Huge, But Fair: Walk the 2023 Defender Burghley Course

Everyone’s eaten their vegetables over the last two days, and now it’s time for the meat of the week: it’s cross-country day at the Defender Burghley Horse Trials! Let’s take a look at what’s to

Huge, But Fair: Walk the 2023 Defender Burghley Course

Everyone’s eaten their vegetables over the last two days, and now it’s time for the meat of the week: it’s cross-country day at the Defender Burghley Horse Trials! Let’s take a look at what’s to come over the course, which, unlike last year, has a much more intense final third…


Length: 6325 meters

Fences: 29

Optimum Time: 11:06


(Check this out in full on the CrossCountry App!)


Fence 1: The Defender Starter

Fence 2: Lambert’s Sofa

Fence 3: The Pol Roger Table

The first three fences are simple, single jumps, just intended to help horses and riders find a rhythm and confidence as they move forward from the start.

Fence 4AB: The LeMieux Arena Rails

The first combination, but these wide overs are far enough apart that there’s not a set stride pattern. There’s a tonne of atmosphere in the arena, and huge cheers, so this is a focus question and a tune-up as much as anything.

A view through Defender Valley, with the A element on the right and that final corner on the left.

Fence 5ABCD: Defender Valley

The first real question on course; the direct route is a downhill approach to a set of clipped rails, then a pop over the ditch, and then over a big, left-handed timber corner.

Fence 6: The Triple Bar

A Derek classic: light, airy timber, a huge spread, and a tonne of airtime — certainly something that’ll give confidence and wake horses and riders up before they tackle the first major question on the course. The point of this one is to bolster bravery, and while it’s terrifying to look at, the feeling in the air will be unbeatable.

Fence 7ABCD: The Holland Cooper Leaf Pit

Okay, now we’re at Burghley! There’s some sentiments around that perhaps the iconic Leaf Pit is a bit more straightforward this year, with its brush questions, but it’s still a seriously tough question. There’s no video or photo in the world that can accurately convey how huge the drop down at A is, and then these fit, fresh horses will be freewheeling a bit as they run down to BC, a huge brush spread. Then, they’ve got a choice of a left- or right-handed brush at D, so they’ll need to know their horse’s dominant side and ride what they can feel underneath them to make a good job of this.

Fence 8: Defender Valley

There’s not a proper pass back through the Valley as there has been in previous years, but instead, a huge single fence. This is a nice mental break after the last couple of combinations; one of Derek’s strengths as a course designer is knowing exactly where to ease off the mental strain to allow horses and riders alike to save enough brain cells for the Advanced Calculus to come.

Fence 9: Herbert’s Hollow

I’m not a short girl — I’m nearly 5’8 if I actually stand up straight — and these are hard for me to see over. They are enormously tall, hugely deep, and achingly skinny, and there’s two of them on a line with undulating terrain in between, so this is really where we’re starting to test the accuracy and rideability. At this point, that initial freshness should be simmering down a bit, and it’s time to focus. As always, there’s a long route if something goes wrong or if this feels like too much of a question at this stage.

This year’s Trout Hatchery complex.

Fence 10ABC and Fence 11AB — The Defender Trout Hatchery

Let’s go for a splash! The Trout Hatchery is a unique water complex, because it’s effectively two ponds, and we always see interesting, influential questions here. It’s a touch more straightforward than last year; 10A is a kayak house coming down the hill, after which they’ll canter down through pond number one. Then they’ll tackle the BC elements, a pair of houses on a bounce distance, before cantering into the second pond. Then, it’s up a step and over an angled skinny, landing in the water and then cantering on away. There’s a long route here that does involve a log drop into water, so it’s all about knowing your strengths and weaknesses and planning accordingly. We’ve seen bounces into water at a few British four-stars this year, so hopefully, many competitors will feel well-prepared for this kind of question.

Fence 12: The Waterloo Rails

Just another airy timber spread after a bit of a gallop uphill away from the Trout Hatchery. A big jump, but a fair and straightforward one to reward the hard work undertaken at the Trout Hatchery.

Fence 13: The Voltaire Design Brush

The same again, really — it’s not a timber oxer, but this hanging brush-topped log-and-ditch is another run-and-jump to keep them moving at a good clip. This bit of the course is a chance to catch up on the clock, but riders have to be careful: there’s a tonne of terrain to come, and draining resources at this early-ish stage is unwise. It’s all about finding a positive cruising rhythm and settling into it — major adjustments use major energy.

Fence 14ABC: Joules at the Maltings

The Maltings is always packed with insanely huge white rails, whether in oxer form or corner form — and it’s the latter we’ve got here. The direct route is a big, beautiful carved hare, and then there’s a curving line between a left-handed to right-handed corner, which are about as wide as we’ve ever seen. It’s a fearsome angle, but those blue lines are a helpful visual aid — and, again, there’s a much longer alternate route that they can choose to take if this is too big an ask. We’ll definitely see that used — especially if we see those MIMs drop easily early on and riders change their plan accordingly.

