When Sophie Brown first met her Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials mount, it wasn’t quite what you would expect.
“I went to a dealer’s yard to look at another horse and while I was being a bit nosy, walking around, I spotted this grey horse. There was electric fence tape over the gap where the top door would be so I asked the dealer about the horse taped into its stable,” explains 28-year-old Sophie. “They said it was an unbroken six-year-old that kept jumping out, hence the tape. I asked to see him trotted up and loose jumped and ended up buying the woolly-coated, grey with curly feet.”
Sophie and Wil are now staring down the barrel of their first four-star in just over a week’s time.
“I’m very excited but also a bit apprehensive,” admits Sophie, who rides and coaches full-time at the family riding school and livery yard near Gainsborough in Lincolnshire.
Now 14 years old, Wil hasn’t always been the most straightforward horse.
“He was challenging to start with, to say the least,” laughs Sophie. “He was feral and I was told he would either be unrideable or phenomenal. He’s quick in all aspects which sometime hasn’t worked in my favour — he used to get worried and whip out at things like water trays, but he has a huge heart, is a brilliant cross-country horse and we’ve enjoyed a great past couple of seasons.”
The build up to Sophie’s first Burghley hasn’t been ideal. She fell off at home in June and snapped her collarbone.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to go to the Injured Jockey Fund’s Jack Berry House in Malton once a week as part of my rehab,” says Sophie. “I’ve done lots of strength and conditioning work and I’m probably in better shape than I was prior to the injury.”
As the family base isn’t too far away from Burghley, Sophie says that she has attended the event every year.
“We used to camp as a family and for the past five years we’ve rented a cottage in Stamford and made a holiday out of it,” she says. “It’s now totally surreal that I’m going to be competing there — it has always been my aim and just being qualified at that level feels amazing.”
Sophie says that 16hh Wil’s weakest phase is the dressage.
“It’s not his strong point but I’ve trained hard with Ian Woodhead and our past five dressage test performances have been personal bests,” she explains. “Wil is quite ‘ponyfied’ but as he’s getting older he is becoming more trainable. He is so on it across country but I’m slightly worried about how he might react to the crowds — Burghley is in a league of its own.”
Don’t miss H&H’s Burghley preview issues — course walk with Mary King and interview with event director Liz Inman in next week’s issue (dated 24 August) and 16-page pull-out with form guide for every entry in the following issue (dated 31 August).