September 4, 2011 -- There are incredible stories and then there is the story of the 2011 Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials. Not only did William Fox-Pitt ride Parklane Hawk to a record sixth win of his career, but a little American horse named Neville Bardos defied every possible odd to finish seventh in the world's toughest four-star.
Fox-Pitt and the New Zealand Thoroughbred added one time fault in the show jumping to his dressage score in an otherwise flawless effort over the four days of competition. His dressage score of 39.7 was good enough for second place after the first phase but when overnight leader Simone Dietermann fell off Free Easy NRW on the cross country, Fox-Pitt inherited a lead he then defended with style.
But the story of the competition continued to be a scrappy little failed racehorse from Australia. Neville Bardos fulfilled Boyd Martin's dream of competing at Burghley and with his tenacity and bravery put a nightmare of a summer behind his family. A barn fire ripped through Martin's barn in May, and Neville Bardos was trapped in the fire the longest of those horses that survived. They lost six horses in the blaze and Neville Bardos was pulled out of the flames by Martin and Phillip Dutton. He then recovered miraculously after inhaling a massive amounts smoke and burning his throat and lungs.
This nightmare was followed closely by the loss of both Martin's father in a biking accident in Australia and then his wife Silva's father to illness in the following weeks - Martin hit rock bottom.
Neville Bardos didn't know what to do except improve. He defied everyone's expectations and Martin circled the date of Burghley on the calendar, thinking maybe - just maybe - Neville could make a miraculous comeback.
It was a longshot goal at first, but they never stopped trying. Neville restored the faith of an entire family with the strength of the entire eventing community behind him.
Martin and Neville Bardos, who is owned by the Neville Bardos Syndicate, received a Land Rover Competition and Training Grant and flew to England to take on the best in the world. He scored 49.7 in the dressage, flew around the cross-country course clear - and under the time - and then moved up to seventh on the strength of a show-jumping round in which he added one rail in very difficult conditions.
"This was a fantastic finish to a tough and grueling Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials," Martin said. "The heavens opened and the ground got thick and muddy."
But, he said, "My old mate Neville Bardos bounced out of his stall this morning and looked like a million dollars. He trooped around, jumped a good round. I had a rail in the treble which was completely my fault, I got him there a bit long and open but I'm really satisfied with a top 10 finish."
Martin called it a test of horsemanship to prepare Neville Bardos "for one of the toughest four stars in only eight weeks. I'm really pleased for the Neville Bardos Syndicate, the owners that trooped over the pond. I was proud to jump their horse around after such a challenging year."
At this week's Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials, the rain held off until Sunday - but once it came, the conditions deteriorated. With 10 points separating the top 11 horses going into the show jumping there was a shuffle at the top of the scoreboard. Fox-Pitt held onto his lead over Kiwi legend Andrew Nicholson who jumped an immaculate clear on Nereo to move up from fifth to second on a score of 45.1. Nicholson had been in second on his other horse, Avebury, who dropped three rails to slip to eighth. Mary King moved up from fourth to third after having one rail down on King's Temptress to finish on 47.4.
Sinead Halpin rode stylishly all week to finish 15th at her first Burghley with Manoir de Carneville. She was the best of the U.S. after the dressage, and rode a smart round on the cross country to finish 12 seconds over the time but added two rails on Sunday in conditions that didn't suit her 11-year-old Selle Francais.
Owned by Carriag, LLC, Manoir de Carneville wouldn't be at his best on wet sticky ground. He tried hard, and Halpin rode him aggressively in the beginning. They struggled to find their rhythm early on course but once they settled in their performance improved. They have now chalked up two top 15 finishes at their first two CCI4*s, and look impressive for the future.
"Sinead wore the stars and stripes proudly and in great form," Martin said. "She put in a polished performance on her horse."
Colleen Rutledge's Shiraz caught the eyes of many throughout the week and they moved up from 73rd place after the first phase all the way to 37th based on their excellent jumping. The pair, who were 12th in their first CCI4* at the Rolex Kentucky CCI4* in April, galloped and jumped their way around Burghley in excellent form. They added 9.2 time faults on the cross country and then one rail in the show jumping to solidify their partnership at the sport's highest level. The pair has had an epic adventure in Europe on their first trip overseas from their Maryland base.
Jules Stiller, a Vermont expatriate who is based in Berkshire, may have had the show-jumping round of the day - soaring over Richard Jeffery's course with ease. Jules del Vecchio's Chapel Amble did, however, spend so much time in the air that they collected three time faults. It was Stiller's second CCI4* with the striking black mare, and she heads to Blenheim CCI3* next week with Enjoy Me with valuable miles on her odometer.
Only two horses finished on their dressage score at the 50th Anniversary of the storied event - a competition where Thoroughbred horses thrived: Jock Paget from New Zealand on Clifton Lush (who moved up from 35th after the dressage to fifth) and Ireland's Mark Kyle on Step in Time who jumped their way from 78th after the first phase to finish 24th.
The next stop for the Land Rover U.S. Eventing Team is next week to the Fidelity Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials in which 110 horses are entered in the CCI3*.? Five of those (including Stiller) are representing the U.S. Two riders received Land Rover Competition and Training Grants: Phillip Dutton will ride Bruce Duchossios' Mighty Nice and Clark Montgomery will ride Carole Montgomery, Holly Becker and Kathleen Kraft's Loughan Glen. Tiana Coudray will be looking for a return to form on Ringwood Magistar after a summer of mixed results in Europe, and Will Faudree rides Jennifer Mosing's experienced CCI4* horse Pawlow.
U.S. Chef d'Equipe Capt. Mark Phillips said, "European experience is absolutely vital for our riders especially looking to next year and the Olympic Games. It is the second trip for both Boyd and Sinead to Europe and every time they come they learn a lot - and they keep getting better and better."
Check out the American rides on the USEFNetwork.com?here: