Burghley is our most local event to home, it is also renowned for being one of the toughest mostly because of the undulating terrain and the hills. So after a lot of thought and much discussion, we were aiming for Burghley. However, after that it seemed it was a bit of a whoopsie season, a fall at Chatsworth, followed by a fall at Bramham, which was meant to be the deciding event. Oh, what to do next, this was not part of the plan? Yes you got it, we were entered at Burghley. It was okay though, there is usually a waiting list, and we didn’t have too many points so the likelihood was, we thought, we would be on the wait list. The ballot date passed, we heard nothing, we waited not really knowing the protocol for such events. In the end we emailed the secretary of the event. Yes, you’re in, your entry has been accepted. Panic, excitement, more panic, what had we done? It was okay though, we still had time to make decisions. Fred was feeling very well and full of himself and he had had a very good run at Hartpury in August. He had also been doing his fitness work and coping very well.
Let’s go and walk the course, we can decide if we run up to leaving the start box. It will all be a good experience even if we only do the dressage.
After a busy day eventing at Keysoe on the Monday it was a quick turn around to leave for Burghley on the Tuesday. It didn’t really seem to be happening. We arrived at the gate to the stables on the Tuesday afternoon. Feeling very novice like, it was all very surreal. This was really happening. We were at Burghley with the main competitors and Fred. The initial vet check was done, the horses went to the stables and that was it, we were going to trot-up the next day. We did all have a little pinch of ourselves first though, we were there with so many famous riders and horses, and us.
The trot-up was a very smart affair. Suddenly Fred, at only just 16hh, was looking very small compared to all these other horses, as we strutted our stuff up and down the runway. Then the announcement came – “Imogen Murray riding for Great Britain, Wiseguy IV, accepted”, just the sheer thought of it sent shivers down everyone in the team’s spine. Oh dear, this was IT, we are riding at BURGHLEY HORSE TRIALS. We then had a little panic and thought, probably better make sure we know the dressage test and have little practice. But first we would have a little walk around the arena. This was the first time we had been allowed to go and have a look all tacked up and see what Fred thought of it, he didn’t really blink an eye, well not too much, he didn’t dance and spin anyway, he did have a little look at the large water fountain floral display, well it was quite a big look with goggling eyes really, but we didn’t really spook at it too much, a just-had-to-make-sure-it-wasn’t-going-to-attack-him look! Then back at the stables area, we had a little flatwork just to make sure we could attempt all of the required movements in the test in the right order at the right markers, followed by an early night, ready to walk the course in the morning.
The course walk was surprisingly cheerful, each fence looked almost jumpable, the next question was, are they all jumpable in the right order in the time allowed? We would soon find out. But first let’s go dancing in the main arena for real. We made a good effort in the dancing bit, strutted as well as we could for quite an elderly gentleman and a young, inexperienced girl having only just had my 21st Birthday. We did have a very scary moment entering between the boards a second over the allowed time, but we had performed as well as we could at that moment in time, and we left the area smiling like a Cheshire Cat. This dream was becoming all very real now.
More course walks, and then we would walk it again and it wasn’t getting bigger, surely that was a good sign, it was getting a bit longer each time, but we decided we could give it our best shot. Well, we actually thought, we can jump the first 3, maybe 4 and we’ll see how we feel and how it’s going. We were going to take each fence as it came, the whole course would be a plus one exercise. If the last fence was okay we would move on to the next and so on. We had walked all the lines, as well as all the long routes. There was a plan for every fence combination.
On the morning of cross country there was much activity in the stables and lorry park. We had done the final full course walk. We went to the riders’ tent to watch the early horses. Oooooo-er, let’s stay calm now. The arm bands were ready, along with the parachute (air jacket). Okay this is it, we’re getting on and going to the warm-up. Whoops there’s a hold on course. This is often a very tricky situation, how long will the hold be? Do you stop your warm-up routine? Do you carry on? Which fence is the mishap at? Should you be more worried? Also, you want your fellow competitors to come home safe too, what was the problem, why is it taking so long, and who is it? As it happened on this occasion it happened to be someone we know quite well, that sort of fear hits you hard, very hard. Fortunately both horse and rider were and are fine, but never-the-less, it still hits home that this is a dangerous sport we’re in. Suddenly then it was our turn. This was it, that moment of excitement coupled with nerves, this is what so many people dream of doing all of their lives and here we are about to start the biggest 4* cross-country there is. We left the collecting ring calmness and quiet to join the mass of spectators and noise. Well I suppose there’s no going back now, we’d better make the most of it. At least the first few fences anyway. Deep breathing, smile at the team, butterflies in the tummy, 10-second count down, 5,4,3,2,1 Let’s go! Fences 1,2,3 all very straight-forward, fence 4, a bit spooky and had caused a few issues for some, all going well so far, decision made we’re on to fence 5, oh my, we’re over, the direct route, well I never, let’s give a few more a go then. And that really was the rest of the round, each fence jumped and on to the next, always thinking, this is okay you know, it doesn’t feel that bad. We enjoyed every minute of it (we had more than most as Fred isn’t a speedy chap) and most importantly and beyond all expectations we were home, finished, CLEAR. Yes, clear! The support team was straight onto Fred who finished looking like he could give it another go. Everyone was cheering and crying with joy. We had just jumped clear round our very first 4* in front of a home crowd, and there were so many cheers for us. It was totally surreal. Then Clare Balding wanted an interview, the Horse and Hound, Jonty Evans, what was this, I ride horses I don’t get asked for interviews. That was more nerve-wracking than riding round Burghley.
Fred was awesome, the whole experience was amazing, but hang on, we hadn’t thought about the show jumping for the next day, we really didn’t think we would need to be thinking about that bit. More panic.
The next morning, Fred thought again he would get his monies’ worth and trot-up and down for the ground jury a few extra times, just to be sure. He was fine and we were accepted. Now we just had to show jump, then we really had completed. We had 3 fences down, at least one of those was down to my poor positioning of him to the 2nd fence, but it was all quite nerve-wracking and all we wanted was to complete. Here we were again moving the goal posts for Fred. First we bought him to do a few Intermediates, now we were expecting him to complete a 4*. And he has answered every question, moved with every goal post and more and most importantly we have both absolutely loved every minute of the journey. Well maybe not all the ‘tumble club’ moments, but we have both just experienced the most amazing and incredible dream for real.
Fred is now having a little holiday. He’s recounted his latest experience to his yard mates, and now would like to be known as Sir Fred. He had been strutting his stuff up and down the paddock, telling them all about it and how awesome he is, and how he never doubted his own ability that he was always a 4* horse. He has never looked so happy as he did at Burghley.
As for the rest of the team, we still have a full end-of-season programme planned before we have a little holiday too and then we hope to do it all again in 2015.