It’s a number of years since I have been to Burghley Horse Trials and the early start on a wet, dark Friday morning was not the most inspiring start to the day!! However, as we arrived the atmosphere was building and as we waited by fence 2 in front of the beautiful Burghley House we all began to feel part of this special 4* event. This year the F&I Association were lucky enough to secure Eric Smiley (Irish Team rider and trainer of the Belgian team) for the course walk and we knew from the start we were in for an exceptional insight into the course from a rider, course designers and trainers perspective.
Eric began by describing the importance of mentality when walking the course and placed the riders into 3 categories…either as a rider who wants to enjoy the occasion, those who want to complete or those who want to be competitive and be in the top 30 finishers, this was very much the theme throughout the walk.
Eric clearly explained the relevance of the first five fences being a test for the horse and rider combination and ensuring that both were ready, both physically and mentally, for the challenges which lay ahead over the 31 fences…how any mistake or a decision to take a long route early means less commitment for the rest of the course.
Eric’s question of ‘when is a drop a drop?’ was soon answered when we stood at the top of the Leaf Pit at Fence 7….that’s definitely a drop!! However, Eric explained how horses are made for going downhill and said it would ride well so long as the riders were positive and steady in their approach.
The shear size and scale of the Burghley course, fences such as Herberts Hedge (pictured), the Cottesmore Leap and Burghley Station were truly awesome and Eric pushed the need for riders to just jump the fences and not get too technical. On the other hand the technical lines and situations of fences including the Discovery Valley Return, Rolex Combination and the HSBC Maltings Branch highlighted the need to ride to your horses strengths and allow for their weaknesses and the requirement for correct basic training and a ‘what if’ plan for when things go wrong! The terrain required riders to use the turns as a ‘natural half halt’, to push for time whilst allowing the horse to breathe and establish a rhythm and consolidate time penalties.
Whilst discussing all the technicalities of XC riding, his fundamental principle is the ‘management of riding both line and pace across the country’ and in Eric’s words ‘you pay your money…..you take your chance’!!!!
A special ‘treat’ at the conclusion of the walk was the appearance of course designer Captain Mark Phillips who discussed with us what he was hoping to achieve at the timing points, how jumping efforts per minute marker varied throughout the course and talking to us from yet another perspective, he’s already planning 2014!
All who attended the course walk had the most amazing insight on strategies from a truly inspirational character and would like to thank Eric and his wife Sue for their time and a special thank you to Ann Bostock for organising such a fantastic event, now to go home and watch it on TV with a cup of tea!!!!
Report by Linda DeMatteo