For most riders, just focussing on getting their horses to the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials in one piece is enough to think about. But for eventer Richard Jones, life has thrown so much at him in the past few months, that the odds were stacked against him riding again, let alone making it to this event.
Richard, who is based in Rutland, just 10 minutes from Burghley, suffered a freak accident at Bramham Horse Trials in June that nobody could have predicted.
The accident came after completing what was billed as one of the best cross-country rounds of the day in the CCI3* aboard his Burghley ride, Alfies Clover, who Richard co-owns with Sandra Martin and Dinah Saunders. The pair sat in 11th place after two phases with their sights set on a career best result and top 10 placing in a highly competitive field.
But disaster struck in the horsebox park after the cross-country when Richard fell while exiting the living area of his horsebox. His wedding ring became lodged on the way down and he lost his finger. This came just a few months after recovering from a fall last November that meant his completely smashed foot had to be rebuilt.
Completing Bramham was now out of the question and after a few nights in hospital, Richard returned home to focus on returning to the saddle and getting ‘Alfie’ to Burghley.
“The finger loss has affected my riding hugely,” explains Richard. “I have to hold my rein around my second finger as if it is any further down, it puts too much pressure on the damaged area. I have very little grip and although I will never get all of it back, I hope most of it will return. It’s a big change to get used to.”
The pair have made it here against all the odds, just 11 weeks after the accident, and the journey of getting Alfie to the Lincolnshire event actually began at Burghley seven years ago.
“I bought an unbroken three-year-old by Master Imp from the 2009 September Goresbridge sale in Ireland,” says Richard. “At the time, Goresbridge were offering a £5,000 bonus to the best-placed Goresbridge September three-year-old sale graduate at the Burghley Young Event Horse (BYEH) four-year-old final.
“I wouldn’t usually compete in BYEH classes, but it seemed like a good opportunity and we ended up winning the prize. I was very fortunate that the owner of the horse, Jo Musto, let me keep the money.”
Three weeks later, Richard returned to the September Goresbridge sale and used the money to buy an unbroken three-year-old. That horse was Alfie.
“From day one, he has been a top class horse — in the way that he gallops to the way he went in his first ever cross-country school,” explains Richard, who events full-time.
Alfie is now 10-years-old and is tackling his first Burghley with Richard, who has been here a handful of times before. The pair are now the fifth best-placed Brits after the first day of dressage on 51.5 (pictured top in their dressage test) and if they can remain close to that score after the weekend, it could be a fairytale end to what has been a nightmare year.