I’m back in the grand ole U.S. of A, adjusting to the time change, coherent road signs and seasoning on my food. I proudly only outed myself as a loud, impulsive American once where I decided that waiting for the green light to exit my parking area was for sissies and pressed the gas pedal with wild abandon—dressage was starting, darn it! Ten seconds later with my car teetering on a large chunk of metal designed to keep idiots like me from leaving the car park without paying, I realized the green light was there for a reason. I lern reel gud.
I’ve thought a lot about what to write on this Burghley wrap-up blog, but I couldn’t come up with any one topic in particular I wanted to delve into, mostly because there was just toooooo much to talk about! I thought I’d just cruise along in my ADD addled way and talk about things I observed and things I learned.
First things first, it has to be said: The Americans dressed beautifully for the jog. Other countries less so. Call me judgmental, but bedazzled blue jeans for a four-star trot-up? I judge. Oh yes, I judge.
Dressage was very different one day to the next. Many of the seats in the ring were free for the dressage days, and on Thursday they were about half full. The horses lucky enough to go early on were not subject to the electricity of the jam-packed stands of Friday. There were a few errors of tests, including the eventual winner and Pippa Funnell, who both halted at L, rather than X.
When Fox-Pitt was questioned in the press conference as to what that might mean (he and Pippa halting in the same, WRONG place, nudgenudge,winkwink!), he answered very seriously, “What, exactly, are you insinuating?” He followed the odd question up with the fact that they were both old and feeble and prone to such mistakes. Funny man!
Dressage judging was interesting—there were many times when two judges would give 8s, and one would give a 4. I’d love to hear the reasoning for that.
Horses with flamboyant movement up front but no matching “push” behind were penalized (yay!), and the challenging test of working canter/change/counter canter/change/counter canter/change /change really caught some of even the “big guys” out. The tests at the top were not the flashiest movers; they were the quiet, forward, accurate, easy looking rides. A perfect example of this is watching William Fox-Pitt’s tests on either of his horses. It turns out, accurate, forward, pleasant rides equal 8s and 9s.
Ahhhh, bliss! Cross-country at Burghley is unlike anything you’ve seen in the States. The hills are AMAZING! And by amazing I mean gigantasaurus rex. On top of the sheer climbs and descents, the horses and riders have to deal with the constant undulations of each step of ground, and it definitely took its toll on fitness. Upon completion of cross-country day, Caroline Powell said it wasn’t the long climbs that tire a horse at Burghley, but the constant vigilance of varying terrain—I likened it to skiing a flat black diamond hill versus a mogul run, or a straight incline on a treadmill versus the incline of a wooded, pitted, log-strewn mountain.
Even I, who could not run down a hill without falling if I were on fire and a deep pond awaited me at the bottom, would fare far better on the smooth decline versus the lumps of the English countryside. My guess was that this took a toll on many horses.
For the first 6 minutes of the course, you are for all intents and purposes, galloping uphill. This giant course rode surprisingly well, and I loved hanging out at some of the combinations and watching the masters come through. The skinnies were skinny, the tables were set for 200, the combinations required thought and accurate riding. There were very few silly decorations on the jumps, which I really liked.
I watched Jessica Phoenix come through Centaur’s Leap (the giant brush) and four strides out, the place where most people were grabbing mane and attempting to not vomit, she smiled the biggest smile across her face and her amazing little off-the-track Thoroughbred launched himself effortlessly over a ditch-and-wall three times his height. If that doesn’t give you chills and make you bounce around and cheer, I just don’t know what to tell you J.
I also sat and watched Colleen Rutledge and her tiny bouncing orange ball, Shiraz, take on this same fence, and these two rode it among the best of anybody I saw all day.
Scariest moment of the day goes to Icarus and Michael Pollard, who experienced a rather rough fall at the last water. While Michael was up immediately, Icarus was down for quite a long time—long enough that I was able to walk the ¼ mile from where I had taken a photo of them, all the way down to the water (about 5 minutes). He did not get up for several gut-wrenching minutes once I arrived, and the relief of seeing him walk out from the water and from behind the screens on his own legs was palpable among the crowd.
Icarus was shaken, but looked OK with just the tiniest cut and trickle of blood running down a foreleg. He gave that high-lonesome whinny to the pony horse standing nearby, and it sent chills down my spine. The two spoke back and forth for a few moments before he loaded onto the trailer. What an absolute relief. Icarus is an ex-racehorse, and I am sure I’m not the only one hoping for big things for Michael and him in the years to come.
I spent the last 10 horses planted directly at the bottom of THE LEAF PIT OF DOOM. I watched several amazing rides come through, a few questionable ones, and one that didn’t happen due to one very opinionated ride of Ollie Townend’s who caught one whiff of either stabling or the death drop and decided to T-Rex his way back to stabling.