“I just couldn’t get over how big the course was,” expressed Andrea Baxter as she began to describe this year’s Burghley cross country-course that she and Indy 500 were to bravely tackle. The Land Rover Burghley Horse Trails 5***** held September 5-8, 2019 in Stamford, England is many miles and an ocean from Twin Rivers Ranch in San Miguel, California where the pair call home.
Andrea tried to convince herself that the course was just as big the two years before. “I’m sure it was this big last year. . . I just forgot how huge . . . these fences are just huge!” These thoughts rolled through her head as she walked the course and planned her route.
Cross-Country Day Arrives for Andrea Baxter and Indy 500
The English morning dawned brisk and cool with some sun for the cross-county day. Andrea and Indy were set to go early on in the line-up. “I watched a few rides on the screen before heading out to the warm-up. Most went pretty smoothly so I was unaware of the toll the course would take through the day,” explained Andrea regarding her thoughts before starting out on course.
So Many Different Emotions on Cross-County
Indy warmed up beautifully for cross-county and Andrea was excited to get on course. “I ended up with so many different emotions on cross-country,” began Andrea as she started to relay what it was like to brave the biggest, baddest Burghley course ever. “To start with, I struggled to find a rhythm over the first few fences,” relayed Andrea as she recalled the start of her cross-county ride. “By the fifth fence we were settled, then boom we were held.” Andrea and Indy were held up due to a fence reset and a fall ahead of her.
Held up on Course
Being held right where Andrea was getting into a rhythm and nearing the place where she had a runout the year before seemed like a set-back. Andrea kept Indy moving while thinking through her restart options. She also found asking for a napkin to wipe her nose with from the numerous spectators lining the course was a unique distraction.
The fence she would face once back on course was a big, yet skinny chevron over a ditch. Jumping that from a stand-still was not what Andrea had in mind. She used the 10-minute hold to regroup her adrenaline and work through her strategy. “I could just canter up to fence six . . . I could go back down the track and develop the gallop pace just as if we hadn’t been held . . . or I could take the option,” these were the choices and tactics she played out in her head. Finally, she was cleared to resume her ride.
Setting a Pace After Being Held
Ultimately Andrea decided she needed to get as far down the course as needed to recreate the 570 meters per minute gallop necessary for the course. Indy sailed over fence six. “We were on our way, unaffected by the hold, as if we hadn’t skipped a beat,” this was a relief to Andrea.
Next up was the Leaf Pit, where the pair had a runout last year. The Leaf Pit starts with a huge drop down then over first a double skinny brush fences then a triple skinny brush fence. Indy ate up the ground between the two brush fences and jumped huge over the last element, but clear! Andrea smiled as they were clean through the Leaf Pit. Now they were back to Discovery Valley and fence 8 where they were faced with a big oxer then a bending line to a corner jump. They breezed through that combination. The rhythm was developing again.
After Fence 9, a flight hanger rolltop fence, the pair approached the Trout Hatchery. Andrea had planned the shorter route through. The pair took the big airy oxer leading in. Indy jumped this one big and slightly left. They landed going into the water with Indy needing more balance. “Her canter was not right,” stated Andrea.
Making an In-the-Moment Decision
Andrea was forced to make an in-the-moment decision to abort her first plan and take a route she did not even walk. With a gut decision she opted for the straighter yet longer way through, over a vertical out of the water. “This is where I lost my right rein, going through the water heading towards the vertical fence out of the water,” Andrea recalls dropping her rein as she tried to shorten it to steer Indy to the vertical. “Indy was drifting left so I just pointed Indy at the jump with a strong left leg.” They jumped it, spinning the white left-hand flag to the ground. “Everything just felt crazy up to this point!” exclaimed Andrea.
The Turning Point on Course
This re-route added another jump to the combination and directed them through the long way through the Trout Hatchery. Although this was not planned, it was the turning point in her ride. She felt she just needed to pull the ride together by taking a longer, yet safer, route. This plan worked as they were through fence combinations of 10 and 11 at the Trout Hatchery clean and flying towards the next big question at fence 13 the Joules at the Maltings – two big white oxers to a corner fence.
“One white oxer was part of course last year and the year before,” Andrea recalled. “This year there were two back-to-back. I needed to choose the route which would boost Indy’s confidence and put us in rhythm.”
The big white oxers were both maximum-sized jumping efforts and many frangible pins were snapped here throughout the day. The oxers were set together on a bending line which took some of the impulsion out of the jumping effort. Taking them with a straighter yet longer approach helped make the jumping effort easier. That is how Andrea and Indy tackled those two massive fences.
Going Through a Washing Machine
The SLO County pair moved on to tackle all 27 jumping options on course. “When it was all over, I felt like we had gone through a washing machine!” Andrea says with surprise in her voice. “It was tough, ugly, hectic and gritty. That is what a 5***** star course is!” However, upon completion, she did not know just how great her ride really was. It would become known as the day progressed.
Finishing the Biggest, Baddest Burghley Ever
In the end, Andrea and Indy 500 put in a brilliant cross-country ride and finished with 19-time faults. At first Andrea was bummed about the time faults, but by the end of the day she was ecstatic. Their round ended up being one of the top rides in the early part of the day and skyrocketed them to sit in 13th place after the last ride on the cross-country course was completed.
