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Burghley Cross Country 2019. Tough Course or Too Much?

I watched all of the cross country yesterday at Burghley online and it made for very tense viewing! There was fall after fall, refusals a plenty and lot of people retired. This makes me ask the question was that course too hard? The safety pins were a big taking point on the commentary as competitor after competitor was demolishing jump after jump. Is this the point of cross country? To have obstacles that most of the horses can’t clear? There were jumps so wide on the course that it actually got hard to watch horse after horse attempt to clear them, but fail and fall with their rider. It actually reminded me of Lemmings at one point! It was pretty crazy!

Out of 67 starters only 33 finished. Of those 33, 23 managed to go clear. 1 within the time! Whilst 20 competitors were eliminated out on the course. However I’m going to put it out there, it was brilliant to watch. No horses or riders were injured despite the large number of falls and quite frankly all the ups and downs made it absolutely thrilling! Burghley is known to be the toughest 5* event in the world and course builder Captain Mark Phillips certainly made sure it was yesterday.

There are many opinions about the use of frangible pins. Many people saying that this course was more dangerous because of the use of the pins.  However I disagree as it is simply not true. No horses were injured after falling. Ok it was unpleasant to see so many of them fall. But if you compete at this level there is a very high risk of falling to you and your horse. Crikey I never competed at affiliated level and I have been fallen on by my horse several times, it happens.

Frangible pins were designed in 2002 in the UK. They were originally designed to prevent rotational falls. As rotational falls are the most dangerous way of falling. They have become controversial because of course now you can have faults for knocking obstacles. For example if you knock a pin and a fence collapses you gain 11 faults. This was not possible before as these jumps could not be knocked down. Many people have argued that courses are now being made harder because of the pins and that the courses are actually becoming too hard.

It was very interesting to watch the footage of the cross country yesterday. The difference between the calibre of the riders was glaring. You needed to have experience of riding at 5* events to clear this course. There were a few inexperienced combinations that continued too far in my opinion, when they already had a few hairy moments then eventually fell. You simply can’t be competitive if you are struggling on a course like this. If you are struggling it is simply too dangerous to carry on and I think that was a tough lesson for some of the inexperienced combinations. However, the likes of Pippa Funnell, Piggy French and Oliver Townend made the course look easy. They are experienced and not only could ride the jumps well and safely but also knew when it was ok to speed up in between the fences without tiring their horses too much. This makes me wonder if the qualification process for 5* events is too easy? Should the qualification process be more stringent?

Burghley Horse Trials
Photo credit: American Eventing Association

There were many riders that made that course look as hard as it was. I watched an interview with Captain Mark Phillips after the cross country had finished yesterday and he said that the gates in the course were far more unforgiving that he imagined and that they would not be used again. He wasn’t happy that only 33 people completed the course and claimed that was not his intention. When questioned about the toughness of the course, his response was that simply the calibre of riders that attempted the course was lower than normal. I was shocked when I heard him say that at first. However then he listed the riders that were missing and that you would normally expect to see at this event Tina Cook, Mark Todd, Ingrid Klimke, Michael Jung and William Fox-Pitt to name a few that he felt could have tackled the course well and I think he is right. The course was hard but I do agree that all of the people he mentioned could have tackled that course well.

This course is a 5* course after all. I think the frangible pins are a good thing and I think that we shouldn’t lessen the challenge of eventing. To me that event was top level eventing at its finest. It reminded me of going to Badminton when I was child and seeing these enormous fences that felt so scary and dangerous. Now they are scary but the facts show they were not dangerous as despite there being a lot of falls, not one single horse was injured. To me the Maltings combination simply seemed too wide for the majority of horses and I did not enjoy watching people go through there as so many horses fell trying to clear it. Although there needs to be challenges on the course, as it cannot be just a dressage competition that is not the point of eventing.

