Italian rider Vittoria Panizzon has been a name the eventing world has been very familiar with over the years. She has ridden at two Olympic Games, in 2008 and 2012 and countless European championships, but she is yet to compete at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.
This year, Vittoria, who has been based in England for 17 years now, will partner the extraordinary grey mare, Borough Pennyz at the Lincolnshire four-star event.
“Because I’ve always been fortunate enough to compete at championships each year, I haven’t ever made it to Burghley,” says Vittoria. “I’ve never had more than one horse up and running at championship and four-star level at the same time up until now.”
Indeed, Vittoria rode at the Europeans in Strzegom last weekend on Chequers Play The Game, and now it’s Pennyz’s time to shine.
“We haven’t got there yet,” warns Vittoria, who is wary after last-minute injuries to Pennyz have seen her miss World and Olympic Games. “I wouldn’t be able to take a deep breath and relax until we’re leaving the start box on cross-country day at Burghley. Pennyz isn’t that old but she’s no spring chicken either,” says Vittoria of the 14-year-old, who is owned and bred by Sally Bullen. “She’s had a couple of injuries and we’ve made sure we manage her well, plus we need a bit of luck on our side.”
Vittoria has had the ride on Pennyz since she helped back the mare when she was four.
“Pennyz has always been so special,” says Vittoria. “She’s very bouncy and is exactly the same at home as to how people see her at events. You have to hack her on her own and can only do circular routes — turning around isn’t an option as she likes to go fast! Once she has decided she doesn’t want to walk any more, that’s it.”
The diminutive grey by Cevin Z is famed for her jumping prowess, and is capable of throwing some serious shapes over a fence.
“She makes you feel better at jumping as a rider,” laughs Vittoria. “But then with that comes the pressure of not messing it up as everyone expects her to jump a clear round.”
Vittoria says that a change in bit this year seems to be helping.
“We tried an eggbutt Waterford snaffle and it worked wonders at Gatcombe earlier this month and I now have better steering,” says Vittoria. “There’s a fine balance though. As Pennyz is quite small at 16hh, I have to build up speed for some of the bigger, wider cross-country fences. But it seems nowadays that after most big, wide fences, there is a turn to a narrow fence, so I have to have very good steering.”
Vittoria says that Burghley is a “daunting prospect”.
“It’s still famously probably the biggest event in the world and I haven’t done a huge number of four-stars,” confesses Vittoria. “I had a flick through the H&H Mary King course walk pictures and I hope the fences will look easier once they are dressed with flowers!”
Meet the horse that 'bucked like billyo' and…
Vittoria says that she would like to be competitive at Burghley.
“Pennyz isn’t the biggest fan of flying changes — it entirely depends on her mood and excitement levels — but hopefully it won’t be a dressage competition anyway,” says Vittoria. “As long as I ride her well, don’t let her down, don’t embarrass myself or mess up at big white parallel rails, like I did at Badminton this year, we are perfectly capable of it.”
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).