Burghley Horse Trials dressage leader Jonathan Paget talks about his test on Clifton Promise and the cross-country to come, along with several other riders from the New Zealand contingent.
1st on Clifton Promise
Sensational – he is such a professional and knows his job so well. He didn’t feel quite as good as I had him last week but he has had two weeks of a lot of dressage which is a bit much for a thoroughbred. We are trying to find a way not to do too much but piece a test together. We just went in with what we had and he just gives me everything, which he always does.
The atmosphere? He has just come from the World Championships, he has had atmosphere all week. He’s very good with atmosphere, every year that I have worked with him he just keeps getting better and better. He gets more and more relaxed in this type of situation.
To be honest, the last two weeks have almost been a holiday. To go away with just one horse, I am used to riding 10 a day. It’s quite relaxing. I need to go back to work so I can take some weight off.
I think you can never respect Burghley cross country enough. It is always tough. The time is tight, there are plenty of hills, there is a lot to deal with. The jumps are big and we have a very experienced course builder who is very good at finding a way to give you a cheeky 20 here and there. I think you just have to have your head in the right place and focus on every fence as you jump it. Hopefully you have a good day, and hopefully your horse is on target, that is all you can hope for.
I love this competition. It is my fourth year here and I always look forward to it. The cross country is always a great thrill. It is really one of the very best events in the world.
To be honest it is not so much for me about showing everybody. I have an amazing horse in Clifton Promise, he always gives me his best. I am just trying to make the most of the horse while we have him and while we can work together. We really enjoy it. It’s just about going out and doing each phase as best we can. We run our own race and hopefully that is enough to win at the end of the weekend.
When I went cross country at the Games, the team was no longer alive. I was riding for myself. I wanted to be world champion and I tried my best. I also wasn’t looking forward to running him through the mud towards the end of the track. He is a little bit of an older horse now. He has done his time in the mud, it is nice if I can give him great going. So when I had the run out early on, there was no reason for me to chase him home for 20th place. He deserves to win. We thought we would bring him here, the ground would be good and hopefully he has a nice time.
I never thought Burghley was happening for me as I was going to the World Championships. For that reason but also for the obvious reason. I knew I had a very good chance of getting back to compete this year. I knew the case obviously. It was hard for everyone else to understand as they didn’t have anything else to go by. It is nice to be back here and it is nice to be back here on this horse. I didn’t want to come here after the World Championships on one of my other horses as I wanted to come back here and put in a good performance. My other horse is just a little bit inexperienced for that yet.
Have the reaction of the other riders been quite charitable? Yes. To be honest I have been really impressed with the way people have approached the matter. I think that certainly now it is easier for people to understand about what came about. In the beginning I think it was the mood wasn’t so nice about it as people didn’t know anything. When you have a positive test for a banned substance, it is pretty easy to think a bad thing. Certainly the mood is changing and it is good to see.
To be honest I am not thinking too much about the mood right now. I am here to do my job and hopefully if I do well it will help the mood change.
4th on Avebury
In there he feels like he does at home. He went very well. He felt very very good. He is a pleasure to ride and he now feels like he does at home. Most horses go into those arenas and light up a little bit. e has been in there a few times now. I don’t bring him up here and work him up here at all. I don’t do the arena walk about, but he still just goes in there and trundles around as happy as can be. When we walked out and chatted he was very quiet and calm. He has been in there a few times. It is a lovely arena and it seems the crowd are far enough away you don’t feel that it is cramped. There is an even sound level, if that can make sense when it is very quiet. Some of those arenas can be quiet eerie where this one seems very secure and a lot of horses feel more secure there.
He is a very special horse. He is part of the family. He knows it is a big one. He knows he hasn’t come here to look around.
Cross-country: I think it is very good. The changes are very very cleverly done. Last year it gave the impression that you had to sit back and pull your sleeves up. I feel that the lines, the curves between A & B or C or whatever are more tighter. You have to have a little more finesse with the turns and be a little bit more accurate with them. It is very very clever of the course designer.
It is very important in my calendar. I have had a bit of a lean year, made a few mistakes, but I am banking on this one to dig me out.
Coping with media? It is part of it. You just have to do it. It is important to deal with them when it goes bad – that’s sport, it is easy to think that it is easy and straightforward. You just have to deal with it all, whether it is bad weather and you are last to go. You don’t complain when it is the dressage. It was like at the worlds, it suited me for the dressage but you just have to take what happens and deal with it.
17= on Upleadon
Really pleased actually, he has been here twice before and his previous two tests he is not at his best and was much more rideable than he has previously been here. I am a little disappointed with the mark but that is the way it is. The competition is a long way from over so I have to just try to finish on that score.
If you finish on a score of 50 looking back at the previous results, that will be very competitive so that will be the aim of the game now. It is a tough course to get around so that is the focus. It’s fairly similar to last year, tweaks to existing fences, there are a lot more corners, the trout hatchery is a lot more difficult this year. Essentially the same kind of questions, difference fences being used. There is plenty of work to do. If you get as far as the dairy mounds without any problems, I think you would be pleased and be able to kick on from there.
He is very experienced, he’s 16 now but I still wouldn’t trust him as far as I could kick him. He will keep me on my toes. We will do what we can. This is definitely a course that suits him. The two rides I have had around here before have been the best rides I have had on him. He is just such a strong horse and very long striding. Those long gallops from Shogun Hollow all the way to the dairy mound you are gradually climbing up hill. It just takes the sting out of his tail a bit and makes him a little more manageable. So yes, the course does, touch wood, really suit him.
I love it here. It has to be my favourite event. It is just such a fantastic atmosphere, very prestigious event but everything just seems hassle free. The people are very friendly, the organisers are fantastic and there is a very friendly atmosphere around the stables.
