I wasn’t sure I was going to write about this.

Partially because it has had no shortage of opinions and thoughts shared on the matter, and partially because it’s more comfortable to turn a blind eye to things that impact negatively on what we love doing.

I don’t want to have to justify my crazy sport, nor do I think I should have to.

But that idea is predicated on the notion that the sport just looks crazy, and we are not, in fact, actually crazy.




Eventing has always been tough. A test of bravery, trust and athleticism. It didn’t have to be pretty, you just needed to get the job done. Of course, it had it’s fair share of falls and accidents which led to innovative new safety measures like frangible pins. But has the inclusion of these features meant we are now building harder tracks because we have installed these safety nets?




I don’t know if one can argue that Captain Mark Phillips does not know his job when it comes to course design.

And yet, with the selection criteria required to be a 5* competitor, how was it that almost half the field ended up being eliminated or retiring?






There were 67 riders and only 33 made it past Cross Country day having either been eliminated (20), retired on course (11) or withdrawn before starting (3). Of the 33 across the line, only 1 was able to make time and 10 received jump penalties (activating frangibles, refusing or a combination of both).

49% – Finished cross country

30% – Eliminated

16.5%  – Retired on course

4.5% – Withdrawn from starting




If we compare this to the 2018 results, we have 70 horses (72 intially, but 2 were withdrawn before the first inspection). 45 horses were able to complete the cross country, 3 having made time, 6 refusals and only 1 activation of the frangible pins. 10 horses were eliminated, 13 were retired and 2 were withdrawn prior to XC day.

64% – Finished cross country

14% – Eliminated

19% – Retired on course

3% – Withdrawn from starting




Taking it back further, in 2017 we had 61 combinations entered and 45 were able to finish the day. Once again, 3 people were able to make the time and this time, only 4 people retired whilst 11 people were eliminated. 1 horse was withdrawn prior to XC.

74% – Finished cross country

18% – Eliminated

6.5% – Retired on course

1.5% – Withdrawn from starting


An interview with Capt. Mark Phillips post Burghley had him stating that the majority of riders weren’t answering the questions the way he intended and thus resulted in these refusals, falls and frangibles.

Frustrating I am sure. But if these riders, who have ridden enough high level courses successfully to qualify for the event aren’t able to understand what’s being asked of them, then perhaps we need to question if what we are asking is fair.



The term “fair” is relative


I’ve seen the argument thrown around a few times now that none of the riders were complaining, and instead chalked it up to “bad luck” or “misjudgment”, but I wonder if riders actually feel like they could vocalize issues with the course. No one wants to be labelled as a troublemaker, and are you really wanting to pit yourself against someone like Capt. Phillips?

I have also seen people in support of this years track, claiming “eventing is no dressage test and Burghley is not the place to debut at 5*”, and yet we saw many an experienced combination fall victim to the course.

A large number of top level riders were also not present, having gone to the European Championships. Perhaps this was responsible for the large fluctuation in results?

And maybe there is something to be said for the lack of options taken by riders when presented with that choice, however I keep coming back to the issue that this was repeated over and over again by the riders, which makes me question if they didn’t think the course would present the issues it did.



My brain


So tell me, Burghley 2019….


A true Cross Country test or unnecessary carnage?


Join the Conversation


  1. I didn’t watch the live feed and I’ve only read a few accounts of it. At first I was feeling a bit put off by the fact that so many didn’t complete. But then I thought “huh….no major falls…no injuries….no death”. Maybe the course was a bit tough but it wasn’t fatal or career ending and that is an important fact.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. True but I suppose is that because the frangibles are doing their job so well? Will having them mean we ask tougher questions or riders are less concerned with the increased difficulty and potentially step up before they’re truly ready?

      By no means am I suggesting we don’t use them, but there was a marked increase in their use between 2018 and 2019. Of course, I don’t know how many were installed year to year. 🤷🏼‍♀️

      I watched the live feed and it was probably the first time I’ve ever felt uncomfortable watching our sport.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Honestly, I have a real problem with CMP’s courses. They are, in my opinion, set up to be disastrous. The fact that no one died is shear luck, which is a horrific way of designing a course. You can see that most of the horses walk away from his courses looking frazzled or defeated, even those that manage to get around. He uses safety devices to push what he can ask of horses and riders, which is not the intention of these devices. (As evidenced by the white walls which asked a nearly impossible question and CMP admitted the pins didn’t work the way he expected…)

    Derek di Grazia manages to build courses that rewarded horses and riders, and when mistakes are make, these courses punish the riders. They test the essence of XC, can you ride your horse fast and open over a myriad of XC questions… not… can you show jump in the middle of a gallop over ground that tricks your horse into wanting to put his feet down before he shoudl….

    Unless there is a serious lapse of judgement, horse falls are such a rarity on Derek’s courses and yet, he builds them hard enough to let the cream rise to the top. I am not surprised that he will be replacing CMP at Burghley.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I tend to agree with you, the course should be testing the horses athletic capability, balance, bravery and adjustability but surely not all at the same fence? After this years track I was glad to hear CMP was passing the baton over and I’m not that familiar with Derek di Grazia but I hope he effects positive change in our sport once he takes over.

      Burghley should be the toughest of the tough but this year just made me so uneasy.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Derek has designed the 5* course at KY for a few years, and he did the American Eventing Championship courses this year. You can find youtube videos of him talking about courses (always encouraging the positive ride) as well as videos of him actually riding, which I think is quite cool to watch.

        Derek is also doing Tokyo 2020, which doesnt surprise me. There is nothing the Olympic Committee wants LESS than dead horses/riders.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. This is really a tough one and thank you for sharing this well thought out and researched post. It has been a few hundred years since I evented ( well it was in the 1960s!!) and I was doing it a lower level than this. Personally I think the numbers speak for themselves and you have presented them well with the annual comparisons.

    Liked by 2 people

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