Fence 15ABC: The Rolex Combination

There are two routes through this question, but this is the more direct of the two. That AB element is SKINNY, and it’s angled off a ditch, and followed by another one of those jaw-dropping big skinny brushes. There’s no mix-and-match between routes here, but this is all about picking a great line, establishing a great, positive pace, and committing. It’s proper five-star stuff.

Fence 16: The Parasol Table

Last year’s penultimate fence, which famously saw Oliver Townend have a freak tumble while up on the clock with Tregilder, is now at the midpoint of the course. It’s as wide as they come and pretty looky, but any horse that has a spook left in it at this stage is being fed on rocket fuel, frankly. It demands respect, so it’s not as straightforward a run-and-jump fence as some of the singles on this course, but it isn’t one of the major questions, either.

Fence 17AB: The Irish Horse Board Bank

As we turn onto the 400m or so of uphill pull that is Winner’s Avenue — one of the toughest stamina tests on the track — we meet one of the most talked-about fences. The A element is an Irish bank, which can be jumped or banked, and then there’s a log fence that’s perpendicular to it and can be jumped from either side. There’s plenty of space to work out all sorts of different curving lines to it, but as Harry Meade points out, the interesting thing will be deciding the approach to the A — do you gallop it for a guaranteed jump, or do you aim for a more compact canter and plan to touch down on top? We’ll see lots of different rides here through the day.

Fence 18: The Cottesmore Leap

Arguably Burghley’s most iconic effort. You can park a Land Rover in that ditch, but on the approach, if you keep your eyes up, it looks surprisingly doable. It’s all about finding pace and power and then letting your horse reach — so they’ll need to keep something in the tank while moving up Winner’s Avenue, or this will feel like a much bigger ask than it needs to be.

Fence 19AB: Fairfax & Favor at Keepers

A brush skinny to a brush corner on a bending left-handed line, which is made more difficult simply because horses will be feeling a touch weary at this point. That might mean it requires a bit more set-up and deft horsemanship than if it was an early question, and we could well see a few horses skim out the side door at that B element.

There’s no messing around at the Dairy Mound at 20ABC.

Fence 20ABC: Defender at the Dairy Mound

The Dairy Mound is a serious question this year. There’s an uphill approach to a huge oxer at A, then two big frangible triple bar skinnies at B and C, with a downhill left-handed approach to the last one. There’s a long route, but long routes add more steps, more time, and take more energy, so we’ll see a lot of people trying to go straight — and probably a lot of penalties accrued here through the day, whether through run-outs or MIM activations.

Fence 21: The Pardubice

Just simply one of the biggest, beefiest bits of brush you’ll ever see — but it rides brilliantly and has a very readable, sloping profile. A delightful mental break and a fence that acts like a pat on the neck for these exceptional athletes.

Fence 22: Rolex Grand Slam at Capability’s Cutting

The terrain on the approach here is the most interesting thing. It’s a road crossing, effectively, with a very steep downhill, a stride on the flat, and then a very steep uphill before meeting this corner on the flat at the top. That makes the approach much more of a challenge, but the uphill should also set horses back on their hocks and help them out a touch.

Fence 23: The Agria Lifetime Equine Slate Mine

A table you could hollow out and turn into a comfortable family home. Kick on.

Fences 24 and 25AB: The Boodles Raindance

A much more intense question here than last year; there’s two jewellery boxes on an angle and then a big drop fence into the water. Riders will hope the last couple of questions and that downhill run put some air back into their horses’ lungs, and they’ll need to really ride this last major question and help them out. It’s another question of committing to a line and being super positive.

Fence 26: The Lion Bridge

Just a straightforward rolltop wagon on a slightly downhill approach before…

Fence 27.

Fence 27: The Lion Bridge, part two

…a fish in the water that’s actually really, really small, which is a challenge in itself because horses can be tempted to get loose in front. It’s got brush on top now, but this will just demand a bit of respect. We’ve seen a couple of horses trip in this water before, too, so no complacency can sneak in here.

Fence 28: Horatio’s Garden

Another big old table en route to the last. Just keep respecting these fences.

Fence 29: The Defender Finale

And then, it’s everyone’s favourite fence: the last one. As before, this always needs to be respected, because silly things can happen at final fences. Then, it’s home safe and back to the support team — well done, folks!

Cross-country starts momentarily at 11:15 a.m. local/6:15 a.m. EST. Check out what riders have to say about the task ahead here, and tune in for live updates here. Kick on, and Go Eventing!

EN’s coverage of Burghley is presented by Kentucky Performance Products. Click here to learn all about their full line of science-backed nutritional support products, including Neigh-Lox Advanced for digestive support.

Defender Burghley Horse Trials Links: Website | Live Stream | Entries | EN’s Coverage