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  • Samantha Lissington

The Land Rover Burghley Blog

It’s 5am on the Monday morning after Burghley here in Farmington, and today I move house. I haven’t made a plan for that yet so the most logical step is to get all of this down on paper before I get too busy to even look at it! I’m sure it will be a long one, so grab a cup of tea (fun fact - I don’t like most hot drinks, so in my case it would be a miso soup, weird I know).

Where to start…

A week ago today I started allowing myself to get excited, out last gallop was done (and he pulled for 2.5 runs up Kim Baileys hill), last xc school was done (check out the first pic of Rosamund Green Farm, incredible, although Jess and I did leave late, get lost and only arrived home at 10pm that night), and we had our last jump at Squad training on the Monday.

We were starting to tick those final boxes, and each one meant a step closer to the start box of that cross country track.

Jess did an amazing job of last minute errands, truck shop, hiring of e-bikes, and amazon furniture orders (matchy matchy camp chairs and outdoor beanbags woop woop), so come Tuesday morning we had everything organised we just needed to pack it all up, take a breath, load Rui and all three of us headed to our first Land Rover Burghley Horse Trial.

3 hours later we unload, get Rui’s passport checked, find #70 stable, and start settling in. It was so rewarding just to do that.

Sidenote 9 - Throughout the week, the horse is always the first priority – you feel it everywhere, right from when you head to your stable and there are 5 bags of quality shavings waiting for you (and unlimited top ups over the week).

Sidenote 10 - The riders are the second priority, and your riders pack is AWESOME! Complete with sponsors gifts, Burghley plaque, and FOOD TICKETS which I was definitely way too touristy about.

Rui was still not eating well, and understandably we were all nervous that he might not have enough ‘groceries in the tank’ for cross country day, and so Jess’s continuous feeding pattern for the week began – hours of grazing, carrots, hand feeding and different consistencies and combinations of Pink Mash, apple chaff, Keyflow Black Type and Key Plus.

Wednesday and Thursday seemed to go pretty quickly, and as I think back it all just feels like a bit of a blur (maybe that’s just because its 5.27am though). We had a great dressage lesson with Isobel on Wednesday, I think she was happy with the things we had been trying hard to improve on in the past couple of weeks. Wednesday afternoon we had the all-important trot-up, and it really was fun people-watching and checking out the outfits that everyone had put together. We opted for a Kiwi-theme black and white outfit, paired with some brand new FAIRFAX & FAVOR short boots (with a heel - which I had tested by running up and down the store front looking a bit silly as you can imagine). Some of you might have noticed my Team NZ scarf from the Oceania competition this year as well.

Sidenote 11 – The walk to the main arena was LONG. Like REALLY LONG. A proper 10 – 15 minutes to get up there, it meandered through the grounds and down around Discover Valley – so that was our first opportunity to check out some of the cross country fences. It was a relief that those ones at least looked fun rather then insanely intimidating, although that wasn’t much comfort knowing I hadn’t seen the leafpit yet!

Sidenote 12 – Along that walk there would have been about 8-10 people posted at various crossing points along the way, and EVERY time you walked past the pubic would be stopped to let us pass (they were stopped very early too - which made me feel bad for a while!)

Wednesday afternoon Bella and I went for a first look around the course – we love Bella! She was on the AUS young rider teams at the same time that Bekham and I were on the NZ teams. She has more experience than I but it was both of our first Burghleys so it was nice to have a first look together.

No doubt about it. It was huge.

Sidenote 13 - I soon learned that the term ‘brush’ I feel broadly encompasses the lovely soft fluffy stuff we get to jump through in New Zealand, as well as the 1.45m fences built from solid spikey sticks that you’ll find at Burghley.

Sidenote 14 - As a yard we were all incredibly disappointed not to have Ginny competing, it is such a team effort to get a horse to these events and it was heartbreaking to have done the prep together and for her to not have the opportunity to be rewarded for all that hard work.

Thursday we headed off for a team NZ course walk, it was great fun meeting the other people involved and taking the Quigley’s along to check out the fences. I could hear the sharp inhale of breath when we got to the Leafpit and Cotesmore leap but they did a great job to hide the fact that it was all properly terrifying! My stomach is turning just thinking about the course walk and I’ve already completed it!!!

Sidenote 15 – Each competitor was given 3 yellow armbands, and only people with those armbands were allowed to walk the course, it also made you stand out like a sore thumb to the general public – like “hey look there is one of the people crazy enough to actually jump these fences that are higher than my head”. We also weren’t allowed to bike on the course, and had to stay outside of the ropes if we were on a bike or e-bike.

Mum and Dad flew in that day – and suddenly I had a full on support crew! Combine that with all of the messages of support from home and we really did feel so loved. Thursday evening we all got invited to a cocktail evening at the Burghley house – oh my goodness me that was special. Appreciation for all things English, gardens and house/castles.

