Country Life's Kate Green talks you through everything you need to know about this week's Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.
British eventing’s USP is its unmatched country-house settings, of which Lincoln-shire’s Burghley is perhaps loveliest of all. The golden-hued Barnack rag stone and fairy-tale turrets of the Elizabethan house built for the politician William Cecil are traditionally bathed in mellow late-summer light and fallow deer graze peacefully among the mature trees in the park landscaped by Capability Brown, whose features, such as the Lion Bridge, are still part of the cross-country course. (The house and gardens will be closed during the trials.)
The horse trials owes its existence to the 6th Marquess of Exeter, an Olympic gold medal-list in the 400m hurdles at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympic Games – he was famously played by Nigel Havers in Chariots of Fire.
In 1961, the most important three-day events were Badminton and Harewood, but the latter was blighted by foot-and-mouth disease and the Marquess, whose granddaughter, Miranda Rock, is now custodian of the estate, invited the British Horse Society to transfer the event to Burghley.
Badminton and Burghley, which next year will receive five-star status in the sport, remain easily the most prestigious events in the world; their cross-country days, with crowds of more than 100,000, are two of the most attended sporting occasions in the world.
The illustrious names
Such famed competitors as Richard Meade, Sheila Willcox, Mark Phillips (who designs the cross-country course now), Lucinda Green, Mary King, Pippa Funnell and the reigning Olympic champion Michael Jung are immortalised with plaques in Winners’ Avenue.
Ginny Elliot triumphed a record four times in a row in the 1980s (five times
in all); New Zealanders Sir Mark Todd and Andrew Nicholson have also won five times apiece, the latter three times consecutively on the same horse, Avebury, and Britain’s William Fox-Pitt holds the record for six victories on six different horses.
Who will win Burghley 2018: The British contenders
Oliver Townend, last year’s victor, is a surprise omission from the British squad heading to the World Equestrian Games in the USA next month, and will have a point to prove. The world number one is likely to be unimpressed by the decision (he was first reserve, so, by the time you read this, the situation may have changed), but he’s always competitive; his five horses entered include the 2017 victor, Ballaghmor Class, plus a Kentucky winner and a Badminton runner-up.
Laura Collett is another to be disappointed by non-selection. A hard-working rider, with a neat, pleasing style, she’s overcome fallow times and serious injury; this season, she’s emerged with confidence and flair and has a serious chance on the impressive Mr Bass.
Piggy French was runner-up in 2017; another talented rider who hasn’t enjoyed the best of luck, she’ll be looking to atone for a ducking in the water at Badminton on the mare Vanir Kamira.
The accomplished horsewoman Tina Cook, a stalwart of the senior British team for a quarter of a century, who spends the winter helping her racehorse-trainer brother Nick Gifford, would be a popular winner on former racehorse Star Witness. The gelding is part-owned by Nick Embiricos, who also owned 1981 Grand National winner Aldaniti, who was trained by Tina’s father Josh Gifford in pleasing symmetry. She came agonisingly close last year before a mistake near the end of the cross-country and, after a slow spring with a dislocated shoulder, many people would love to see her triumph for the first time.
Who will win Burghley 2018: The non-British contenders
For some reason, this place always inspires the New Zealanders: they’ve accounted for 13 victories since 1987, compared with four for Australia, two for the USA and one each for Germany, Ireland and Argentina in Burghley’s 57-year history. Todd and Nicholson, whose ages add up to 119 years, have great chances, as does their compatriot Tim Price, whose wife, Jonelle, won Badminton in May.
In addition, look out for German Olympian Andreas Dibowski, Sweden’s rising star Ludwig Svennerstål and speedy Irish lady Elizabeth Power, sister of crack jockey Robbie, on the quality grey Soladoun.
Horses to watch
Burghley horses have always come in all shapes and sizes, from first-timer Katie Preston’s 15.2hh Templar Justice to Alexander Bragg’s upstanding Zagreb at 17.2hh. Bragg, a part-time farrier from Somerset who was nearly lost to rugby, is a refreshing new face on the scene and could do very well.
Burghley regular Louise Harwood is one of the smallest riders and has had to adapt her riding style after being injured in a car accident some years back, but she’s one of the bravest jockeys and loves riding huge horses, such as her home-bred Mr Potts.
Watch out for the eye-catching gallop of Nicholson’s Jet Set IV and the floating jumping action of his striking grey, Swallow Springs, plus Irish teacher Clare Abbott’s springy Euro Prince and Harry Meade’s beautiful Irish-bred grey, Away Cruising.
At a time when riders with one horse are rare, look out for consistent mother-of-two Sarah Cohen and her sole horse Treason.
Where to watch Bughley 2018, whether you’re picking which fence to stand by or sitting on the sofa at home
The very first obstacle, the Olympic Horse-shoe, offers a great photo opportunity with the house in the background; you’ll also glimpse it from the massive white oxer at the Maltings (fence 14) and the daunting pair of upright gates (17). You can rest awhile in the arena, where a giant 70 (4) has been erected in honour of title sponsor Land Rover’s anniversary.
Racing commentator Alice Fox-Pitt describes the famously precipitous drop at the Leaf Pit (7–8) as ‘mental’ and riders always feel sick about the yawning Cottesmore Leap (19) at the far end of the track where the brush tops 4ft 9in and the ditch is 9ft wide, but horses fly it.
Capt Phillips thinks his trickiest test is, as usual, the Trout Hatchery water (11–12) with its twists, turns, big log drop and ‘missable’ skinny brush fence and step.
If you’re not able to make it along you can watch on television. Cross-country day is live on the BBC’s Red Button and shown with the showjumping finale on BBC2’s Grandstand on Sunday.
Meet Country Life at Burghley
Visit our stand (H16) to find the perfect Christmas present: a subscription to Country Life. There will be discounts from 33%, plus a gift of Pol Roger Champagne, or 50% if you also sign up to one of our sister magazines, Horse & Hound or The Field.
The Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials is on August 30 to September 2. Admission starts at £18, plus £13 car parking (cash only). Dogs are welcome, but must be on a short lead. For a list of the 600 tradestands and full timetable, visit www.burghley-horse.co.uk
At Burghley you could tie up all your Christmas shopping early and in one place – here’s Hetty Lintell's pick