In September, British eventing star Oliver Townend, 35, won Burghley for the second time aboard Ballaghmor Class. Here’s what we learnt when we went to catch up with him at his Shropshire yard
Don't miss this week's issue of Horse & Hound magazine (23 November 2017) for the full interview
1. Winning Burghley for the second time in September was a big turning point
“I have been completely overwhelmed by people’s reaction. You can’t imagine what it has been like,” says Oliver, who first won Burghley in 2009 on Carousel Quest. “And for the first time it felt genuine. People who I didn’t think even liked me have been coming up and saying how good it was.
“It’s been a tough year. One of my best mates in the world was killed in an accident on the Friday morning of Burghley last year. This is the ending of a difficult year and things have been good since.”
2. Oliver has put a new emphasis on having a smaller yard of horses
“I’ve done what I’ve always said I was going to do and cut down the number of horses in the yard — 12 went the week after Burghley. It’s been refreshing because it has all been done in the right way — in a grown-up way — and people have taken it very well.”
A medium-sized, manageable number of horses, with the emphasis on quality and promise, is every top rider’s goal, but it is difficult to achieve. The answer, he believes, lies in attracting the right owners — those who can and will back him in the long-term.
3. He admits to being very self-critical
“I’m very self-critical, but I didn’t look at myself from other people’s point of view,” he says. “I don’t read about myself, I’m not into the internet, so I have just looked at myself in terms of how I ride. I only realised that recently.”
4. His Shropshire yard is his biggest achievement
Oliver’s biggest achievement is his ownership of Gadlas Farm, while most riders — unless they are fortunate enough to be able to base themselves at their family home — have to rent somewhere for a period, moving on as circumstances dictate.
“When people say I’ve been in the wilderness, I’d like to march them up the drive and say, ‘look at this,’” he says, gesturing at the immaculate, warm and welcoming house and yard.
5. Winning the big ones is what really matters to him
“To me, Badminton and Burghley are the most important events in the world, over any championship. I’m English, I grew up watching those events, I grew up knowing that my dad had ridden at Burghley and I was very proud of that,” he says. “That was my first sentence as a child. I was nearly two: ‘Where are you going?’ ‘Going to Burghley’.”
An emotional Oliver Townend clinched his second Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials title yesterday (Sunday 3 September 2017), this time
All you need to know about Oliver Townend’s relatively unknown Burghley Horse Trials-winning ride Ballaghmor Class
6. Bagging a spot on the British team is a big deal
“That’s another thing I didn’t realise until recently: how important it was to other people that I was on the team. I was on my first senior squad when I was 22 [the Europeans at Blenheim in 2005]; I didn’t know how other people saw the significance of teams. I had 50 text messages when I was selected for the team this year, just saying ‘brilliant’. From this point on, I will feel like I have let myself down if I don’t make a team.”