Prior to April, Chris Burton was busy preparing his team for the home stretch in terms of Tokyo Olympics team selection. Of course, that changed thanks to Covid-19. From his new base in Beaminster, Dorset, Chris explains that managing his “amazing team of horses” has been a juggling act this year.
The lockdown period itself shut down events and even coaching for some time, meaning it all came down to training at home and waiting to see what would happen next. Events are now back in full swing, but there is still plenty of uncertainty.
“As we came out of lockdown many events started again — aside from the big ones that couldn’t run, because of the financial restrictions that come along with Covid-19 — and so we almost ended up back in full swing quite quickly,” says Chris.
“We then had a dilemma with some of the horses as to what’s the best thing for them to do with Tokyo in mind. As we start to move into winter time… there’s a little bit of fearmongering about a second lockdown and quite a lot of uncertainty around whether some of these events will run.
“Now that that’s fine, I can live with that. But the issue I’m having is that if we choose to do a long format four or five-star event, for example, we’ve got to start getting these horses fit. I’m a little bit reluctant to go headstrong into that this year, in case they then say the competitions won’t run. No one’s got a crystal ball, and so that’s a little bit of juggling from our end.”
Having said that, Chris hopes to be at Pau in France this month, the only CCI5* scheduled between now and 2021. “I’ve got some nice horses that are out competing and I’m confident that next year there will be even more of a push to try and get things back to normal.”
The extra 12 months added to the Tokyo timeline does mean that some of his older horses that were once in contention may not be come 2021, however, with some talented younger horses coming through and stepping up, the timing gives them the chance to shine. Chris is excited to see the youngsters develop and reach their potential over the next few years. “I’ve got a couple of nice ones that are stepping up. One of them is Leopard’s Action, who Carolyn and Tony Townsend very kindly purchased for me at the start of this year.
“He strikes us as a real Burghley horse; he’s a very good jumper. He was second in a long three-star this year, and he will be a top one for the future. His best is still a little way off. We’ve also got a very nice horse called Jefferson 18. He got caught out a little bit green in the French Nations Cup event in August (where he picked up 20 penalties on the cross country), but we think he’s a very good horse for the future and we’re quite excited to see what he might do.”
In addition, the beautiful stallion Caliber Royale has returned to training as the UK breeding season winds up. A German-bred Holstein stallion with plenty of thoroughbred blood, Caliber Royale competed to CCI1* before transitioning to showjumping and reaching CSI3* 1.40m level earlier this year. Chris describes the stallion as “an outstanding athlete who finds everything so easy”, and he’s been having a great time in the showjumping arena.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been an event rider — I’ve just had the odd showjumping horse to ride… which I enjoy, it’s quite fun! At the moment I’ve got a small team of jumpers here, including Caliber Royale. Again, it’s just something that’s a bit of a hobby for me and a bit of a pastime and something that I’ve always enjoyed.” Chris recently competed at historic Hickstead, and said it was a thrill to ride on the hallowed turf.