Ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes when at Burghley Horse Trials? H&R’s Staff Writer, Rachel Dyke, reveals what it’s like to cover a four-star event
Burghley weekend is finally here! It’s one of my favourites of the year, although magazine deadlines mean I have to spend the first two days of the competition in the H&R offices. However, Friday soon rolls around and before I know it, I’m heading off up the A1 towards Stamford. Here’s how my weekend pans out…
Press passes are the best kind of post!
What a view!
You really can’t complain about the view from drive into the press car park, which goes right around the front of the famous house. The atmosphere in the showground feels like a freshly shaken champagne bottle, fizzing with excitement at the prospect of all the top-class eventing action that’s about to get underway.
I think I might need to work on my media face…
When you’re reporting at a four-star event, you spend the majority of your time in two places – the mixed zone (more on that later) and the media centre. Aside from being a hub of activity as all the journalists speed-type their reports at the end of the day, the latter is also where the end-of-day press conferences take place and once I’m checked in and have my all-important press pass, I can’t resist the chance to try out the hot seat.
Oliver Townend and Cooley SRS warm up for the dressage
With the dressage getting underway, it’s on to the mixed zone – I said we’d come back to it. This is the area where all the riders come to be interviewed after their rounds… cue frantic scribbling! It’s situated on the edge of the warm-up for the dressage and showjumping phases, so if you can tear your eyes away from the TV coverage showing what’s happening in the main arena, you might spot some of the best in the world preparing to wow the judges.
A journalist’s best friends… notebook, pen, laptop, camera and a bottle of water – hydration is key to a successful event
Once the action is over for the day, it’s back to the media centre to type up my first report – if I can understand my coded scrawl, that is!
A hugely competitive plank-off between Tim Price and Harry Meade
When you work hard, it’s important to play hard, too. Nursing what feels like the beginning of carpal tunnel syndrome after uploading my report to the H&R website, I head down to the Bits & Balls party at the Pol Roger Lodge. This annual event sees two teams of eventers and rugby players go head-to-head in a series of whacky challenges, ably hosted by Clare Balding. It’s soon revealed that Harry Meade is so good at planking that he can do it while drinking champagne, international rugby players Matt Powell, Tom Croft and David Flatman know rather too much about Love Island, and Tim Price is planning a career as a ‘drawer’ if eventing doesn’t pan out (it’s just lucky he ended up winning Burghley, because I’m not too sure about his artistic abilities).
YouTuber and Instagrammer This_Esme checks out the Horse&Rider and PONY stand before spending the day running the PONY social media
I’m not the only member of Team H&R at Burghley – there are also the heroic team who run the stand every day. Before the trade stands opened for the day, I stop by for a natter about our predictions for cross-country.
Harry Meade talks us through his near-perfect round with Away Cruising
Cross-country day means decamping to a new mixed zone near the start and finish of the course. It’s another day of indecipherable shorthand, sore feet and crowding around Andrew Nicholson – the most softly spoken man in the eventing world – to get his take on what’s going on.
“Come on, come on”… Tina Cook urges Pippa Funnell around the cross-country course
For the breaks between interviews, there’s a live stream of what’s happening on course. After her blisteringly fast round with Star Witness, Tina Cook joined us to watch former teammate Pippa Funnell tackle the course with Majas Hope.
Oliver Townend and Cooley SRS jump through the main arena
I manage to spend a bit of time out on course to catch some of the action – it really helps to see the fences being jumped in real life, as you get far more of an idea of scale than on the TV screen.
That looks familiar!
And it’s a wrap on cross-country! As I head back to the media centre at the end of the day, I spot a familiar sight on the big screen – the Horse&Rider TV advert!
Peter Morris quizzes the top three riders after cross-country
At the end of each day, there’s a press conference with the top three riders. After a day of cross-country thrills and spills, Oliver Townend, Tim Price and Piggy French, plus course designer Captain Mark Phillips, give their run-down of the day.
And if winning Burghley wasn’t enough, it turns out you also get cake!
Overnight, two very special cakes have appeared in the media centre. One goes to the winner, the other to their horse. I’ll let you decide which is which…
The crowds look on as Tina Cook and Star Witness trot up for the ground jury
Sunday morning starts bright and early with the final horse inspection. Six horses are withdrawn overnight and there are audible gasps from the crowd when Tina Cook and Star Witness are sent to the hold box. Thankfully, they’re later accepted upon re-inspection.
If in doubt, follow Piggy French…
Because the horse inspections take place in the main arena, afterwards there’s a sneaky chance to walk the showjumping course. I manage to tag along behind Piggy French – she seems to know what she’s doing!
“He thinks he’s here to jump!” says Sam of the very keen Happy Times
Aside from the usual showjumping action, today also marks the official retirement of Sam Griffiths’ wonderful Happy Times, in a special ceremony in the main arena. It’s an emotional moment as one of eventing’s great horses bows out after a stellar career.
Tim Price and Bango with Andrew Nicholson and Swallow Springs
After a seriously tense afternoon session – which I’m pretty sure aged me about ten years – Tim Price jumps a clear round to win with Ringwood Sky Boy. Choosing to ride his other ride, Bango, for the prize-giving, he takes a minute in the collecting ring with fellow Kiwi, third-placed Andrew Nicholson and Swallow Springs.
Bango willingly steps in to replace Ringwood Sky Boy during the prize giving
Tim Price and Bango take their lap of honour – I think Tim’s grin says it all!
Oliver Townend, Tim Price and Andrew Nicholson
It’s all smiles as the top three riders – Oliver Townend, Tim Price and Andrew Nicholson – share a moment of camaraderie before the final press conference. As Tim later says, ‘we’re all friends here’.
Tim Price looks pretty pleased with himself – can’t say I blame him!
In an official ceremony on the lawn outside the media centre, with Burghley House in the background, Tim lifts the Burghley trophy. Unfortunately, he doesn’t follow through with one photographer’s suggestion that he give it a kiss, as per Chris Burton in 2016.
There are few things more depressing than an empty media centre
With the final report uploaded, that’s it for another year! You know you’ve stayed until the very end when they start to take the media centre down around your ears. Oh well, roll on Burghley 2019…
Catch up on all the Burghley action with our daily reports.
First horse inspection
Final horse inspection
Images: Rachel Dyke