Twenty-six-year-old Olivia (Liv) Craddock says that the prospect of competing at her first Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials next week is “very scary”.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” says the rider based in West Sussex. “I’ve always idolised the riders that compete at events like Burghley — they were my heroes growing up — and riding at that level always seemed like a wild dream and something that doesn’t happen to normal people. But now I’m about to do it and it’s amazing — it does go to show that if you want it badly enough, anyone can do it!”
The horse Liv will be riding is 10-year-old chestnut gelding, Billy Liffy, who she has had in her yard since he was five. But it wasn’t love at first sight for Liv.
“I moved near to Donal Barnwell’s yard, someone I had been working for helping produce his young horses, and at the time I had mentioned to him I was looking for a nice young horse to buy,” explains Liv. “I told him I didn’t care if it took six months or a year to find the right one and asked him to keep an eye out. Two weeks later it was 7pm and I was in the bath. My phone rang and it was Donal. Obviously I couldn’t answer the phone to him in the bath so I listened to the voicemail message he left me. He said ‘I’ve just dropped a horse off in your yard — have a look and let me know what you think’.”
But when Liv went out to see what had arrived, she wasn’t blown away.
“He looked a bit big and heavy,” says Liv, who has a passion for producing young horses. “He had this pokey trot and bucked like billyo so I put the boy who worked for me on him and rang Donal saying it wasn’t for me as he was so sharp. He told me to keep trying.”
So Liv kept trying to like ‘Liffy’ and even tried to sell him.
“Nobody wanted him over the six months I tried to sell him as he was so sharp and he still bucks occasionally even now,” she explains. “William and Pippa Funnell didn’t want him — I think Liffy had even bucked Pippa off in the four-year-old Burghley Young Event Horse final the previous year!”
But as time went on, Liv and Liffy’s partnership grew stronger and she began to event him after she eventually bought him from Donal. The pair have since recorded some impressive results, apart from when Liffy bucked Liv off in the dressage of his first intermediate, including third in the CCI3* at Camphire this year, a Nations Cup team debut at Strzegom in May and sixth in the CCI3*U25 at Bramham in 2016.
“He finds everything so easy and I knew I had a four-star horse on my hands when people started taking notice and telling me that he would be capable,” says Liv, who has only visited Burghley once before.“I stupidly looked at the cross-country course preview the other day and I definitely won’t be going anywhere near the Cottesmore Leap on my course walks! We’re going to build replicas of some of the combinations in the arena this week — obviously you can’t practice them with the terrain that Burghley has, but it will give him an idea.”
Liffy, who will be the joint youngest horse in the Burghley field is the “most gentle horse you could ever meet” on the ground.
“He has a little fan club — our four- and six-year-old neighbours — who have nicknamed him ‘Mr Whiskers’!” explains Liv. “I found them in the stable with Liffy recently — he was lying down and they were cuddling him.”
Meet the four-star horse that was initially discovered
We meet the Burghley debutante and the horse
Liv trains with Nigel Taylor and Matt Heath and says that Ian Woodhead has “transformed” the combination’s dressage recently.
“I would love to complete the event but just to compete at Burghley is a dream come true,” she says.
Don’t miss H&H’s Burghley preview issues — course walk with Mary King and interview with event director Liz Inman in this week’s issue (dated 24 August) and 16-page pull-out with form guide for every entry in the following issue (dated 31 August).