Oliver Townend has seen just about everything across a distinguished eventing career but riding two horses to the same score caught even him by surprise at the 2023 Defender Burghley Horse Trials.
Ellesmere-based Townend, 40, holds both second and third place at the world-famous 5* event after 2017 winner Ballaghmor Class tied Swallow Springs on 24.2 marks after the dressage phase in Lincolnshire.
Only New Zealand equestrian legend Tim Price sits between Townend and the overall lead, and he is relishing the prospect of having three attempts at toppling his old adversary on Saturday.
“It’s unbelievable, very strange for them to land on the exact same mark,” said Townend, whose third horse Tregilder sits in 13th.
“They jumped a clear round, so fingers crossed we continue that form for the next two days.
“With the judging the way it’s been, at some points it’s felt as though you needed to put your name in a hat and pull a mark out, so I’m happy with where we’ve ended up and more than anything, happy with the way they’ve gone.”
Saturday’s cross-country event is regarded as the crucial phase at Burghley, as each of the last seven competition winners led at the conclusion of that stage.
The four-mile course is widely regarded as one of eventing’s most gruelling challenges and Townend knows he will have to be at his best if he is to conquer it on three separate rides.
“It’s definitely hard work out there,” he said. “I’ll need to be on it as the horses couldn’t be any more different.
“It’ll be an interesting day but it’s Burghley, possibly every rider’s favourite 5* event so we’re excited.
“I’m a big fan of Burghley and I think it’s the toughest 5* in terms of terrain. All three horses are good gallopers, so we’re looking forward to it.”
Reflecting on a magnificent career which has yielded six 5* victories and a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, Townend admits he has achieved all he set out to do - but the fire still burns inside.
“It’s been a fantastic dream of a career,” he said. “Hopefully it won’t end soon but if it does, I’ve done what I always wanted to do which is make a living off of horses and eventing which is more of an achievement than winning 5*s.
“I just want to keep concentrating on the 5*s and finding a way to be in the lead.”
Defender Burghley Horse Trials (31st August - 3 September 2023) has been a major international sporting and social event for over 50 years. It attracts the world’s top equestrians and over 170,000 visitors. For more information visit www.burghley-horse.co.uk