Enjoying the hurley-Burghley of a famous 4-star showpiece

Avebury and Andrew Nicholson were swamped with congratulations after their winning round.
Avebury and Andrew Nicholson were swamped with congratulations after their winning round.

On Sunday history was created when Avebury won the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials for the third year in a row. Of course he couldn’t have done it without Andrew Nicholson and his team. What a horse! What a team! What an event! What a fabulous time I have had!

Louise Harwood's mum gives some encouragement.
Louise Harwood’s mum gives some encouragement.

Avebury (aka Buddy) has long been a favourite horse of mine. I love his cheekiness, and his professionalism. The ultimate eventer, and as Andrew keeps telling us, he just loves Burghley. He didn’t put a foot wrong all weekend and handles all the glorious prize giving pressure and noise – so well behaved. I’m sure he knows that it is all about him – and he loves it!

I had the privilege of being in the collecting ring, although during the final phase of Burghley, I think this should be renamed “The Emotional Ring.” I was on hand to see it all on display, the anticipation, the nerves, the elation, the disappointment, the adulation, the pride, the sheer joy, and the love.

From this vantage point you not just see it, but you are part of it. There is so much going on. Competitor’s mothers “riding” the horse around the jumping track from the entrance, the trainers trying to look cool while TV cameras are just centimetres from their face, and owners leaning over the rails with fingers and toes crossed, whispering prayers.

As riders come out of the arena, there are hugs, kisses, tears, jumping for joy, handshakes, thumbs up gestures, heads hung low in disappointment, winners grinning like their jaws are going to snap. Riders and especially grooms are hugging their precious charges (tears are usually involved here too), horses and riders are patted with bruising exuberance. Winners are keen to share their joy, kissing and hugging everyone within arms length (including media even!)

Yes, the media is right in amongst this mayhem. Peter Morris, Press Officer Extraordinaire, does a great job of trying to keep some semblance of order, but come the final round and the final result, pandemonium rules; there are cameras, crew, journalists, tripods, voice recorders and notebooks going in all directions.

Clare Balding and her BBC crew are in amongst it, capturing the sweet moments, grabbing interviews where they can. They usually get first dibs with the rider interviews, but when Andrew came through victorious, the protocols flew out the window.   Perhaps it is the Antipodean way, last time I saw this happen was when Jock won Badminton. Maybe if one of the British riders had of won the situation may have been more orderly, although I doubt it. When it comes to celebrating winning one of the most prestigious events in the world, I don’t think it matters what nationality you are.

Zach and Lily Nicholson give an interview after their dad's big win.
Zach and Lily Nicholson give an interview after their dad’s big win.

To hear the national anthem being played with Andrew on Avebury just metres away from me almost had me in tears too, there was definitely a lump in the throat.

To be standing next to Avebury’s owner, Rosemary Barlow, as we watched her beloved horse jump around the course without a fault, with the thousands of people absolutely silently watching was also one of those moments I won’t forget. It was so quiet it was eerie. The crowds at Burghley are very educated eventing spectators, and knew they were part of history. Not even a cough could be heard. I think they all held their breaths like Rosemary was and then there was the ERUPTION!

Back in the media centre there was the obligatory press conference and more photo opportunities with Andrew, his trophy and the Land Rovers. I only realised afterwards that there were no bottles of champagne opened for the three leaders, they all seemed to be sipping on water bottles during the question time. Hopefully the corks started popping for them once they escaped our clutches. Andrew certainly didn’t need any champagne to lift his mood, he was on Cloud 9; the smile didn’t leave his face. He even confessed to getting a bit emotional – unheard of! That horse means a lot to him, he bred him; he rode both the sire and the dam, and Buddy “is part of our family.”  Talking of family, Andrew and Wiggy’s children, Zach and Lily, were a great hit with TV1 and TV3 crew, providing some broadcasting gold.

My ever-patient travel buddies turned up at the media centre to see how we were going. The NZ media were still working away frantically in their corner, while most others were either in the process of packing up or had already disappeared. The TV was on BBC which was showing highlights of Burghley and also the final part of the Showjumping World Championship final. The ever accommodating media centre staff let our group in to watch it – so there they were, sitting in the Burghley media centre, with Lucinda Green nearby reading Vicki’s copy of Andrew Nicholson’s new book, watching WEG action.   That’s something my other half won’t forget in a hurry.

All in our group agreed that Burghley was a very special event and we were reluctant to leave. The obligatory photo with the “House” in the background was taken, then it was decided to head to The George in Stamford to complete our Burghley experience. This place not only sponsors the event (jump two of the XC is decorated with their theme and logo), but it is the place to be on Saturday night and booked out year after year. Being Sunday night, we thought it worth trying our luck.  We arrived there in our @NZEventing t-shirts and were welcomed into a magnificent bar to have our own little celebratory drink.  Not quite champagne, but a lovely bottle of rosé was perfect for me!  What a lovely place and a fitting way to finish our Burghley experience. Compensation for the Asian takeaways we had survived on for the previous few nights!

We leave Cambridgeshire today, some of our party heading for Heathrow, some of us heading towards the Cotswolds for Blenheim Horse Trials which start on Thursday.

Only a week to go before we too will be heading to Heathrow for that long slog home.

» Read Jane’s earlier blogs from Burghley and WEG


Jane Thompson

Jane has always had a keen interest in horses, and was an active competitor in equestrian events from her early days until the late 1980s. » Read Jane's profile

One thought on “Enjoying the hurley-Burghley of a famous 4-star showpiece

  • September 9, 2014 at 9:32 am

    What an amazing article Jane.. I’ve teared up reading it and felt like I was there with you! Thanks for the wonderful article and the photos.. Just awesomely fabulous and congratulations to Andrew and the superstar pony…just wonderful


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