Olympian Funnell starts well as Stoddart leads the way at Burghley

Four-time Olympian Pippa Funnell followed up her European team silver medal in Luhmühlen by making a solid start at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.

Funnell, 50, who won the event in 2003, and horse Billy Walk On sit fifth in the dressage standings after an entertaining first day of equine cross-country action at Burghley House, near Stamford.

Having been called up to the squad in Germany as a late replacement, Funnell admitted the interruption to her Burghley may have influenced some mistakes in the first phase of competition.

But having completed the dressage on the first of two rookie horses at the event this year, she admitted she was delighted with the gelding’s performance.

“I’m really pleased with him,” she said. “He’s quite a big horse to wagon and I think he still has some development to do, but overall I was happy.

“I made a mistake at the end – I’d like to say it was a blonde moment but it was probably a senior moment – which was frustrating but it’s definitely a score to work with.

“I haven’t had much time since coming back from Luhmühlen which was a really special experience, but it’s wonderful as always to be back at Burghley.”

The world-renowned Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials is one of only six five-star events in the eventing calendar - and one third of the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing.

It has become one of the most popular and highly regarded events within the equestrian and social calendars, ranking within the UK’s top ten national sporting occasions by attendance.

Two days of dressage are followed by cross-country on Saturday and the show-jumping finale on Sunday at family-friendly Burghley, which attracts more than 160,000 visitors each year.

Eliza Stoddart, 26, and horse Priorspark Opposition Free, topped the standings after the first day of dressage.

Despite having completed several four-star events together previously, Burghley represents something of a step-up for the pair, with both making their debut at a five-star event.

And Stoddart – who grew up 20 minutes from the venue where she once joked with her friends about competing – insists a score of 28.7 was beyond her wildest dreams.

She said: “To be in the lead at Burghley is totally mind-boggling – it was my childhood ambition just to perform here.

“He’s actually very strong in the dressage phases and I’m quite confident in it as well, so I was hoping to be in and around the top 15, but to come out on top is a wonderful moment.

“There was quite a bit of pressure with it being my first time here, but I’ve had so much support.

“When I finished everyone was cheering. Then I turned around and on the board were all 10s – that was totally thrilling.”

The multi-award winning Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials (September 5 - 8) 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