Sixteen riders made their Land Rover Burghley debuts this year, Alexander Bragg bringing forward two horses, Redpath Ransom and Zagreb.
Third in to the arena this morning Zagreb’s individual scores ranged from four to nine in what was a rhythmical test that showed some lack of experience.
“It’s his first four star as well as mine and I thought he coped well with the atmosphere. I’m just glad to be here,” said Alex, “both my horses were out last year with various niggles so we are rather playing catch up. I didn’t do anything wrong [in my test] did I?
“Zagreb is such a big horse, he’s only just finished growing. He’s a great jumper so if he stays sound he’s exciting for the future.”
Alex, a professional farrier from Somerset, had never so much as visited Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials before this week. “I had no idea what to expect. It’s a real privilege to be riding here in this beautiful park.” The pair scored 50.9 to lie in 14th at the end of the first day.
An emotional Elisa Wallace (pictured) was over the moon when she looked up at the scoreboard to see a mark of 46.8 for her and Simply Priceless’s test. “I honestly didn’t know what my scores were: that’s our best 4* test yet,” she enthused. “’Johnny’ can get quite tense and it’s been a huge journey getting him to be expressive and allowing me to ride him in the arena.
“Reaching Burghley took raising quite a bit of money just to get on the plane [Elisa is American], the support I have received is incredible. Last Fall I was awarded a Land Rover USEF grant to compete at Blenheim and this spring we finished 8th at Rolex – I wanted to make sure I was suitably prepared for this. If anything goes wrong on Saturday it will be my fault, not Johnny’s.”
Best of today’s first timer tests, Elisa and Simply Priceless lie in 4th place tonight.
It was second time lucky for Katie Barber who was due to contest Land Rover Burghley last year but did not start the competition. One of the most local riders, Katie is based in Queninborough, just 30 miles away.
“It feels wonderful to be here, the amount of support I’ve had is so special – I’m very humbled. Dressage isn’t Woodfield Ria’s strongest phase and given she stood on her back legs in the trot up I’m pleased she kept her cool today. Now we can see if we really are four star material.” The pair scored 62.4.
Arthur Duffort, a former stable jockey for Andrew Nicholson, is another rider tackling his first ever CCI4*. Although representing France, Arthur now lives on the Cheshire/Shropshire border, and is riding Herbst Golden Eclipse here at Land Rover Burghley.
“My test today wasn’t great,” he said after exiting the arena with a score of 66.4. “Dressage is always a bit of a struggle with this horse; she’s just about cracked a 3* test but this is our first 4* one. It’s so hard to get to an event like this; you need the right horse, the right team and a bit of luck – my team have worked really hard to help me get here… I just hope next time I do a better job of riding the test.”
Twenty-three-year-old Nicholas Lucey brings his own Proud Courage to his first CCI4*. A double National Pony Club Championship winner, Nicholas now runs the yard at Owl House Stables, a livery, training and rehab business established by his mother.
“It [dressage] is never his strongest phase, but we got through it and he tried hard. If someone had told me my score beforehand [60.3] I’d have taken that,” Nicholas admitted.
“When you walk down to the arena and see the lines and lines of cars and the huge crowds you realise it’s something quite unique. That’s when [being here] hits home and you realise you’re about to tackle one of the biggest cross-country courses in the world. You try and hide your nerves from other people, but inside you’re jittering.”
Nicholas has had Proud Courage since he was a six-year-old. “You always dream they might go on to do something like this. He’s not been the easiest to train; he’s got quite a difficult mouth. I’ve had him five years and we’ve had our ups and downs, falls and good moments and as riders we have to remember that it’s an achievement just to get here.”
Just 0.1 of a penalty behind Nicholas lies Imogen Gloag riding Brendonhill Doublet. Imogen is this year’s youngest rider, at 21 years old. “I had thought we’d probably score in the high 50s or early 60s depending on how our flying changes went. They didn’t really come off today, so I think the mark [60.4] was pretty fair,” she conceded.
The pair are also previous Pony Club Champions. “I never imagined he’d get this far. He’s quite big for me [Imogen’s 5’5” and Brendonhill Doublet is 16.2hh], but he’s a gentle giant.
“I’m not too nervous as there’s no pressure on me, my aim is to complete. I walked the course for the first time last night when it was almost dark – I thought it might look a bit smaller in the half light!”
The last first timer of today in front of the Ground Jury was another American, Bunnie Sexton. The 54 year old has completed two Rolex CCI4*s with her Burghley ride, Rise Against
“I’m so grateful to be here – this is our hardest phase but it’s our best 4* score to date. The atmosphere does get to him, and I think I did a good job keeping him in hand.
“Echo came to me as a project horse to tide me over, and we’ve gone in directions I never expected. I have to keep calm in the dressage to help him, and then we switch roles on cross country day. What a venue – wow!”