It’s the Tuesday of the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials week (today, 29 August) and Savannah Fulton (or ‘Woodge’ as she prefers to be referred to) has just arrived at the event. She left her base in Pennsylvania in the United States at 6.45am last Wednesday and arrived at British eventer JP Sheffield’s Leicestershire base at 11am on Friday, before making her way to Burghley today.
“It’s just a bit exciting, we’ve finally made it,” says Woodge. “But I have to keep reminding myself that, although travelling such a long distance with a horse isn’t easy, the hard part hasn’t even started yet. It definitely hasn’t sunk in — at the moment I’m just here, unpacking stuff and that’s it.”
Twenty-one-year-old Woodge will ride Captain Jack at this year’s event, a 14-year-old OTTB (off the track thoroughbred, or the US term for an ex-racehorse).
“Jack wasn’t a very good racehorse, he always washed out before he started due to his nerves,” explains Woodge. “I actually spoke to his former racehorse trainer and he said that Jack used to get frazzled before the start of a race and then had used himself all up before he ran.”
Woodge, who left school at 16 and went straight to Buck Davidson Jr’s yard to train, where she has stayed ever since, said that Jack initially arrived at Buck’s yard to be sold. He had been produced up to CCI2* level with Lucy Disston, a fellow American eventer beforehand.
“Jack had been at Buck’s a year and nobody had wanted to buy him for one reason or another,” says Woodge. “So then Buck said to me ‘hey, why don’t you try Jack?’ and that was it.
“Jack is awesome, but dressage is definitely his weakest phase due to his nerves. He makes up for it being amazing cross-country and within the first full season I competed him, we went from one-star to three-star. We trust each other a lot.”
Woodge and Jack managed seventh place at Bromont CCI3* in 2016 and this spring jumped clear across country around their first four-star at Rolex Kentucky.
“We did the best we could given our experience at ‘Rolex’ and despite seeing a lot of horses finishing tired on the cross-country, Jack kept going the whole way and really took the bit at the end,” says Woodge. “I thought ‘wow, this is awesome!’”
According to Woodge, Captain Jack is just like his film star namesake.
“He’s a bit of a pirate — he’s grumpy in the stable, he tells me what to do and is scrappy but gets the job done — I just try my best to hold on!”
Although Woodge has groomed for Buck in the UK and Ireland a couple of times, she has never visited Burghley before.
“I’ve looked at videos but it’s hard to find ones that aren’t thrills and spills and full of people falling off,” she laughs. “It’s also very difficult to see the undulations of Burghley on the TV, but I know it’s big and beautiful and I’m trying not to think about it too much before I’ve seen the course properly as I don’t want to overwhelm myself.”
Goal-wise, Woodge says that she would “definitely like to finish”.
“I think that’s a big enough goal for us at the moment given our level of experience — I just hope Jack is a Burghley horse.”
Woodge is one of the youngest competitors in this year’s field and she says that she understands she has “a fraction of the experience that a lot of other people at Burghley have”.
“I’m glad I did Rolex to prepare me for this, but as Jack is 17, I have to seize the moment and give it a go.”
Don’t miss our exclusive form guide for Burghley Horse Trials in the 31 August issue of Horse & Hound magazine