Burghley Horse trials
Photo credit: horseandrideruk.com

Now, our sport is a dangerous one. We cannot dumb it down too much or how will the sport develop? It is one thing to include safety measures, but we still need to have the toughest courses possible for our elite competitions. A true test for these horses and riders. There were many alternative longer routes that many didn’t use. If that had been my first run at that level, I would have picked the easiest way round possible and retired if it was too much for me and my horse. A lot of the inexperienced combinations did not seem to do that and I don’t know why.

Despite the course being criticised for being too hard, I throughly enjoyed watching it yesterday. No I did not enjoy the rotational falls. But it was a thrilling day of sport and let’s not forget that some of the drama was not down to the course! Tim Price falling on the flat in the lake – what bad luck! Buck Davidson fell, was rolled over by his horse then when the horse got up there was an awful moment he was left dangling upside down as his foot was stuck in his stirrup. Urgh! Zara Tindell falling off at one of the simpler fences because of an unlucky run out And let’s not forget poor Georg Hilton Jones’ horse that jumped a fence but got his leg stuck in his martingale which caused him and his rider to fall after the jump! Wow! It was edge of your seat stuff. Yes it would have been different if people or horses had been injured but no one was so to me that is a successful day eventing!

What are you thoughts? Was the course too tough in your opinion?

Overnight Scores heading into showjumping:

1st – Pippa Funnell – MGH Grafton Street – 26.8

2nd- Piggy French – Vanir Kamir – 26.9

3rd – Oliver Townend – Ballghmoor Class 27.3

Its going to be a exciting showjumping competition this afternoon.

Copyright of Louise Dando and In Due Horse 2019.

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3 thoughts on “Burghley Cross Country 2019. Tough Course or Too Much?”

  1. Love your blog on this! I think it was a really challenging course and it is totally true that we were missing some key names that would have made it around. I think frangible pins are a fabulous invention for the sport and make it much safer but I do think we need to be careful not to rely on them too much. The gates were pinned but didn’t always release, resulting in some pretty nasty falls. This on a combination that the riders had expressed serious concerns about.

    I agree eventing must not deteriorate to being a dressage competition but I think the balance was wrong on this course. I also agree that it made compelling (if through my fingers at times) viewing!

    Having said that, I remember the days when you could have a fall get legged back on and keep going!

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  2. While I enjoyed watching it, as always, I think some of the fences on this course went a bit too far. Thank god for the frangible pins and mim clips or else I wonder if not everyone would have escaped without injury? However, perhaps the difficulty of some of those jumps (such as the sheer width of the oxers at the Maltings, and the huge oxer on a hill at the Trout Hatchery), safety was totally dependent on the clips. While the clips and pins are wonderful inventions, they should be there only as a safety net and not be solely relied upon as the only way to keep riders safe. In this case, I really do think that the sheer width of those huge oxers for example was too much. Every time someone went the straight route at the Maltings, my tummy tensed up. “Oh no!!!! You really should have gone around to the other corner on the longer route!” because that corner on the short route was SO risky that combination after combination didn’t make it through.

    Having a slightly safer course with less huge oxers I don’t think would deteriorate the quality of the competition. The time was still extremely hard to get – with only Piggy making it inside the time – so even if those fences weren’t so hard it would have been FAR from a dressage competition.

    In my opinion there should be a balance between all three phases – so that no phase is heavily depended upon – and the cross country was, by light years, the most influential phase. The balance between encouraging tough competition and having a completable course was balanced a bit too far towards the former. If there were no pins or clips, there would likely have been many injuries or worse. I don’t think that course designers should rely on the safety devices as a way of letting people get through the course – the design of the course shouldn’t change – the safety devices should act as a “worst case scenario prevention” rather than being a key element of the course.

    With that said, course design must be incredibly difficult to find that balance, and as Mark Phillips’ last ever course, he probably wanted to go out with a bang. Thank goodness nobody was hurt!

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    1. Hi Kate thanks for commenting! I agree with you totally! I was surprised at how many combinations thought they could do the really risky hard routes! I literally had butterflies too watching the cross country! The course seemed the toughest yet & it was certainly a good job that those safety precautions were put in place on that course for sure!!

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