Stamford, England—Sept. 4
Sam Griffiths of Australia and Happy Times have made their way to the top of the leaderboard after the first day of dressage at the Land Rover Burghley CCI**** in on a score of 40.2.
U.S. pair Allison Springer and Arthur are right in the hunt, though, lying third. “This was probably his best performance here to date,” said Allison. “We made an uncharacteristic mistake with our timing in the first flying change, but luckily one of the judges didn’t notice.”
Springer noted that dressage is tough for Arthur, who is well known for his spookiness. “This is actually a difficult phase for him, to get his most relaxed and through work. He’s 15 and I’ve had him for 10 years, so we do have a partnership,” she said. “I probably could have gone for it even more in there, but because he’s spooky, I was focused on being through and rhythmical and correct.”
Arthur and Springer were sixth at Burghley in 2012. The flamboyant chestnut produced a punchy, active test to score 41.2.
“I like [the atmosphere in the arena]. Everyone’s very quiet and respectful. I feel more comfortable in this dressage arena than I do in the [Rolex Kentucky CCI****] arena. The Kentucky arena is much bigger and when the crowd cheers for the horse before you, it’s so loud. He seemed to settle in nicely.”
Fellow U.S. rider Marilyn Little also had a nice test on RF Demeter and they’re in fifth place with a score of 47.5. “She was really good. There’s enough going on here and she is a chestnut mare,” Little said. “It’s a long hack up here [from the barn], so it’s anybody’s guess how it’s going to end up in the moment. We don’t get to ride on the grass in the dressage as much in the U.S. so the last time she was on the grass was at Blair last year and that changes the look, and going in studs changes their movement a bit. We’ve really been working on getting her more level behind because she wants to be very active behind and I don’t think the studs help that. I was pleased with her. She was very focused, very rideable, the tests are slowly getting better.”
U.S. rider Megan O’Donoghue is in 14th with a score of 54.2 on her Pirate.
But it’s all Australia in first and second, with Griffiths on top with Happy Times, the 15-year-old gelding, who he owns along with Steve and Dinah Posford and Juliet Donald. They hold a narrow lead over fellow countryman Andrew Hoy on Rutherglen, who slipped into second place just after lunch with an elegant, accurate test that earned them a mark of 40.8.
“Happy Times is feeling as good as ever,” said Griffiths. “I felt very relaxed going into the test and I think that filtered through to him. The test felt very natural.”
Hoy, meanwhile, credits Rutherglen’s performance to help from Olympic dressage team gold medalist Laura Tomlinson.
“At Luhmuhlen [Germany, in June] I overdid the warm-up and Rutherglen didn’t do a good test at all,” he explained. “He’s an anxious horse and if he makes a mistake it worries him. Laura told me to aim for a relaxed test today—something that I could build on in the future.”
Dressage resumes tomorrow when Tim Cheffings will be first into the arena with Alinero Van Het Scharenberg. William Fox-Pitt (Bay My Hero) and Andrew Nicholson (Avebury)—two of the bookies’ favorites for the title—will perform their tests tomorrow afternoon.
But, like all Burghleys, this is not a dressage show. Springer has walked the cross-country twice. “I probably need a few diaper changes between now and then,” she said about Saturday’s cross-country start, “but the course looks good. Certainly the trout hatchery, there’s a lot to think about. It’s quite a big jump into the water for such a tight turn in and then a tight turn back, too, to a rounded corner.
“There’s a lot to do, It’s Burghley, it’s big. Historically it’s been our least consistent phase, but I know he can do it and I just have to go out and ride like I did a couple of years ago here,” Springer continued.
“I’m hoping that when I walk it a few more times it’s going to start looking more and more comfortable but I’m not convinced it will,” Little said. “There’s a lot out there and I’ve now realized I’m better to walk it in pieces because the first time I walked it my eyes glazed over somewhere in the 20s and it’s coming at you all the way home, so I’m now walking it in parts.
“I know I can jump 10 jumps at a time, I’m just going to have to break it up on the day [in my mind],” Little continued. “I do have a great relationship with Demi; this is our fifth four-star together so we’ve seen a lot of different tracks but Burghley is its own entity as each four star is; they all have their own personality and I haven’t met this one yet but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be plenty hard.”
Want to see what the Burghley riders will face on Saturday’s cross-country? Check out a unique view of the course…