I want to officially announce that I LOVE the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials. I had suspected it before, having visited in 2004 (Andrew Hoy won on Moon Fleet) and 2007 (William Fox-Pitt won on Parkmore Ed after Andrew lost his overnight lead in the show jumping).
After surviving WEG, it has been a refreshing and restorative visit. The one thing that stands out to me is how friendly, helpful and charming all the staff are. There are many people involved in putting this show on and every one of them, including the toilet cleaners, the rubbish picker-uppers, the crossing monitors through to the volunteers who are there to ensure the riders know the way to the start of the cross-country are all cheerful, happy and nice! It seems that you can’t be a grumpy officious bugger if you want to be at Burghley. I wonder what personality test they use in their recruitment process?
I seem to have frequently found myself in the wrong places during this trip and once again, I ended up in the wrong place on cross-country morning while looking for the media mixed zone. Having thought I had found it, I burst into this wonderful room full of monitors, walkie talkies and very serious looking people. Hmm, this didn’t look quite right, no-one was sitting with pad in hand, pen poised. “Excuse me Madam” said a very polite chap. “You appear to be in the wrong place, this is the Control Room.” Ooops. They were in control, no questions there. I beat a hasty retreat out the door and found the right place. I think I had better book a visit to the optician as there was the mixed zone area, in the logical place.
My strategy was then to take a few photos of the riders over the first and last fence, I could hear the commentary clearly, and then I planned on whizzing back to the mixed zone to get my interviews with the Kiwi riders when they had finished the course. First rider out, Megan Heath, had three stops so that was the end of her Burghley. I doubted she would come back to the mixed zone to tell us about that, so elected to stay where I was. Craig Nicolai set out with a smile on his face, and it was sad to see him walking home, wet through, but with an arm over his horse’s neck looking as if he was consoling Just Ironic. He certainly didn’t look like he needed an interview.
Tim Price and the handsome Ringwood Skyboy gave me a big smile as they walked to the start, looking like they were ready to blitz the problem course. Not to be, and they too came home the “back way” escorted by a mounted steward, looking no worse for their fall in the arena but as Tim signalled to me, a hurting heart.
Jock Paget looked all serious and businesslike as he and Clifton Promise headed to the start. The commentator was talking them up, and it sounded like they blitzed the course, taking good lines and giving it their best. They looked great as they sailed over the last and through the finish flags. I made the decision then to stay where I was as there were some other riders I wanted to photograph and it wasn’t long until Neil Spratt was due, so figured I had time to get back to Jock after Neil, or if I did miss him, I could catch him later in the press conference. Then they announced his time faults, which surprised me, more than I expected. It was tough to meet the time. Jock went into second place behind Sam Griffiths, who had been held twice but recorded a great clear round with 9.6 time faults.
Neil was soon under way, but unfortunately the last I saw of him was as he disappeared over fence 2. We understand he has been undergoing some x-rays but the official word is that he is “OK, nothing serious” – whatever that means. So, no mixed zone appearance needed there.
Now it was up to Jonelle Price and Andrew Nicholson who were quite close together. I got a great shot of Jonelle walking down to the start with Tim beside her, similar to the situation at WEG where Tim had already bowed out but was helping Jonelle to show the world what a great rider she is. And yes, she did it again. Sure, it wasn’t as fast as it needed to be, but it was clear and her place of the leaderboard improved significantly.
Then it was Avebury time. Avebury is cuter than your champion grey show pony. Has been one of my favourites for many years. There were some holds on course, so there was quite a delay between Andrew warming up and actually setting off. He spent more time in the warm up ring than most and actually got off for a while. Me being an experienced Nicholson stalker, couldn’t help but notice Andrew had to visit the conveniently placed porta-loo. Ah, so he does get a bit nervous! He actually talked about his nerves during the interviews in the mixed zone (yes, I did make it to that), saying that “if he didn’t get nervous, he wouldn’t be at the top of his game.”
As the last few competitors tackled the troublesome course, photographers started to join me in my great little spot. I had been by myself most of the day, chatting with the volunteers during their shifts. Half a day each they were rostered on. The two sisters who had the last shift nearly swooned as William Fox-Pitt walked past them, close enough for them to touch him (which they didn’t, of course, but they did get some good photos that they were delighted with). I was pleased to see they were also delighted to get a pic of Andrew as well.
So as you will all know by now, Avebury did the business, and brought Andrew home with the least amount of time faults on the day and put them in the lead. The photos I have of Andrew coming over the last fence capture the determination Andrew had – he really wants to win this event.
Now I have the awful job of going to the show jumping day with Andrew in the lead in the show jumping. I just hope this is not a deja vu situation – in 2007 he lost the title to WFP after a pesky rail. This time will be different, I hope!
Now I can’t finish this post without a comment about the crowd, the dogs and the media centre. The crowds are truly phenomenal and start arriving on the course even earlier than us keen journalists. We arrived at 8am to find the place well populated. Most people seem to bring a dog or two with them. My pictures for the “Dog of the Day” album for NZ Eventing’s Facebook page are proving very popular. So many different types of breeds, from your terriers to your great danes. Not as many lurchers as in previous years, but the labradors are still out in force. I never saw a dog fight and it seemed everyone was very diligent at picking up any dog poo as I didn’t see any of that either!
Back in the media centre and the staff continue to be as helpful as ever. They run a good operation there, and soon had printouts of fence analysis, results and any other information you needed. The post-conference glass of wine was also offered, but not taken up this time, I had so many photos to process! So the glamorous life of an equestrian journalist on cross country day finished with a Chinese takeaway back at the hotel at 10.30pm before another couple of hours work.
Ah, eventing, what a sport. Well done to all those who gave it their best over the world’s most beautiful cross-country courses and venues.