“It’s a bit surreal,” says Burghley first-timer Chris Talley, speaking from the airport when we talk to him as his horse prepared to start his transatlantic journey to the combination’s first British CCI5*.
The 25-year-old rider will make his Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials debut this week (5-8 September) aboard the retrained racehorse Unmarked Bills.
“I bought him off the track as a rising six-year-old and have produced him up the levels myself. We did our first CCI3* (now CCI4*-L) together as well as our first five-star together, which was at Kentucky in the spring.”
The 10-year-old gelding jumped clear across country (pictured throughout) and have also had several top-10 finishes at CIC3* and CCI3* (now CCI4*-S and –L) events.
But the fact this partnership came together — and have stayed together — is down to a string of coincidences.
Friend and fellow eventer Kate Samuels was looking for a home for a recently retired racehorse on behalf of the horse’s owner and thought he would be a good match for Chris.
That horse was Unmarked Bills, known as Billy to his friends, who was looking for a new role following a successful career on the track, with earnings of +$67,000 (£55,108).
Chris bought the horse in with a view to selling him on. However the thoroughbred, by Posse, struggled to pass the vet, so Chris put together the “Unmarked Bills Syndicate” and his partnership with the horse has flourished.
“He has always had a special look in his eye — he has these hazel eyes that get really big when he gets excited — and he’s always had a look about him, that there was a fire in there,” he says.
“He’s a very interesting horse and a real pleasure to have in the barn. I can go into his stable and put my arms around him and he will really appreciate that, but he has the attitude that it is all on his terms.”
The pair have been focusing on their flatwork and Chris is particularly excited to be putting that into practice as well as taking on Burghley’s iconic fences, including the Cottesmore Leap.
“I’m greatly looking forward to the whole event. I have watched it every year on the live feeds and it looks like it is a breath-taking venue,” he says, adding he is both “extremely excited and nervous”.
Article continues below…
You might also be interested in:
If you want to keep up with the latest from the equestrian world without leaving home, grab a H&H subscription
‘I want to do everyone proud and have fun — I can’t wait to get out there’
Meet the first of the Burghley debutants in 2019
The Virginia-based rider has part-funded his trip to Burghley via a BillsToBurghley crowdfunding initiative, raising more than $13,000 (£10,000) and he says he is extremely grateful to all those who have helped him on this journey.
He adds thanks also go to his “great support team” who will be cheering him on, including his business partner Hannah Salazar and his parents.
Chris and Billy have been drawn 50th to go at the Lincolnshire five-star, which means their dressage is tomorrow (Friday) morning, and are one of 11 US combinations competing at this year’s event.
For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday