We catch up with eventing legend and Musto-sponsored rider, William Fox-Pitt, ahead of the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials 2017. Here, he explains who he’s looking forward to watching and offers his advice on conquering nerves and riding the perfect warm up.
What do you think of the cross-country course?
“It’s big, it’s attacking, the terrain here can never be underestimated. It’s a big test for any horse – four miles on that terrain – but the ground is pretty good.
“The course is big. There’s quite a few parallels, which of course the horse will have to take a jump at, but it’s quite tiring. He’s [Captain Mark Phillips] testing accuracy with skinnies and corners.
“I’ve been coming here a lot, but he doesn’t seem to use the features any more, like Burghley’s feature fences and coffin areas. These areas have all now become quite technical, but I suppose that’s very much the way the sport is going.
“I walked the course last year and thought it was good, but thought it was a bit more straightforward. It was big and bold but a bit easier [than previous years]. I was totally wrong and it caused carnage and I really didn’t see that coming, so I’m going to reserve judgement this year.”
Who are you looking forward to watching?
“Toddy’s still going strong. I know Gubby Leech and help him a little bit so I’m hoping he goes well. He didn’t have a great Badminton so it would be brilliant if he went well here today.
“There’ll be quite a few at there to watch, as well as the up-and-coming riders hoping to make their mark.”
How do you deal with cross-country nerves?
“The thing is to accept that nerves are quite normal. I think people think that they’re the only person and it’s got to be wrong. You’ve to to realise that everyone’s nervous. You’ve got 70 people here feeling bad.
“This year I’ll wake up on cross-country day and think ‘oh thank god!’. It’s a funny thing to think that you’re glad you’re not somewhere but it is stressful being here.
“You’ve just got to get on and deal with it. And you get nervous before, but I think being nervous can help you perform better. It can sharpen you up a bit.
“It’s just get on with it. Keep breathing and get on with it.”
Any tips for warming up?
“For cross country, it’s important to get your horse listening to you. He hasn’t done his dressage, he hasn’t done much work, so he can be a bit boisterous. You want him to set off for the cross-country course feeling full of life, but not completely disregarding you.
“Have a nice warm up, jump a few jumps but actually say “Oi! Hear me.” Is he listening, is he stopping, is he going to turn. Obviously make sure you’re nice and warm.
“Some people overdo the warm up, you watch them do 10 fences and you think then they’ve got to jump the course.
“The first few fences on the course are still warm-up fences, so I think sometimes people get carried away in the warm up and set out on the cross-country course with the tank a bit empty. That’s probably because they’re nervous and tense and tend to carry on a bit much.
“I think, have a very structured warm up. Do what you do at a normal event. Just because you’ve come to Burghley, doesn’t mean you have to ride a Burghley warm up. It’s not necessary.
“The warm up is important. Know your timing, know what you’re doing, know what you want to achieve and set out with a horse that’s nice and alert and listening to you. You don’t want him tired, but not too fresh. He’s got to be focussing on the job in hand.”