FEI European Eventing Championships being held in Aachen just a week after Burghley it’s inevitable that entries will change once teams are announced. At the time of writing, nine countries are on the list with Germany’s double Olympic Gold medallist Michael Jung making a welcome first visit. Even with Aachen on his mind, William Fox-Pitt will be keen to add Burghley to his earlier Badminton title, setting up a chance for the Rolex Grand Slam at Kentucky in 2016.
A host of first-timers will be lining up and they may well have the upper hand on more experienced competitors who are used to riding Burghley’s hills in the same direction each year.
Event Director Liz Inman said; “We have an excellent entry this year vying for a share of the near £250,000 prize fund [£63,000 to the winning owner]. In addition there will be the Pony Club Jumping competition, Dubarry Young Event Horse and Racehorse to Riding Horse classes and over 200 trade stands plus pavilions.”
For more information and to view a Mark Phillips video course walk, visit: www.burghley-horse.co.uk