NEWS > Eventing
Posted by Christine Armishaw on 26/06/2019.
Post dressage interviews with Chris Burton at Badminton 2017
Photography by Nick Humpston (above) and David Webster

Horses for Courses - An Owner’s Perspective

While we watch and admire top-level riders and horses, galloping in style around the cross country; dancing in dressage, or manoeuvring with expert precision in show jumping, often we don't stop to consider just how they came to be at this point.

Where did they start and how was it made possible?

Hard work and determination are of course key, however, success lies not just with the rider, but the support network they are surrounded by, in all the forms these people may take. 

For some, lying somewhat hidden in the background is the busy, attentive, behind-the-scenes world of owners.

We speak with Jill Martin, a co-owner of Chris Burton's mount Graf Liberty, who Chris recently placed 4th on at Badminton this year. 

Jill tells how she became the owner of event horses and what being an owner means for her. 

"I have had my own horses for many years with a life-long love of the sport of eventing but it was not until 2012 that I changed from being a follower/volunteer to actually owning an event horse with a professional rider.

Graf Liberty 'Danny' admiring the Australian Flag

It was a step that had not previously crossed my mind, but after meeting Chris Burton at SIEC whilst living in Sydney in 2010,  events subsequently found us both living in the UK and only a matter of miles apart.

In 2012, on a visit to see Chris and his team of horses, then based with Sam Griffiths in Dorset, I first set eyes on Danny (aka Graf Liberty, an Irish Sport Horse by Limmerick) and was really taken with him.

At the time, I did not want or indeed have the means to become a sole owner, but together with my husband David, our great friend Sally Humpston and with Chris introducing his good friends and supporters in Australia, Ian and Kathryn Timmis,  the Graf Liberty Syndicate was formed and ownership became a reality.

Chris, Jill and Sally sharing the excitement with Kathryn Timmis in Australia after Cross County

Chris has always made the decision as to where our horses have competed from the start of their careers.

As Danny didn’t appear to have a lot of ‘blood’, which potentially made his stamina questionable, we had no real expectations at the outset as to how far he would go.

However, it soon became apparent that with luck, we might have a bit of a special horse. Under Chris’s expert care and horsemanship, we have been fortunate in the last seven years to see Danny starting at the old FEI 1* (BE Novice), and amongst other achievements go on to  place 2nd in the 8/9 yo Championships at Blenheim in the UK and win the Pau 2* in France in 2015.

Australian-based owners Ian and Kathryn Timmis

After a number of successful competitions, Danny rose through the various levels of the sport, including achieving selection on several Australian teams, reaching the very top to compete at 5* events, firstly at Lumuhlen in 2015 (4th)  followed by Badminton in 2017 (18th) and 2019 (4th).

Personally, I spend time with the horse/rider (usually only after the dressage, to allow them their own space), and go along and discuss the phase and how things went.

I do speak with the riders both before, on and after events as to how they feel the horse should be ridden, the approach they want to take (in an ideal world) whether to go for a slow run or to go for the time.

We discuss how a horse should run XC - which could include going slowly according to the circumstances (eg it could be a prep-run for a bigger event, ground could be considered hard, it is a young horse still learning the ropes etc), or going for the time (considering if the horse, if young, is ready to be taken more quickly, is in a position that could obtain a good placing, etc).

Chris talking tactics with Jill

In between the phases, time is usually spent with friends and watching how their horses go, socialising. Sometimes in my case, as I am an XC controller, I may go back in to control after watching my horse in each of its phases.

Time at one-day events (short format) is usually spent in this way.  At a three day event (long format), as there is more time, we may spend time socialising with the rider, in the Event Horse Owner’s Association Tent and watching the televised competition.  We also tend to have supper with the rider on one of the nights.

I don’t personally have more hands-on involvement outside of the competitions, as we live a couple of hours away from where the horses are kept and are very happy to leave this to the riders and their experienced team. But during an event, I  love being around the horses (as I don’t have any at home) and getting involved (whilst staying out of the way if appropriate!) with things such as grazing, cooling off and washing down.

At the XC cool down - Badminton 2019

Having visited Badminton annually for many years with family and friends, at no time did it cross my mind that I could one day have a horse competing there.

I will always appreciate that as an owner, I have been unbelievably fortunate knowing there are owners who support a rider or horse over many years and still don’t have a horse competing at the very top level.

Owning an event horse can bring considerable cost, at times heartbreak and disappointment, but also great excitement and joy. I get as much pleasure by seeing a young horse out at their first event and then supporting their career.

Some horses do not take to eventing, whilst others clearly love what they do with varying degrees of success. 

With my husband David, I was part of a syndicate that owned a horse called Santano II. ‘Santa’ was found by Chris and his wife Bek as a 7-year-old, having done only pure dressage up to that point.

Within three years, Santa went from an eventing newbie, to competing for Australia at the Rio Olympics in 2016, winning a team Bronze and finishing 5th individually. 

He was variously described as a ‘freak’ but Santa just loved eventing, especially the jumping phases, and took to it like a real pro.

Santa's  welcome home party with Chris, Jill, David and groom Jade Rudman

Owning event horses is always a learning curve and on occasions, an owner has to make unexpected and difficult decisions, including when a horse does not suit a rider it has been placed with and vice versa.

In partnership with a good friend, Amanda Jones, we purchased a lovely unbroken 3-year-old ISH mare, ‘Annie’. Unfortunately, she did not suit Chris and he was honest in telling us this.

As a result, and with a fair amount of consideration, we moved the mare to Vicky Brake,  another professional rider we felt would be suited to Annie’s temperament.

Over the next year, Vicky did wonderful work in producing her, giving her time and confidence and qualifying for the Burghley Young Event Horse final. As the mare was mentally still quite green, we decided it would not be in her best interests to go to the final but instead, continued to exercise patience in bringing her on slowly. 

This paid off and at the beginning of the 2018 season we placed the lovely Annie with Sam Griffiths and it was gratifying to see that almost immediately they formed a real partnership.

The mare now has new owners and importantly for me, Annie remains with Sam and hopefully, she has a bright future ahead of her – fingers crossed.

Ian taking a quiet moment with Danny

It was a good learning process as I had not expected or thought about having horses with anyone other than Chris, but I feel rather pleased that our choice of riders has allowed the mare to progress.

It taught me that not every horse suits every rider and that patience and careful consideration, together with listening to the rider’s advice, plays a big part in being an owner.

Currently, David and I now have another young horse, Sherlock, to follow at the lower levels and who hopefully will go on to enjoy an eventing career. 

Only time and fortune will decide if he follows in the footsteps of Danny and Santa.

Ownership is not about the winning – though it is very nice when it happens - having a horse at a competition opens many doors.

Events are more enjoyable and it has become more a way of life which is much missed during the ‘off’ season.

The level of enjoyment and excitement increases dramatically when you have a horse competing and has resulted in visits to events both in the UK and abroad at every level – many more than I would have done as an enthusiastic supporter.

Jill with Danny during training at Bicton

Equally, we have met lovely people and owners and have made some good friends as a result. The eventing world is a pretty special one.

With David, I have become not just an owner but also friends with riders such as Chris and his family, Sam and Vicky, and co-owners. It has been an honour to be involved with and support such lovely horses and riders and I hope that continues well into the future."

As told by Jill Martin

Other Top News