And so dressage day came around, I rode him that Friday morning and he felt great, and Isobel did a great job in the warmup with us. Although I can still feel her eyes burning holes in me with everything she wants to fix before Badminton haha. The test itself was a reflection of where we are at for now, we executed all the movements and made it from A to B (or in this case P to I) in an orderly enough fashion, holding it all together without any extra flying changes which was out main concern. Cantering down that centerline was a pretty surreal feeling (it is very skinny and rather intimidating when you get there!)

Sidenote 16 – after every phase a lovely English man takes you off to the press corner where you are interviewed by about 6 people in a row – that was new!

I was very happy and then suddenly it dawned on me that the next time I would ride Rui I would be warming up for the toughest cross country tack I had ever tackled – but I tried not to think about that too much.

I needed to rebrand all my gear so I actually had to invest in a new jacket to walk cross country - and I am pleased that we have gone with STORMTECH Performance Apparel to fend off the Winter months. All up I walked the course 5 times, 3.5 times on foot and 1.5 times on an e-bike. Unfortunately the first time I attempted to bike around I ran out of battery at the bottom of Winners Avenue. It was a VERY LONG and HARD push around for the remaining 2km+ of the course.

Saturday morning was definitely on the scary side of life, the one comfort was that I had only been this nervous once before - at Horse of the Year (back in 2012? 2014?) the first time it ran at the showgrounds, and that day I got 3 horses home clear and under time. So I knew I could operate out of this feeling even if it was a completely new level of competition.

Everyone was very focused on their last course walk – and you start to see that everyone had different mechanisms, some were listening to music, some walked with a partner, others alone, one person ran it which I thought was impressive (or maybe that was a support person with an armband who knows!) but I have to say that all looked solemn and on the job.

Sidenote 17 – Burghley is attended by an insane amount of people, at 7.30am people were sitting in chairs getting in prime position for a 11.15am cross country start – now that is commitment!

Sidenote 18 – While I was walking a helicopter flew someone in, I hope it was the queen. That would be cool.

I had a few decisions to make about my lines – I wanted to see how the hanger was riding before I decided if I was going straight or not, and I also still thought that the Trout Hatchery was VERY tricky, so I walked it again and again before I found lines that I thought would work for Rui and I. This could all change from watching the first riders go, so I had plans A, B, C, D and Z in my mind.

I wasted some time chatting to Ginny then headed to the start to watch for a 11.15am start.

Sidenote 19 – there is a tent right opposite the start box, 8 TV screens literally show nearly every jump on course, so all the riders and owners crowd in to watch – it is a great atmosphere, and everyone who does a good job of a combination earns a big clap from the 60-odd people in the room.

Tim was first out and made it look easy – I wish everyone else did! But it was carnage, it made it VERY difficult to make decisions on lines and distances because there was just such variance and so many problems. The egg cartons in particular didn’t ride according to plan for many. I was kind of hanging out at the screens for one more good round but I never saw one, so I ran back and had a pep talk from Jonelle (thanks Jonelle!), put on my Point Two vest (on top of Blyth Tait's old xc jacket) and jumped on my pony.

Sidenote 20 – We have been really struggling to get Rui’s jump saddle to stay in position, he is such an awkward shape and the saddle that he uses was made for Toby (who would have thought that Rui would be the one who ended up in the UK!?) I would regularly hop off and it had moved up to 10cm back. Our final plan of attack – sticky jell pad, tight breastplate but completely elastic to allow the shoulders to move, and fluffy cover – which we ended up buying the morning of. I was still nervous that I might just slip off the back. Now that would have been an anticlimax to this campaign!

Sidenote 21 - I honestly have sweaty palms writing this.

Rui warmed up well, the cross country warmup fences were proper big – like 4* triple “brush”, corner, and oxers that you could string together in a row to actually get a bit of a 5* feel. The first time I jumped an oxer I didn’t have nearly enough go button so I shoved myself into gear and got organised after that.

Sidenote 22 – The team NZ farrier is in the warmup with you, and all the grooms have a spare set of shoes complete with studs so that if anyone should lose a shoe in the warmup, he whips it on in no time at all.

We found ourselves heading to the startbox with 5 minutes to go, and thankfully I found that I was really calm, I had surrendered to the fact I was about to ride the toughest course in the world and I was ready to go and do it to the best of my ability.

90 seconds, 30 seconds, 15 seconds, 10 seconds 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Go. Breath, and kick on.

