Road to Tokyo starts at Burghley for Olympic ambitions

British eventers will be staking early Olympic claims at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials

Consistency will be one of the key factors those bidding for GB selection for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics must demonstrate at this year’s Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.

That’s the marker laid down by Equestrian Team GBR performance manager Richard Waygood, who will be watching British riders closely at the five-star event this week in Stamford.

Great Britain claimed the team silver medal behind hosts Germany at the FEI European Eventing Championships in Luhmühlen, just edging out bronze medallists Sweden in the process.

And the team of Oliver Townend, Tina Cook, Piggy French and late replacement Pippa Funnell will all be in action again this week as they turn their attentions to the prestigious Burghley.

But with time running out for riders to state their case to be on the plane to Tokyo next year, Waygood insists consistency will be king when it comes to making the final selection.

“It was a good performance,” he said. “We obviously would have liked to have been in front of the Germans but we had to work hard for what we’ve got.

“We had mistakes in the dressage and mistakes in the showjumping so you could say in some ways we hopefully got rid of all our bad luck and we’re looking forward to Tokyo.

“We have great strength in depth. Pippa came in last minute and if you look at the ages of the horses that went to the championships there are loads of positives going forward.

“We had two ten-years-olds, three 12-year-olds and one 14-year-old and then Pippa has just stepped straight in as a terrific pathfinder and she was amazing.

“It’s going to be really hard as selectors are going to be looking at consistent form and they need to be really good in the dressage, obviously in the cross-country and the showjumping.

“It’s going to be a really tall order as it’s a three-man team and in some ways you feel it will be Monte Carlo or bust but that’s the very nature of the Olympics next year.”

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 - attracting more than 160,000 visitors each year.

The prestigious three-day eventing competition is a comprehensive test of the all-round ability of the horse and rider, comprising of dressage, cross-country and showjumping.

And due to the challenging nature of the Burghley Horse Trials, Waygood would not be surprised to see one or two surprise names stake a claim for inclusion in the team for Tokyo.

“You will always get horses and riders coming from left field,” he said. “It’s about peaking at the right time to put your head above the parapet and for the selectors to see you at the right time.

“What we would be keen to see is if we get someone coming in left of field, then can they remain consistent in the spring and the early part of next year.

“There are challenges because the Games are quite early. It’s also no secret that there’s a hill to start with and the track is very undulated, its topography is very clever.

“What I would say is that they deserve a pat on the back as the ground itself there is no camber, although it’s up and down and rolling, there’s no camber on the ground.

“That’s means it’s not so wearing on the horses and the heat and humidity are going to play a big effect. When the sun’s not out then it’s very humid, when it’s out it burns the humidity off.”

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