Is there another sport that puts so many obstacles, literal and metaphorical, in the way of actually completing a competition as horse trials? Maybe the clue is in the word trial, as in the definition ‘a painful and difficult experience’.
At the beginning of every event, three day or one day, one knows that some riders, owners and grooms will go home disappointed, devastated even, while others go home on cloud nine, thrilled and elated, and will re-live the moment for days and weeks to come.
The agonies and ecstasies of Burghley are still playing out and, boy, what an emotional roller coaster of an event it has been.
In the last two hours alone, Emily Lochore went through joy, completing the challenging cross-country with Hexmaleys Hayday, a not very easy horse of unknown breeding that she bought as a four year old with no expectation of four-star events. Success was followed by anxiety — worrying whether the horse was ok — and then relief when he passed the final horse inspection, although the lovely-moving Hayday, who doesn’t like crowds, never looked like he was going to be a casualty of the veterinary panel. Still, the relief was palpable.
At this stage, riders start to relax, as there is just the matter of a few coloured fences to jump over. For Lochore, though, it suddenly went awry at fence three, the gate, when, on a wrong stride, Hayday skidded into the gate and slipped over. Lochoreended up sitting on the grass, eliminated. Gutted doesn’t even come close to explain how you feel when you leave the main arena on your feet.
Others who have felt the pain and disappointment, too. Local rider Willa Newton produced one of the fastest rides of the day yesterday and moved up the leader board from 62nd -after dressage to 16th. This morning the horse was withdrawn.
Jeanette Brakewell rode one of the more professional and tidiest rounds yesterday and was then eliminated at the final horse inspection.
First-timer Kirsty Short missed a fence on cross country and was eliminated.
Oliver Townend could be in the lead, was it not for a surprise lurch to the left at the island fence in the trout hatchery in an otherwise foot perfect round.
William Fox-Pitt must have been rueing the time taken over a cosmetic fence repair, during which the pair lost their mojo and Fox-Pitt, like Short, forgot the fence, although, he corrected his mistake at the cost of time penalties that dropped him from the top spot to unlucky 13th.
Michael Jung made an expensive error of judgement and ended up floundering in the water, his first fall at an international competition since 2010. He is also in physical pain as Fischerrocana landed on his leg.
To offset these, we do of course have the opposing tales of delight and joy. So far at Burghley some of these are anyone who is in the top ten but particularly Tim and Jonelle Price who could even hit the record books as a husband and wife one and two! Also, Christopher Burton, who has both his rides in the top five, an impressive achievement.
American Lynn Symansky achieved the lifetime ambition of competing in the UK at Burghley and jumping a clear cross-country round with her OTTB (off the track thoroughbred, as I learnt this week) Donner.
British first-timer Charlotte Brear jumped clear on the lovely, honest and willing Manor Missile, a half-bred shire and an unlikely four-star candidate in modern eventing. Brear is also one a few non-professional riders in the field and Manor Missile is her only horse.
And of course Michael Jung who, as he planned after his first mishap, went to the top of the leaderboard after a fabulous round, if two seconds too slow, aboard his reliable partner Sam, with whom he won his first event in 2006 and subsequently won World (2010), European (2011) and Olympic titles (2012).
The pair has in fact achieved 20 first places together on their journey to Burghley. Can they make it 21?
Image: Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy during the cross country at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials, sixth and final leg of the FEI Classics, by Trevor Meeks, courtesy of the FEI