The first week in September doesn’t just herald the start of autumn it also heralds the start of the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials. Held each year in the grounds of Burghley House – a magnificent, Elizabethan stately home located just outside Stamford, Lincolnshire – it attracts the top names in equestrianism. Also known as three day eventing, the trials combine different elements of horsemanship: dressage, cross-country and show jumping which tests the strength, stamina, skill and bravery of both horse and rider. It is a popular and unique sport with crowds of over 160,000 coming to watch.
The cross-country course is very demanding with thirty-two fences over a distance of 6500 metres (four miles) to jump, ideally under twelve minutes. The Cottesmore Leap is one of the largest and scariest looking of the fences although the horses rarely seem fazed by it.
Eventing is a high risk sport and accidents do occur. More often than not, this is when a fence is misjudged and the rider parts company with the horse or a fence is damaged during the jump, for they are designed to fall apart to reduce the risk of injury. So what happens when something goes wrong? On the course there are ‘stopping points’, placed for good visibility so that the next competitor has plenty of warning to apply the brakes if there is a hold-up further on. A red flag is waved to tell the rider to stop and the time of stopping is recorded by a steward.If the stop is likely to be short the rider will continue to ride the horse at walk to allow it to cool gently; if longer they dismount, remove the saddle and lead the horse at walk to keep active.
If the delay is lengthy the horse will be washed down to cool it further and the rider also given the opportunity to take a drink of water. Although this is frustrating for the rider, competitors understand the need for total safety to both themselves and their horse.
Once the all-clear is given the horse is remounted and gently exercised to warm up its muscles before resuming the competition. When the rider is satisfied the horse is ready the timing is restarted as they canter past the yellow marker post so that no competitor is disadvantaged.
Like all large events, sporting or otherwise, contingency plans are in place for all types of emergencies and spectators are rarely aware of these ‘behind the scenes’ procedures even when, as in this case, they happen on full view. Over many years the stopping point has proven its worth, and it is an interesting place to watch, for it shows a top performance horse go through the stages of change from full competitive action to rest and back again.The Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials 2014 take place from 4th – 7th September; visit the website for more details by clicking here.
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