Who knows wether memories of the BUrghley Horse Trials simply fade as the years pass or are updated each Septemberbut each year the competition always seems the best one yet.
This year, after a fabulous four days of exciting competition, we were privileged to see another great partnership win the Land Rover Perpetual Challenge trophy: Michael Jung, the first German to win Burghley, and his long-time partner Sam.
With his immaculate record, Jung was always a favourite for the title, although his chances took a dramatic and literal dive when he and his first ride Fischerrocana went floundering in the Lake just 40 seconds into their round.
Despite what must have been an unnerving experience, as well as a painful one — he was left with a considerable limp for the rest of the weekend — one has to admire and respect his determination to get back to the top of the leader board. He will also have earned many more admirers not only through his mannerly and positive attitude but also because of his (not previously seen) self-deprecating good humour over the episode.
That the pair is pure class was proven when under the most stressful of situations, having no option but to go clear in the showjumping (who would have bet on Ringwood Sky Boy leaving all the fences intact?), they jumped a superb, faultless round.
Sam and his stable-mate Fischerrocana now have a week’s holiday at the Yorkshire Riding Centre, home of the German team trainer and former British Olympic rider, Christopher Bartle, who has encouraged the Germans to come and compete in the UK more often. Jung is currently travelling the long road to Blair Castle for the FEI European Championships, where he will be aiming for a third successive individual European championship title.
Considering the Brits were the biggest proportion of the field — 45 against 29 others representing eight nations — it was disappointing to see just six of them in the top 20, especially as there were 10 Antipodeans. This statistically translates to 13% of the British and 71% of the Australians and New Zealanders making the top 20. Looking at the completion rates, 57% of the British contingent completed, against 92% of the entries representing down under — their sole casualty was Andrew Hoy.
Of course, there is the matter of the European Championships, which takes 12 of our riders, but even so Burghley is four-star as opposed to the Europeans being classed as three-star. So are our riders getting short of four-star horses?
Kristina Cook was the highest placed Brit — I don’t expect she saw that coming — with her four-star debutant Star Witness, who not only survived a hairy moment at the Trout Hatchery but showed his mettle on the final day when jumping a great clear. Looks like Cook could have another team horse in the making.
At 26, Wiltshire-based Georgie Spence was the highest-placed British rider under 30 years old, in 12th place with Wii Limbo. The pair, who achieved their third consecutive four-star completion, produced a great double clear and the horse looked fab throughout and even at the final horse inspection powered Spence down the runway.
That Burghley is a course for the experienced (rider) and favours the thoroughbred (horse) was yet again proven this year — even in perfect ground conditions. Rider success at four-star nowadays comes through experience while the undulations of the 11min 12 second course of 48 jumping efforts requires a horse with stamina and speed.
Interestingly, seven of the top 20 horses were thoroughbreds and all were bred for the track. Just one was ridden by a Brit (Cook again) who is from a racing background. Perhaps the fact that the British seemingly no longer ride thoroughbred horses is a reason or the reason, why the British didn’t do well at Burghley.
Image: Michael Jung and La Biosthetique Sam won the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials (GBR), sixth and final leg of the FEI Classics™ 2014/2015, by Trevor Meeks, courtesy of the FEI