Burghley course walk

  • Everyone knows that Burghley is undulating, but careful positioning of a fence can make a world of difference. There may be fences we have seen jumped before but many have been moved and for those that remain where they were, familiarity and the complacency will be the dangers. Just wait until you walk the course and I think you will understand!

    Fence 1: The Overture 4/10
    A colourful yet inviting ascending spread dressed with attractive flower trays.

    Fence 2: Lambert’s Sofa 5/10
    With Lambert himself sitting on the left, riders will be encouraged to jump on the right, where the fence is more vertical but nevertheless straightforward at this level.

    Fence 3: The Turrets 7/10
    A lovely gallop past Burghley House on fantastic ground will get horses into a good rhythm as they move on to the Turrets — a really big, inviting table. This is the first “grown-up” fence on the course and a fine introduction to the challenges ahead.

    Fence 4: The Park Gate 7/10
    Although this was also fence 4 last year, it now poses quite a different question relocated to the main arena. If anything, it is a more inviting proposition, situated in an open setting rather than the light to dark scenario experienced under the big trees in 2003.

    However, with plenty of distractions around the arena, the gate demands plenty of respect. Having just opened up over a large spread at the Turrets, riders will have to get the horse back on its hocks for this upright gate, which starts a serpentine line flowing through the arena fences.

    Fence 5: Land Rover Picnic (A) & Open Water Hedge (B, C) 8/10
    Still in the main arena on a tight left-hand bending line from the gate, the Land Rover Picnic is an inviting but narrow fence built to look like a picnic table and featuring two smart Land Rovers. It is followed by a right-hand bending line on four strides to the Open Water Hedge, a shallowish water tray in front of a maximum height green hedge, forming both the B and C elements of the direct route.

    The difficulty here is to reach this big hedge without the horse veering left, having come off that serpentine loop from the gate and through the picnic basket. There is an alternative route to jump two hedges as separate B and C elements by riding a further loop to the serpentine.

    Fences 6 & 7 (A, B): Hansel & Gretel 8½/10
    A new, beautifully built complex that exploits the natural contours. Riders approach downhill, between trees, to jump a solid gate off a sharp left-hand bend. Having survived the trees but still running downhill, there is an acute right-hand turn to 7A, a wide corner or “cage” overlooked by the Witch’s House.

    With the camber of the ground sloping to the left, this fence could easily be bypassed, so expect to see a fresh or unsettled horse pick up 20pen here. Fence 7B, a big picnic table on a related distance of five strides left-handed, requires accuracy and a lot of control. Demanding a good shot over the corner and a moving stride up to the table, these fences will need control and, while a lot could go wrong here, if well ridden a lot could go right!

    Fence 8 (A, B, C): Brush Valley Crossing 8/10
    This hedge, ditch, hedge fence has been ridden in the opposite direction for the past two years and jumped extremely well. This year it comprises a stiff brush fence in, one stride to the ditch and a forward three or holding four strides to the brush out on a diagonal line left to right. I feel, this year, that the “out” is less tricky, but with a downhill approach and only one stride to the ditch, the “in” is fractionally more difficult. Positive riding will be a priority.

    The relationship between the next three fences will be influential — they could be underestimated if seen as isolated challenges.

    Fence 9: The Bullfinch 7½/10
    A gradual incline takes the rider up to the Bullfinch, which is pretty narrow with quite a spread. The landing appears to be flat but is actually a bit of a drop, so it is worth taking the time to set up and jump this well so that the horse doesn’t get a fright if it overjumps.

    Fence 10: Dog Kennel 7½/10
    Situated shortly after the Bullfinch at the top of a steep hill on a slight angle, this kennel should ride well. Accuracy will be paramount and I personally would open the right rein while in the air, so that the horse doesn’t have to tackle the widest spread.

    Fence 11: The Log 8/10
    The Log is placed at the top of the famous Leaf Pit, a spectacular 30ft ski jump. It is important to get quite deep to the log and just pop it, so that the horse sees where it is landing rather than getting a nasty shock mid-air.

    Fence 12: The Trakehner 6/10
    A classic big spread across the ditch, which should ride well, offers a welcome let-up after the questions asked so far.

    Fence 13: The Gate 7/10
    Riders can grab a moment on this long gallop uphill to reflect on how the course is riding. The Gate remains the same as last year and, although it demands respect, the approach off a left-hand bend will help establish the balance necessary to jump this cleanly.

    Fence 14 (A, B): Lower Trout Hatchery Bounce 9/10
    With a downhill approach to a bounce of rails, riders will have to get organised for this complex. Again, the terrain comes into play with a tiny dip just before the slope up to the first rail of the bounce, which should actually play to the rider’s advantage.

    My preference is for the right-hand side, which looks a fraction smaller with a slightly longer bounce. A good set-up, aggressive approach, balance and positive attitude are all required to jump the bounce smoothly. Feld has asked a big question here, as there is no alternative but to go for the bounce at the first time of asking.

    However, if you do have a stop at B there is an alternative in the form of an inviting rounded log with a small drop into water. This is fair and would restore battered confidence for those who have had a problem.

