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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Feeling reckless, I took a day or two off work to visit the Burghley Horse Trials, one of the premier contests in Britain. Not for a rest, for it is exhausting – all that socialising, shopping and concentrating. For the horse world is a small world and amongst the thousands of people that attend there are always dozens that you know, chat to, have a coffee and a sandwich with ……
A walk around the cross country course is always exciting: working out how you would approach the jumps, most of which are huge and difficult, talking with the competitors and admiring the thought and work that goes into creating the course. I should say that my riding skills are nowhere good enough (nor my courage level high enough) to compete but my partner has in the past and jumped into the dreaded “leaf pit”. The photograph of it below hardly does justice to the 4ft drop into the pit – the horse takes off just to the right of the guy, then immediately tackles either one of the two smaller jumps and then gallops off down the course. It is quite nerve wracking to watch, especially if it’s your partner doing it! If I was on my horse, Barney, I would be another 7ft higher still – it makes me feel quite ill just thinking about it!
The water jumps are always a popular place so I visit them before the competition starts. People congregate here, not to see the jump carved to look like a duck, but in the hope of seeing the riders fall and get a good ducking!
A crowd of over 140,000 watch the eighty or so horses compete over four days – the guy with the best view is certainly the television cameraman – I always watch most of it on the giant screens that are strategically placed around the grounds. There is always a place, ‘though, where you can get a clear view of the jumps and, if the crowds get too much, a quiet place under the magnificent sweet chesnut avenues.
Burghley House is a magnificent Elizabethan building built – and virtually unaltered – in the sixteenth century and set in hundreds of acres of parkland. With over 80 major rooms, gardens and the park, it is well worth a visit. Although still privately owned (by the same family since being built) it is open to the public throughout the summer months.
Great excitement! She-Dog has met her husband! The potentially lucky lad may ‘marry’ her around Christmas and, with luck, we will become proud parents in the spring of 2010. Burghley is a good place for romance too – watch this space!
Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, each year hosts the Festival of British Eventing at her home, Gatcombe Park. Commonly referred to as the Gatcombe Horse Trials, it is unique in testing the skills of horse and rider at all three levels – novice, intermediate and advanced. This year, apart from being the British Open Championship, it is also a qualifier for the World Cup.
Dressage, Show Jumping and Cross Country make up the three phases of the test and it is the Cross Country that is the most eagerly awaited for both its excitement and, sometimes, drama.
It’s a brave horse and rider that competes Cross Country. Thirty solid obstacles have to be jumped at speed over rough terrain and there are usually plenty of falls and, hopefully, not too many injuries, although fatalities do occur to both horse and rider on rare occasions. Everybody likes to see the jockeys fall off as they jump into and cross the lake – there is usually a cheer as the soaked rider gets back on their mount to continue the race!
Dressage is all about concentration, putting the pair through the technical aspects of riding – very elegant to watch but not when it all goes horribly wrong! The Show Jumping course tests the skill of the rider and the agility of the horse.
She-dog enjoys these daysout but is not so keen on having to remain on her leash. Being a pretty looking creature she is much admired and fussed over by many of the spectators and believes (we haven’t told her any different) that the crowds have come to meet her. As most dog owners know, many a conversation is started over mutual dog patting and here is no exception, apart from the talk soon switching back to horses. The competitive/hunting horse world is quite small and it is remarkable how often you find that you both have mutual aquaintances.
Today, there was no drama. Despite this, the combination of good sport, sunshine and being able to wander through and picnic in beautiful parkland made a good day, none-the-less.