Oliver Townend in the driving seat at Defender Burghley Horse Trials

The packed dressage stands at Defender Burghley Horse Trials erupted into loud cheers as Oliver Townend’s leading mark of 24.2 on Swallow Springs was announced.

The Olympic gold medallist heads the scoreboard after the first day of dressage and has 2.7 penalties in hand over the new European champion, Rosalind Canter, who is riding the mare Pencos Crown Jewel, and 5.8 over Defender Burghley first-timer Emily King on Valmy Biats.

Oliver, a dual Defender Burghley winner, in 2009 and 2017, conjured a beautiful, relaxed display from Paul and Diana Ridgeon’s elegant 15-year-old grey gelding, a horse he took over 18 months ago from five-time winner Andrew Nicholson. He earned three nines, for the extended walk, the stretch circle and the final trot down the centre line.

“Swallow Springs is a blood horse and it has taken time for him to get stronger in his flat work, but he is now more confident in his strength and you can push for more cadence on the movements,” explained Oliver, who has been working hard on his own fitness after injuring his shoulder in a fall in the warm-up at Gatcombe three weeks ago.

“I’ve been in the crypto-chamber in Shrewsbury and it was awful – minus 94 degrees in two lots of seven minutes,” he revealed.

Ros Canter also received a warm welcome with Kate Rochford and James and Annie Makin’s Pencos Crown Jewel, a half-sister to her Badminton and European champion Lordships Graffalo.

“Our test was absolutely as I hoped,” said Ros. “I don’t think ‘Jasmine’ could have tried harder or been better balanced, for her. Our first halt was decidedly dodgy, but we managed to pull it off after that.

“I’ve been coming here since my days doing the Pony Club showjumping and then I learned my trade in the Dubarry Burghley Young Event Horse class, so it’s an absolute privilege to be competing in the real thing. I am a bit busier than usual, with more media requests, since the Europeans, but it makes it more fun and I’ve got so much support — I got a lovely big cheer at the trot-up.”

Emily King first came to Burghley at the age of nine months, when her mother, Mary, won in 1996 on Star Appeal. She scored 30 penalties on the syndicate-owned Valmy Biats, a 14-year-old Selle Francais. 

“This is probably the best test he’s done, but I didn’t get the first flying change, which was expensive, so this is a fair mark,” she explained.

Emily has been walking Derek di Grazia’s imposing cross-country course with her mother.

“Mum was saying, ‘Gosh, it’s quite big,’ which wasn’t really very helpful! I’ve never had an early draw at a five-star before, so it will be good to get it out of the way.”

Tom McEwen is currently fourth on the 10-year-old mare Luna Mist, a first-timer at five-star level, and Oliver Townend is fifth on Tregilder, who was first of his three rides at Defender Burghley – he has Ballaghmor Class, the 2017 winner, to come tomorrow. Jennie Saville from the USA is currently best of the overseas entry in sixth place on FE Lifestyle.

After such a damp summer, riders and officials have been enjoying mellow autumn sunshine at Defender Burghley, where the ground conditions are superb.

“It looks absolutely stunning,” said Tom McEwen. “The organisers here can’t do enough for you, from the lovely stables to what they do for owners and riders alike. This is why we do all those long winter hours, to come somewhere like this.”

The action starts tomorrow morning at 9.45am with the promise of some great dressage tests to come, from the likes of world number one Tim Price from New Zealand on Vitali, world silver medallist Boyd Martin (USA) on Tseterleg TSF, dual Defender Burghley winner Pippa Funnell with Majas Hope and Tom McEwen and Oliver Townend with their Olympic gold medal horses Toledo De Kerser and Ballaghmor Class respectively.

Don’t miss a thing with Burghley TV, covering everything from the first horse inspection to the final prize giving, plus interviews, feature content and a daily highlights show. Last year’s coverage won brilliant reviews from users; new this year is our ‘batcam’ drone and hat cameras giving a rider’s view of the course.

Burghley TV is hosted by Nick Luck and Rosie Tapner, with commentary from John Kyle, Nicole Brown and guests. Visit to subscribe for an annual fee of just £20.

Tickets for Defender Burghley can be purchased online at and downloaded or printed out prior to your visit, or on the gate.

Picture of Oliver Townend and Swallow Springs courtesy of DBHT/Peter Nixon.

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