Captain Mark Phillips, the mastermind behind the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials cross-country course, believes an innovative change this year will ensure only the cream rise to the top.
The prestigious three-day international event will see many of the world’s finest horse and rider combinations descend on the Burghley Estate in Stamford, Lincolnshire from August 30.
Event riders will compete in dressage, cross-country and show jumping disciplines, looking to follow in the footsteps of 2017 winner Oliver Townend as well as six-time champion William Fox-Pitt.
But in a first for the UK, a flyover has been created that enables the cross-county course to run in a figure of eight – allowing horse and rider to go under in one direction, and over in the other.
And Capt Phillips, former eventer and course designer since 2005, expects the changes he has made thanks to the flyover to test riders in a way they never have been before at Burghley Park.
“This year’s Burghley is actually very different from anything we’ve ever done before because we’ve introduced a flyover,” said Capt Phillips, an Olympic gold medallist in three-day eventing.
“It means I can reverse one part of the course but not the other without any danger of the horses meeting - one out, one on the way back - which gives us much more flexibility in the future.
“For this year, it means complete change as the arena will come at four, the Leaf Pit at six, Discovery Valley and then the Land Rover Trout Hatchery at 11 and 12, so all of that is at the beginning.
“That is completely different to what it’s been for the last few years and then when they get across Capability’s Cutting they can go down to the Land Rover at the Lake.
“That circuit is all the same and then they go under the flyover and come home through the Anniversary Splash, so I think this layout will make the time the hardest it has ever been.
“When riders go round and round in one way they learn how to do it pretty good, nobody has ever done it this way so they are going to have to ride by the seat of their pants.
“I think it will help the cream come to the top as no one has ever ridden this one before, so it will be very much about feeling how much petrol your horse has got left in the tank as to when you can press and when you can be conservative.”
Capt Phillips has a longstanding association with the event, winning it in 1973 before becoming course designer – one of only six to hold the role since it was founded in 1961.
And with the shackles finally off, he is confident the introduction of the flyover will allow him to maintain Burghley’s status as one of just six four-star events in the world.
“There is a flyover in Aachen [Germany] and one or two other places as well, but because of the lake and the massive tradestand area at Burghley there is only one way in, one way out so it’s not the easiest place to design,” he said.
“In terms of changing the track, you’re limited by the other infrastructure and the lake, but what this has done is taken the shackles off and given me more latitude to ring the changes year on year.
“Luckily, Burghley, the committee and the estate got behind me to make this investment, because while it was an investment this year, it will save them money down the road.”
“Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials is probably technically the most challenging track in the world,” said event director Liz Inman, “and of course we have the best course designer in Capt Mark Phillips.
“We’ve had a superb entry this year with five past winners of the event including Oliver Townsend, who won last year, so I think it’s going to be a really exciting competition.
“People love this event - it’s become a feature of the autumn season - there’s so much to do with wonderful shopping, with such a fantastic atmosphere.”
The multi-award-winning Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials from August 30 – September 2 has been established as a major international equestrian and social event in the Autumn Sporting Calendar for over 50 years. For more information visit burghley-horse.co.uk