Looking down the list of placings after cross-country at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials, the most noticeable thing is that three of the most experienced riders in the field take up the first five places. William, Philip, Mary. That trio have ridden more cross-country rounds at this level than the rest of us have hot dinners, and it showed. William and Mary also had the worst of the weather — and the ground — on their second horses, and it didn’t faze them a jot.
Another of the “old school”, Andrew Nicholson (pictured), reminded us why he’s been at the top for so long by defying gravity and probability to stay in the plate after Armada pecked on landing after jumping the first mushroom fence. Andrew is the most interesting rider to talk to about his horses and about cross-country courses — as long as you ask him a sensible question. If you ask him how old his horse is, don’t expect him to waste his time with you.
He has a surprisingly intellectual, analytical approach to eventing, and never fails to say something that really gets to the heart of the subject. He didn’t make it home on Muschamp Impala, his first ride, who got stuck in the final hedge in the arena, but he actually said how pleased he was with the horse (who tried quite hard to unship him in the water and, having succeeded with his former rider Ruth Edge, was probably quite surprised to find himself having to jump more than halfway round a three-day event track).
Andrew said the horse felt like he was mentally tired, not physically, and that the magnitude of the whole day had got to him, rather than the track and that he was encouraged for the future. Don’t write Andrew off as a rider who treats his horses like machines — he may not kiss and cuddle them much, but he thinks much more deeply about them and about how to get the best out of them than most.
But for me, the round of the day came not from one of the top professionals, but from trailblazer Rosie Thomas. She doesn’t have any other horses anywhere near this level, but rode a brilliant round to finish clear inside the time. If everyone had produced rounds like hers, we would have been grumbling that it was a Pony Club course and far too easy for this level. Three cheers for Rosie.
Keep logging onto www.horseandhound.co.uk/burghley08 for updates, blogs and video from Burghley.
Don’t forget to buy Horse & Hound next Thursday (11 September) for a 12-page special report, colour photographs and William Fox-Pitt’s comment.