I was a little disappointed with the score to be honest. He is about 13th roughly, fairly near the end of the competition, so he will hopefully be in the top 20 by the end of it all. I have to waste a lot of time with him on XC as he is not the most careful jumper in the world so I have to waste a lot of time setting up for fences. That can be a bit of a drain but I also know that if I don’t, then there is a chance I will hit the deck, which has happened before. It is just one of those things I have to factor in, a few time faults compared to not finishing the competition. He has been here twice before, top 20 the first time, top 15 last year so I would love to go top 10.
Sam Spratt, saw me a little bit at Badminton. Maizie is very very keen and Chester is just starting to get the bug so it is a family affair.
(Jockey, and also Neil’s sister)
It’s been great, I have really enjoyed it. It is so different. Everyone is so dressed up, you have to wear the right thing which is quite different but it has been great. Good eye opener. I do get a bit nervous seeing Neil ride. Badminton I literally just arrived, and I didn’t know that the horse is honest but can leave a leg and flip so it will be more nerve-wracking now watching him. It is great, I love it.
No regrets you didn’t take up eventing yourself? No, not really. I love doing what I do. I sometimes think I fell into racing just because I was following Neil again. He went to the track to earn a bit of money before university. I went along, as the nosy little sister, joining in and ended up getting offered an apprenticeship. I often think if I didn’t do that I would possibly be here doing it myself. I didn’t really have the patience for the dressage though.
I am heading home on Monday. I am looking at coming back again. Just as I booked my flight back I started picking up more rides. It was a hard decision whether to go home or stay here but I decided I would go home. I’ve got a few nice horses coming on. I get back on Wednesday and will be riding on Saturday but the next big one will be Hastings the following Saturday.
28th on The Deputy
He was feeling a bit out of sorts the last few days. He is hyper-sensitive at the best of times to the bugs, the conditions, I’m not really sure what it is. Today he was just unsettled in the contact and that plagued us throughout. He has been to a few big events, he is good in his brain, he knows the drill. He actually felt very very good in a lot of it but sadly it just got to him.
Cross-country: Been round three times now, it looks great. The ground looks absolutely magnificent. As always it is a big track but coming back, having ridden it last year, it looks slightly smaller. Obviously coming off the back of WEG last week as well where we were three inches into the ground, so being on top of the ground, year two, it definitely looks a bit more jumpable.
It is a magical place. It is something to get a horse here, that is stage one. Then obviously I have expectations and then it is whether you meet those expectations or not. It is always a privilege to come and ride here, they make such an effort, just walking around the place. That’s why it is the world’s premier event.
Did you get time to have a celebration between WEG and here? We had quite a long boat ride so we did spend some time in the bar on Sunday night which I am not sure was a good idea or not! Once we were home it was very much back into it.
I get a few comments from the others saying I am the fastest lady in the world so it is quite a reputation to uphold now!
It was a great result but it doesn’t stop there. I should have been in the top three, I had an opportunity. It is very easy to say what if, but look the mare went great, she exceeded expectation, the perfectionist in me says I should have gone one better.
The Deputy: He has had a bit of a history, he actually had a year off as an 8-9 year old through head shaking. He had a couple of good years and obviously he was fifth here this year and for whatever reason, he has been a little bit off in the last few days. We were hoping it would subside, but with the midges in the air, I’m not really too sure what it is but he was unsettled in the test. It is not his fault, they can’t help it, they don’t mean to do it, it felt very good in the warm up, but that is horses, they are not machines.
I am also renown for my rails with this horse so I need the dressage phase to be pretty sharp to give myself the best chance come Sunday. He is a phenomenal cross country horse. He is normally pretty reliable on the flat but he is likely to have a pole come Sunday so I need to be on as low a score as possible.
34th on Ringwood Skyboy
He just boiled over a couple of times in the dressage. He is feeling really really good and I think that was the main thing. He is so very fit.
I have had a couple of walks around the XC. I love the look of it. The ground looks immaculate and will suit my horse down to the ground. It’s big and bold and some good pulls up the hills. He had a very good Badminton, was fastest of the day there, and so that stands us in good stead for a good showing here.
I think it is going to be just as Burghley is historically. You will see the good riders within the time. The going is good so will allow people to travel. I think you will see five or six inside the time but we will see, every competition is unpredictable and different from the next.
I always plan to do the best possible on the flat with the dressage and so my start point is now 55. I was aiming for south of 50. To finish on it, double clear, that’s my goal. He is not the best showjumper, but we have been working on that phase a lot so I am hoping for good things on the last day.
This horse’s main focus is Burghley. He has had two four stars, this is his third and he is ready to perform at this level. It’s the pinnacle for the sport. It is a lovely place to come. I just love coming here and having a horse that is competitive.
He is in great condition. It is almost the nature of the beast, or the beast I have created. Getting him so well and so prepared for this plays havoc with dressage. We have a very good girl at home, the Canadian rider Rebecca Howard. She unfortunately didn’t make it to the Worlds this year due to an injury to her horse. It played into our hands having her at home to focus on these guys. This horse, he doesn’t get schooled a lot. Just little and often. The fitness work has been the main focus and Rebecca has taken care of that. Most of the work is done prior to the week out of the competition. He feels ready to go.
He had four down at Badminton in a hackamore because he’s never been comfortable show jumping with a bit. Now I have found something that I think really works and he is comfortable in it, I think that will hopefully make the difference on a tired horse that you need to keep together to jump big technical tracks after a grueling cross country.
I’ve walked the course twice and will do another one and a half probably. It looks great. I’m excited about it. I’m not going for the options, unless there is a plan B desperately required with late notice.
Images below © Mike Bain