Not only did her placing elevate, but they were one of the finishers. They finished the biggest, baddest Burghley ever! The final tally counted 80 horse and rider pairs taking off on the cross-country phase but only 33 even finishing the grueling course.
Sunday Stadium Jumping Day
Andrea and Indy 500 leaped from 46th place to 13th place overnight after the cross-country phase, heading into stadium jumping. There was only a rail (-4 points) between the top four American riders.
The backdrop for the stadium jumping phase is the beautiful Burghley Manor House, one of England’s greatest Elizabethan houses, similar to the manor in the Downton Abbey television series. This scene sets the stage for the festive ending of the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trails.
Our California pair entered Sunday’s stadium jumping phase siting within a rail of a higher placing. Andrea and Indy had posted one of their best dressage scores (37.7) to start the event. This put them in the middle of the pack, yet just 15 points from the top going into cross-country on Saturday. Now they were staring at a top-placed finish.
Eye on the Prize
Prior to the event Andrea read that the top 12 places were to be welcomed back into the stadium for the closing ceremonies. “Wow that’s stiff,” Andrea thought to herself. At Rolex she placed 18th and the top 20 are welcomed back in for the prize ceremony. When she read that she figured they wouldn’t be part of the Burghley award ceremony. Now sitting in 13th place Andrea had her eye on the prize, “I was hungry for a good performance to bump me into the prize ceremony.”
“The stadium phase was not as technical this year,” commented Andrea. “Probably because the cross-country phase was so gnarly!” Yet, there were hardly any clear rounds because the horses were pretty taxed from the cross-county phase the day before. Andrea and Indy pulled one rail and had a few time faults added to their final score. “I added a stride and hit a rail. I was trying a new strategy to keep Indy collected so she wasn’t strong,” recalled Andrea. “Indy was definitely fit. She could have gone again!”
Sitting on Eggshells . . . Waiting
Now Andrea sat on eggshells waiting for someone ahead of her to drop more rails. She waited through all the rides ahead of her in placing to see where they would finish the 2019 Burghley Horse Trials. A French rider just ahead of her pulled three rails. This result moved our California team up the leader board to finish in 12th place and punched their ticket back into the stadium for the prize ceremony. Andrea was beaming!
“It was an honor to earn a spot to be welcomed back in among the world’s top riders,” remarked Andrea of her experience closing out the 2019 Burghley Horse Trials sitting a top Indy 500 with the Burghley House as the backdrop. “I couldn’t stop smiling. I couldn’t believe I was experiencing this moment among the top riders in the world!”
American Contingent at Burghley
There were 11 North American based horse and rider pairs competing at the 2019 Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials. Andrea Baxter and Indy 500, of San Miguel, California, were the 3rd highest placing American pair. With the Tokyo Olympics on the horizon many North American riders are looking to get European exposure while getting a 5-star event under their belts.
Although Burghley is great exposure it really is primarily a place for a cross country horse like Indy 500. Many “team” horses are proficient at all three phases which is needed for events like the Olympics. Team events with many nations competing are designed to welcome countries who don’t have a lot of high-level competitions to gain experience at. These events rely on the dressage and show jumping phase scores more heavily. A Burghley horse is a step above; one standing in its own category.
What’s it Like to Wake up and Face the Burghley Cross Country Phase?
Andrea shared her thoughts on facing the Burghley cross-county phase. “I’m really laid back. However, it takes a lot of money to get here so the pressure is on to get it right!” She then added, “You can’t go out there and think that you are going to get hurt. You have to know what your goals are and why you are there.”
Came With a Different Set of Goals Each Year
Andrea then summarized the different goals she came with each year she entered the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.
“The first year I was just proud to be there. I was just happy to experience the event.” Andrea ended up with a silly dismount on the cross-county course and was unable to finish the event. Andrea and Indy 500 then re-routed to another British event, the Blenheim Horse Trials.
“The second year I came knowing I had to get my act together and do it!” The pair had a runout at a chevron fence but otherwise went clean on cross country and finished the event.
Coming into this year’s opportunity, Indy did not have any issues to nurse so Andrea was able to ride her and keep her tuned up right up to the event. Indy was going really well so it just fit that they would come and take care of some unfinished business. “This year I came with my eye on the prize!” remarked Andrea. After posting their best dressage score to kick off the event, the California pair had several key people excited for what the weekend had in store.
This Burghley Finish Sets the Stage for More to Come
Finishing 12th at Burghley has just set the stage for more to come. Indy 500, a thoroughbred born and raised in SLO County, is in her prime and Andrea has more horses coming up. Yes, we’ll be seeing more of this SLO County pair and Andrea on up-and-coming horses. There are more big, bad cross-country courses to brave in the near future . . . some here on American soil and some over the pond.
To get a tutorial on how the cross country course was designed to be ridden you can walk it with Captain Mark Phillips the course designer and a jump jockey, Bryoney. You can watch Andrea and Indy tackle several fences, including their run through the Trout Hatchery on the Burghley Horse Trials website. Andrea and Indy’s ride starts near the end of Saturday Cross Country Part 1 and the finishes at the beginning of Part 2.
Cover Photo: Andrea and Indy drop down off the first element of the Leap Pit. Julia Shearwood Equestrian Photography
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