Are top event riders bordering on insanity? That was the question I asked myself this morning at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.
Mary King had just completed her dressage on Apache Sauce — she lies fourth overnight — and was being quizzed by some journalists on her fall last week at the European Championships and how she felt moving from that competition on to this.
“I’m just a bit bruised, but nothing a few paracetamol doesn’t help mask,” she smiled. “I’m the sort of person who thinks, ‘I must go to Burghley and show that was a silly mistake and I can ride across country properly without falling over.’”
A lesser mortal would surely have a few second thoughts about launching themselves around Burghley after such a nasty fall. Of course, most people with a horse entered would crack on so long as they physically could — but surely deep down inside many would have a few misgivings. Mary doesn’t look like she does, and that’s why she’s one of the best in the world.
I haven’t had time to walk Mark Phillips’s cross-country course yet, but it sounds like it’s demanding of bravery of the real old-fashioned guts and grit variety.
“It’s massive,” said first-timer Tom McEwen after his good dressage test this afternoon. “It’s huge — I’m terrified,” echoed American rider Boyd Martin. I’m not sure he’s as terrified as all that — it’s his first Burghley, but he was 10th at the World Equestrian Games last year — but it’s certainly a course to be respected.
Of course, however brave they are, most of the riders will have a few nerves on Saturday morning — and most would say they need them to be on edge enough to perform at their best. And that’s what true bravery is: being a bit scared, but doing something anyway. Screwing up your courage to face the biggest test of your life and rising to it. In that moment in the startbox, knowing that this is what you live for, rather than thinking you’d prefer to be at home in bed.
Meanwhile, there’s another dressage day to go tomorrow before the cross-country. I’m feeling rather pleased with my two random predictions for today — that Elizabeth Power would do the best test of this afternoon (she did) and James Robinson would score 48 (he got 48.8). So here are two for tomorrow. I reckon Simone Deitermann will finish the day in the lead and Lucinda Fredericks will score 42. Of course, because I’ve told all of you, not just my mum like I did today, it’s almost certain they won’t come true…
Re-live today’s action and join H&H for up-to-the-minute written commentary tomorrow at www.horseandhound.co.uk/burghley2011live.
Don’t forget to buy Horse & Hound next week (8 September) for our 10-page special Burghley report including comments from course-designer Mark Phillips, analysis of every phase and the full leader board.