Action has kicked off at this year’s Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials in England. The start list features six previous winners. The world number one, the British rider Oliver Townend has taken an early lead on day one of the dressage with MHS King Joules. The duo scored 27.2 penalties — the only sub-30 mark.

Burghley champions

Oliver, who was first into the arena on MHS King Joules (pictured), has the ride here on two other horses, Cooley SRS and his 2017 winner Ballaghmor Class. Other former winners back for another crack at the title are Pippa Funnell, Caroline Powell, Chris Burton, Andrew Nicholson and Mark Todd.

Both Andrew and Mark have won Burghley five times, with Andrew crowned the winner three years in succession on the much loved and missed grey gelding Avebury. Mark and NZB Campino also went early in the dressage and currently sit sixth overnight on 30.8 penalties, despite being penalised for an error of course.

“If King Joules can stay on his dressage score, I’ll be happy,” said Oliver.

Sarah Bullimore came within 0.1 penalty points of Oliver riding her Pau CCI4* runner-up Reve Du Rouet.

“I’m really chuffed,” beamed Sarah. “He’s genuinely scared of the crowds so he was fabulous.” She also revealed that the 14-year-gelding is very set in his ways, which she and her team have had to learn to accommodate. “I actually think he’s a bit autistic,” she said. “He has to do things certain ways and has his own routines — it’s just a case of us trying to keep him happy.”

Despite some equine acrobatics at the first horse inspection, Harry Meade’s Away Cruising posted probably his smartest dressage test to date to move into third place on 29.5.

“I’m delighted with him,” said Harry. “I’ve felt all season that he was on the path to putting in a good test, and today was a good day to execute our plan.”

Last year’s runners-up Piggy French and Vanir Kamira lie fourth on 29.9.

Ones to watch

US rider Andrea Baxter, who rides Indy 500, was the only American to ride her dressage on the opening day. She is lying in equal 25th place on 36.6 penalties. Other US riders competing at the prestigious English event are Lillian Heard (LCC Barnaby), and Bruce Davidson Jr on Park Trader. Both these riders contest the dressage phase on Friday.

British names to look out for include Gemma Tattersall, Laura Collett, Piggy French and European team gold medallists Tina Cook, Ros Canter and Nicola Wilson. Alongside the experienced ‘old-timers’ are 20 young riders, who are competing at Burghley for the first time.

Challenging course

Burghley has a world-famous reputation for its challenging cross-country course, and this year looks tougher than ever. Course builder Mark Phillips has reversed the first part, so it offers a whole new set of challenges.

“It’s a track that no-one has ever ridden before, and I think it’s a track that could make the time the most difficult yet,” Mark told H&C.

Oliver admitted that Mark’s track will be very influential: “Burghley is always very big but it’s as big as it’s been, in terms of dimensions, as I’ve seen it. I think it will be stamina sapping for the horses as there are three big hills and no real breathers. It will be tough.”

Dressage kicks off again tomorrow morning at 9.30am local time (4.30am EST), with Ireland’s Ciaran Glynn (November Night) first in.

You can watch this iconic equestrian event on H&C as we are showing highlights on Tuesday September 18 at 8pm EST, so make sure you sign up to Horse & Country now!