We got the first few fences out of the way and that’s when you get to experience the first feeling of the crowds as you gallop down the narrow lane to the main arena, and then all of a sudden you have space and you’re at the first combination. Rui nails it in 3 and 3 and you kick on to discovery valley. You have a slight anxious moment when you test your breaks but he comes back well to jump through easily in 5 strides, on to the biggest triple brush you’ve ever seen in your life and he eats up that too. You think you hear what must be the KeriKeri crew cheering as you gallop away. As you head on up the hill you calculate your options at the Leafpit – the oxer to the brush has been riding short all day (not our strong-point), and the plan was to get down close to the oxer and then sit up like hell for the skinny. But he pops off so politely down the Leafpit that all of a sudden 3 strides from the oxer you can see a 2 strides on the other side to the skinny, so you kick. You don’t stop kicking until you breath again on the other side and it feels bloody amazing. Big pats for the scopey pony. Back to Discovery Valley and you see a quieter shot than you would have liked into the first, but he eats up the distance and makes the 4 easily. At this point feeling good, on our minutes, boxes ticked. Galloping up to the hanger a red flag is waved and you pull up knowing that there is a hold on course, you’re going so well that you’re not too sure how you feel about this, Rui probably doesn’t need a break. But the kind people give you water again and then relatively quickly you’re on your way. You take the straight option at the hanger with the drop on the other side – which produces a big scopey jump for Rui, if he was unsettled by the landing he certainly didn’t show it at the next fence. You allow him to run around the turn and then sit up and get him back against the ropes to peel off to that big gappy oxer, add a few revs and he is all over it. Wait, outside line, 5 strides, press. Kick, stay out, turn kick. Kick for 2. Up the bank. Sit up get organised wait for 5 and another desperate kick to make sure we are up and over that rail into the final pond. Jeepers that felt good. Lovely forward shot to the trakahner and away we go.

Hindsight is a great thing, and at this point we should have stayed out a split second at the next combination, made a decision earlier, paid more attention on the first oxer instead of getting ahead of ourselves and thinking about the corner, but we paid the price for all of the above and ended up on a half distance. I actually think he would have gone but I think the back rail surprised him and we found ourselves in the middle of the first Joules oxers. Not the one.

So what do you do? You take probably 3 seconds longer than you should to breath and get organised, then you pick yourself up and tackle the option which has 3 big-white-very-similar-fences-to-the-one-you-just-crashed-your-horse-into. Lucky he has the heart of a lion and even saves your ass at the corner where his seemingly endless scope means that you clear the back-rail easily.

And you kick on.

On to the Rolex combination and you’re worried about the bounce – the last time you bounced anything you flipped at Taupo 3DE in the Trans Tasman competition with Rui, so this time we use some clever footwork to make sure we step through the bounce and on to the corner on the other side. By this point you’re actually having fun.

That big flyover is next and you feel like you land halfway down the hill but it was a good time anyway. You take the time to set up properly for the white gates where a bunch of riders came to grief, and he pops through carefully. On up winners avenue and you think you might have put a leg down on top of the Irish fence, but as Tim said it would - it actually felt kind of cool.

On to the big ditch and you’re not that worried about it by this point, it’s just another big fence, catch it off the turn and another tick in the box. You’re more worried about the skinny after the oxer so you take a bit of extra time to get organised before this combination. Pop through. Unbeknown to you – you loose your hat silk, so you’re now an egg head which is fitting for the next combination at the chicken coup and egg cartons.

Let him take a breath and then set up, stay left, really left, turn, wait, kick. Outside line on 3… aaannnnddd if you were clear and under time the last element would have ridden well considering your prep, but the option calls your name as you want to get both of you safely through those flags, so you pop the alternative and continue on down the hill. Albeit a little disappointed in yourself that you didn’t go straight.

The next fences are just set up, focus jump, move away, - big box, through the only fences with actual soft brush, over the two either side of the bridge, canter through the water, nearly home. Don’t think that! Loose concentration for a split second. And you’re breaks aren’t what they were - so you get a wakeup call at the second to last. But you compose yourself and the relief sets in when you see a viable distance to the final fence.

You feel mixed emotions as you check yourself – relief, enjoyment, excitement, disappointment, before an overwhelming sense of pride sets in and an insane amount of love for your horse.

We had an awesome afternoon, so many hugs and congratulations, there were a bunch of Kiwis who had come to watch and we all celebrated together with a BBQ (with a Quigley Family expert last-minute shopping trip). That evening I got to watch my round for the first time (Mitch the legend videoed the screens – I’ll get around to making a post at some point!) and I even got a little proud of myself not just of my horse.

Sunday morning is always a nervous time but with the trot up out of the way it was time to focus on the show jumping. From 68 starters, there were 31 left on Sunday – and we were first to go. I hopped on thinking he might feel a bit stiff but was delighted that he felt great. Luis did an excellent job with our warmup and I went out feeling confident and prepared. I was very happy with the round, I made one mistake by cutting the turn onto fence 5 but otherwise was very happy with how we performed for our first time in that main jump ring!

Sidenote 23 – I wish I would remember that my stock always comes unstuck with that jacket! But for some reason it always escapes me when I put it on!

And so our first Land Rover Burghley came to an end, more celebrations had by all and great company to share in. It takes a village and I am so grateful to every single person that had a part to play in this over the past 10 years.

As we were walking back to the truck we walked the Leafpit one last time – I can’t top that sense of achievement, these are the moments we live for. Not perfect by any means but the future just looks like so much fun from here.

- Until next time, Sam


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