Twenty-four-year-old Sarah Pickard is looking forward to competing at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials next week (29 August-2 September) aboard her own Polo Striker, or Connor as he is known at home.
“Mum saw an advert in Horse & Hound for a rising five-year-old. We went to see him and bought him as he was a great jumper,” explains Sarah, who fits in riding her four “mostly project” horses around a part-time job on an estate in Kent — “it’s hard work, but thankfully they don’t mind me turning up to the office stinking of horses!
“I’m so excited about next week. I’ve been thinking about the possibility of riding at Burghley for a while, but I’ve always only had young horses,” explains Sarah. “Buying and selling my young horses has paid to keep Connor, and now we’ve finally got there.”
Sarah admits that Connor, who is now 13-years-old, hasn’t always been the most straightforward.
“When he was younger, he could run backwards faster than he could go forwards, but a spell of hunting fixed that,” laughs Sarah. “Plus he’s always had an epic buck on him. I used to wonder why I kept getting these marks on the back of my riding hat until I realised they were a result of Connor’s tail brushing my hat every time he bucked. Thankfully his bucks are more few and far between now!”
Sarah also explains that her eventing career is all thanks to her very supportive family and fiancé Kieran (Sarah plans to ride Connor to the church!).
“My mum helps a lot on the ground — I couldn’t do it without her. She even won the best groom prize in among all of the professionals at our first three-star at Barbury in 2016,” she remembers. “And as my parents run a boarding kennels, when mum and I go off competing, dad has to stay at home to keep the business running.”
Sarah has only been to Burghley Horse Trials once as a visitor in 2016: “We usually watch it at home on TV.”
“I have watched the Burghley cross-country preview,” she says. “I thought ‘oh God!’ at first, but thankfully now I’ve watched it a few times, I feel much better about it.”
Former double Burghley winner Blyth Tait walks the cross-country course for this year's event, giving his views in videos of
Sarah, whose proudest moment with Connor has been jumping clear round Bramham CCI3* twice, says that her aim is to complete the event with Connor.
“I’m most excited for the cross-country as that’s our strongest phase. He can be spooky in the dressage, which then marrs the whole test, but he has it all there. I just want to have a great round and be able to re-live it time and time again afterwards.”
Read Blyth Tait’s thoughts on every fence on the cross-country course, plus ratings and his overall impressions, in this week’s Horse & Hound magazine (dated 30 August). Full Burghley form guide also included in this issue, with vital stats and H&H’s expert assessment of every combination competing.