    Fence 15: Upper Trout Hatchery 8½/10
    The second water comes up very quickly after the bounce, approached across a hillock with a nasty bump that will undoubtedly throw you out of balance unless you are awake.

    The big round log to jump in is the same as last year but, having stepped up out of the water, there is now a related distance on a right-hand curve to a skinny brush. There is an alternative out, so if combinations are unfortunate enough to trip up the step, they should think quickly and go long to avoid 20pen.

    With two waters so close together, if the horse has a look or worse at the first there really isn’t much time to get reorganised and positive for the second water, which has a much bigger drop in.

    However, the log will be forgiving and there is an alternative in, with a smaller log over the same drop followed by a scenic route out. This is not straightforward but if there has been a big issue at the first bounce, this does give the option to rebuild confidence. It is worth considering that the horses may also be surprised to be asked to jump into water at consecutive fences.

    Fence 16: Waterloo Flowerbed 7½/10
    A true skinny spread with a gentle drop behind requiring the rider to work hard — the hillocks on the approach conspire to do everything possible to stop the horse staying balanced. There is a long alternative, but it is time-consuming and still a “skinny”, so my feeling is to give the direct route a crack first time.

    Fence 17 (A, B, C): The Pig Stys 8½/10
    The Pig Stys will be familiar to many, but have moved a little in relation to the central farmyard shed. The three solid maximum spreads, on yet another S-bend, demand attacking riding, but I foresee this combination flowing much better than last year, ridden on three and then five strides. With an inviting short route and a very long long route, I suspect most riders will elect to go direct here.

    Fence 18: Open Ditch Hedge 7½/10
    A nice, flat take-off should ensure this open ditch rides well if the horse is back on its hocks after the downhill approach. A good jump here will pay dividends, as the Willow Hedge looms up quickly.

    Fence 19: The Willow Hedge 8/10
    THIS fence features a brief canter through a shallow pond to the big Willow Hedge. These few strides through the water may cause a loss of rhythm, but the riders should focus on the hedge and, if possible, ignore the water.

    Fence 20: The GNER Train 5/10
    VERY much a respite, offering a confidence-restoring breather for horse and rider. But, even though it looks innocuous, liberties should not be taken.

    Fence 21 (A, B, C): Capability’s Cutting 8/10
    Essentially, this combination remains unchanged, but it still presents a challenge. The three fences are close together and it is a rollercoaster ride between them. It will not be easy to maintain the correct speed and degree of balance required, first at the large log cabin, followed by two strides to the log, then a drop into the cutting and finally up to the final log at the top of the slope, which, as ever, will demand positive riding, accuracy and commitment.

    Fence 22 (A, B): The Dairy Farm 7½/10
    This new combination has a difficult bumpy approach where it would be easy to underestimate the energy required to jump the two oxers at the top of the mound. There is a slight turn into the first oxer, which is best approached on the right. The horse will need sufficient engine for an ongoing three strides to the second oxer. If the approach is good and the power is there, this will ride comparatively easily.

    Fences 23: The Cottesmore 7/10
    A big ditch with a log rather than the classic hedge of previous years, but while this fence continues to look awesome, it should not pose any problems for a motivated partnership.

    Fence 24 (A, B): Winner’s Avenue 8/10
    The Avenue should lift the spirits as riders gallop up towards the magnificent Burghley House, but the two narrow, scalloped hedges will need their full attention — it would be all too easy to pass them by as they glide up the avenue. The combination of the previous fence and a long gallop will have the horse at full tilt, so they will need to sustain their control and focus to achieve a comfortable jump across whichever side of the two hedges they prefer to follow on a bending line of four or five strides.

    Fence 25: The Farmyard 6/10
    Feld has again used this clever “slow-down” fence after a long downhill gallop to help prepare combinations for the final water.
    This single upright wall of logs is jumped off a turn.

    Fences 26 (A, B, C): Lion Bridge 8/10
    Riders will be familiar with this complex from last year but each element is now no longer separately numbered. After the enormous Boat House, the Lakeside Seat into the water is followed by a curving line to the Jetty. This fence will still require accuracy and a forward-moving horse to jump well but riders will be relieved to see that the barrels at the top of the hill after coming out of the water have been removed.

    Fence 27 (A, B, C): The Summerhouse & Picture Frame 8/10
    With the end in sight, Feld asks one more question at this final combination. After a long gallop from the water, the Summerhouse comprises two narrow tables set at 90° to each other. These will be easy to run past if the rider’s attention wanders or the petrol is running low at this stage. These two skinnies are followed by a related distance to the Picture Frame, a classic owl-hole fence.

    Fence 28: Welcome Home 6/10
    A final gallop to the welcome sight of this straightforward fence to complete.
    Overall, this is a good, demanding course, but because the main questions are well spaced, riders will have room to open up and enjoy the fabulous ground. However, petrol should be reserved right to the end; the last complex will still demand horse and rider’s full attention.

    If nothing else, each rider should bear in mind the need to look after both the horse’s body and his mind throughout the course in order to retain his confidence. Taking the care to treat the horse to a soft landing at the drop fences 9 and 11 for example, instead of a big surprise, could make all the difference in creating a happy partnership and, ultimately, a successful round.

  • This feature first appeared in Horse & Hound (26 August)

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