First-timer Stoddart takes early Burghley lead

Sarah Wells-Gaston…

Bathed in autumnal sunshine, action at this year’s Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials kicked off with the first day of dressage, as 34 combinations came before the Ground Jury.

And it is a Burghley first-timer who found herself at the head of the leader-board, as Eliza Stoddart made an impressive debut with Priorspark Opposition Free, scoring 28.7. Her polished test was rewarded with three tens for her halts and nines for the stretch canter.

The former Pony European silver medallist was also an Under-18 National Eventing champion, and GB Young Rider squad member. Speaking afterwards she commented; “Priorspark Opposition Free is not flashy, he just tries hard and does what is asked of him. It’s my first Burghley so there’s quite a lot of pressure but it’s also really exciting to be here – it hasn’t really sunk in yet that I’m riding as I’ve been here every year as a spectator or as part of the Pony Club since I can remember.”

Starting, and finishing the day, was reigning Burghley title-holder and world number one Tim Price. The New Zealander scored 29.6 with Bango – a personal best for this horse at CCI5*-L – and 31.5 with Xavier Faer, leaving him in second and eighth respectively overnight.

Following Bango’s test he commented; “He’s a real red head and has all the associated characteristics but he did a nice smooth test out there. He’s healthier than he’s ever been and I think he’s got a really good chance of going well.”

After his second test Price said: “They’re both horses that excel at their cross country so with the flat work you just want to as best as they can and not make any mistakes as a rider. All three horses have come here in very good form so I’m excited to ride each one of them here. Each horse is capable and I’d like to see them do well.”

British rider Sarah Bullimore and Reve Du Rouet – a combination who were fourth here last year – finished the first phase on the same score as Price for equal second.

She commented: “He was fabulous. He’s an old campaigner and we’ve got the understanding with him a bit more now. I’m a little bit frustrated we had a couple of mistakes but he didn’t do anything wrong – it’s silly things where you throw away marks.”

This year’s Burghley field boasts 11 American riders. And at the end of the first day, the highest placed of these was Doug Payne and Vandiver who scored 32.1 leaving them in equal ninth place.

Payne commented: “I think it’s as good as we can get at the moment for where he is at. It’s a charged environment and he would be one that is a bit of a worrier but he really handled it very well.”

Payne’ s compatriot Will Coleman wasn’t far behind with a score of 32.4 on Tight Lines, for 11th. Andrea Baxter, who is making her third visit to Burghley, finished with a score of 37.6 and lies in 22ndovernight.

There are also a large number of first-time visitors in the field. Aside from Stoddart, who is sitting pretty at the top of the field, how did the other first timers to Burghley fair?

Nicky Hill and MGH Bingo Boy finished in 18th place at Badminton earlier this year, where she won the trophy for the best owner/rider as well as the Laurence Rook trophy for the Best British rider not to have competed at the event before. Getting her Burghley campaign underway she scored 35.3 (17th). She commented: “He tried really hard – he finds it very tricky, his canter especially.”

Meanwhile, David Doel looked relaxed and happy with his test on Shannondale Quest which was given 37.2 by the judges (21st). Another Wiltshire-based rider is Alicia Hawker who is a former winner of the Mark Todd Bridging the Gap Scholarship who has twice completed Badminton with Charles RR. On their debut here she scored 38.5 (equal 26th). Will Furlong finished the day in the top 10 with Collien P2 on a score of 31.2 (7th). David Britnell and Continuity ended the day in 15thwith a score of 33.5. He commented: “I was very pleased (with his test). He was more energetic here than at Badminton but he was still a rideable horse.”

Two French riders are making their debut at this event. Arthur Chabert, who is a building-site manager who is married to fellow eventer Kirsty Johnson, scored 39.7 with Goldsmiths Imber (30th). Meanwhile Sebastian Cavaillon and Sarah D’Argouges put themselves in contention with a score of 29.7 and ended the day in fourth.

Richard Skelt is one of the most local riders to the event and with Credo III he scored 37.7 (23rd). Ginny Howe last competed at this level in 2009, and whilst Undalgo de Windsor didn’t give her the easiest of rides, Howe sensitively rode the 11-year-old gelding for a score of 50.1 (34th). Julia Norman looked quite at home on the Hallowed Burghley turf with Carryon Bobby Boy, scoring 38.3 (25th). Amateur rider Caroline Clark combines her job as a dentist with riding, and with Touch Too Much scores 39.8 (31st).

American rider Ariel Gerald and Leamore Masterclass are not only making their debut at Burghley, but this is their first event on British soil. They started off their competition with a score of 38.1 (24th).

Both Australian riders in the field are making their debut at Burghley. Isabel English and Feldale Mouse scored 34.0 (16th), whilst Dominic Schramm and Bolytair B scored 38.7 (28th). He commented: “Going in the arena was the most fun part as that’s when it dawned on me that we were doing this and it wasn’t just a mistake on the entries list. I was really happy with how he went in there in the trot – a few minor blips but I thought he could show what he could do. As I got through to the walk I think he woke up and realised where he was. The canter is my biggest challenge with him but thankfully he came back to me. I don’t think this is a dressage show by any means.”

The dressage action continues tomorrow, and the first rider in front of the Ground Jury will be Brazil’s Marcelo Tosi riding Glenfly.

Images courtesy fo Hannah Cole Photography 

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