Harry Meade: Burghley never feels stale *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    Burghley is a great event for riders — the team could not be more helpful and they are always asking how they can further improve.

    Mark Phillips is a master at coming up with new ideas — he has designed the Burghley course for 25 years, yet it in no way feels stale. The new fly-over will enable future courses to vary in route while keeping all the feature fences.

    Maybe Mark is sending a message to the FEI that he’s not ready to be put out to grass — with so many of the world’s top course-designers nearing 70, perhaps they might extend the automatic retirement age for those who can prove they’re not yet mad!

    While Discovery Valley was significantly easier than previously, the Trout Hatchery was a true A-level question — with five elements on an S-bend, all on related distances, through three water ponds.

    It was in no way a showjumping exercise dressed up in cross-country camouflage; you couldn’t predict how horses would jump the earlier elements, so it tested riders’ instinct and knee-jerk reactions, which is an important part of cross-country. However, it rode more easily than expected.

    It’s good that riders know what to expect at Burghley — the course consistently requires a horse who can cope with the distance and the hills, and has the scope to keep jumping big square fences. This avoids the pitfalls of oscillating course standards, where softer years attract substandard combinations, who are then over-faced by a toughened-up course the following year. Burghley’s endurance test allows the cream to rise. A true four-star course sets the horsemen apart and Tim Price was a very deserving winner.

    Finding the key

    I was over the moon with Away Cruising at Burghley. Eighteen months ago, I was repeatedly asked if I going to give up on him because of his poor showjumping technique.

    But I had faith in him and applied myself to understanding and finding the key to riding him. He has a very long stride and jumps forward rather than upwards, reaching his highest point beyond the fence.

    My job is to ride him in a short active canter and keep his take-off point well away from the fences, but I also have to cut every corner to avoid time-faults. The rest of it has been about his strength — he’s a late-developing Irish horse.

    I rarely jump a course in training, working instead over single fences or lines of two. In the warm-up, I often don’t jump an oxer at all. At Burghley, I chose an unusual approach to the first fence, coming off the left rein, which was out of a tight corner off a small half circle, which enabled me to generate more activity without a greater ground cover.

    This is his third four-star with only a fence down apiece, and hopefully his best years are yet to come.

    On the cross-country, he tired at the end of the course last year, so I anticipated that again. My aim was to ride as efficiently as possible to conserve energy. At the double of gates I kicked on on four strides rather than doing the usual five — this was less about saving a second and more about minimising the deceleration and re-acceleration.

    He remained on the bridle the whole way. When I set out no one had made the time, but in hindsight I could have asked for more on the galloping stretches, which could easily have made up the four seconds he finished over the time. Knowing he can now give the thoroughbreds a run for their money is a confidence boost.

    He gave me a sublime ride and, crucially, I was pleased that he had his ears pricked the whole way round; he will have come out of Burghley a better horse than he went in.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 6 September 2018