Seven feeds a day and bawling like a baby: Piggy March’s groom Amy Phillips on looking after Vanir Kamira at Burghley

  • Amy Phillips, groom to Piggy March, has a huge amount of responsibility in preparing Vanir Kamira (Tilly) to perform at her best at this week’s Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.

    The 2019 Badminton Horse Trials winner, who is now 17 years old, is a tricky mare to manage both mentally and physically and Amy works as part of a team with Piggy, plus Piggy’s sister Nini, to keep her in optimum condition.

    “Nini does a lot of the fitness work with her – she’s very good at that and she’ll give Pig feedback on how she’s feeling. Piggy does all the other work with her and then I’m in charge of what she eats and everything else basically,” says Amy, who has worked for Piggy for five years and before that, worked for Oliver Townend.

    “She is a bit of a pain in the bum, but she’s worth it because she performs when you need her to. I joked to Pig the other day that I’ve basically been employed for the past three weeks to just do Tilly.

    “For the last week at home, it’s been like, ‘No one else touch her, I’ll just do everything.’ A lot of the guys at home don’t want the responsibility either in case something did happen, god forbid.

    “I actually do feel I do make a bit of a difference with her because she’s so fussy and a bit grouchy as well and for her dressage, I have to do quite a lot as well as Piggy, so hopefully she’s got her brain in the right gear. You feel a bit of pressure, so that’s why it’s a relief when they do go well. I bawled like a baby when she came out of the dressage on Thursday.”

    Amy and Tilly arrived at Burghley on Tuesday around 4pm.

    “She’s normally better the longer you can be at an event beforehand so we thought we’d give her an extra night here, to try and keep her quiet and relaxed,” says Amy. “She’s quite spicy and opinionated and she can get quite hot in atmospheres, so it’s all about trying to make her bored and make it so it’s not exciting – it’s like, ‘It’s just dressage, you can get excited on Saturday.’”

    Burghley dressage day with Amy Phillips, groom to Piggy March

    With Tilly and Piggy having their dressage at 1.30pm, Amy’s day on Thursday started an hour earlier than usual, at 6am.

    After Amy had fed Tilly, given her hay and taken her for a walk and hand graze, Piggy rode the mare in the arena by the stables.

    “She worked her in there with Ian Woodhead watching on and shouting a few tips,” says Amy. “She was probably on her for an hour and a quarter. She looked really good so that was great and we were hoping we hadn’t left it all out there.”

    After that, Tilly had a bath, a massage rug on and Amy plaited her.

    “She probably has about seven tiny feeds a day,” says Amy. “She eats better at an event than at home – it’s almost like she’s carb loading because she knows what’s coming! I have a big bucket of nuts that I keep down at the stables and I just give her three handfuls quite a few times a day.

    “If you overface her with big feeds she won’t eat them, but if you just give her little treats or snacks through the day, then she’ll happily eat that. I actually get more food into her that way than by overfacing her with big feeds.

    “We have to be careful with what we feed her because she can tie up, so she just has Dodson & Horrell fibre nuts and some pasture mix because that’s quite tasty and she likes eating that. She doesn’t have that many supplements – just electrolytes and a gut balancer, which I try to sneak into the feed. And she has soaked hay.”

    The next part of Tilly’s dressage day routine is Amy giving her a loose lunge.

    “Pig usually leaves that to me and says to do what I think best, so I took her up into the cross-country warm-up,” she says. “There was a brass band playing in the stands and Pippa Funnell was jumping one of hers, so there was quite a lot going on so it was actually perfect, because she had to just get over it.

    “I lunged her for about 35 minutes and she’s bone idle on a lunge line, which is funny when she’s so hot everywhere else. You have to get her so she thinks it’s all quite boring and you know you’ve got it when she’s trotting round with her ears flapping and is nice and quiet.

    “These horses are all so fit, there’s no point trying to tire them out because you’re not going to – it’s just about trying to get them mellow and thinking it’s just another day at the office.”

    Competitors are only allowed into the warm-up by the arena half an hour before their tests and Piggy mounted Tilly about 12.55pm and walked up ready for her 1.30pm. Ian Woodhead was on hand to help her in the warm-up.

    Amy Phillips, groom to Piggy March and Vanir Kamira, pictured in the dressage

    Piggy March and Vanir Kamira in the dressage at Burghley 2022.

    “And then she goes in and you just hold your breath for five minutes or however long it is,” says Amy, who says she couldn’t see the scoreboard while watching and it was Susie Berry, who used to work for Piggy, who grabbed her and told her the score of 22.6, a personal best for the pair.

    “It’s always a relief to have a good mark on the scoreboard at the beginning otherwise it’s an uphill climb from there. It’s like another thing ticked off your list and you can move on to the fun bits then.”

    Ahead of cross-country today, Piggy will give Tilly a decent ride in the morning but not warm-up for too long ahead of her round, because she can get hot in the warm-up. And once the tannoy starts, the mare will stay in the stable area because Amy says she knows exactly what’s happening.

    Aside from preparing Tilly, Amy will make sure she has all the kit ready for cross-country early – including checking all the stitching on the tack, putting on new stirrup leathers and having spare reins in her back pack, as she is “paranoid” about those items – and the wash off buckets all set up at the finish.

    “It’s almost an in joke, everyone walks around the stables saying, ‘What studs are you wearing?What studs are you wearing?” she says.

    Amy Phillips finds cross-country the least nerve-racking phase of working as groom to Piggy March, but she does embarrass the rider’s husband Tom by shouting at the television in the competitors’ tent during Tilly’s round.

    “When we last came here in 2019, she was fantastic and was the only one who made the time – that was a brilliant moment, so hopefully we can try and do similar this year,” says Amy. “You just want them to come back basically, anything else is a bonus.”

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