Horse & Hound
Life lessons Olympic eventer Chris Burton on nervous time-wasting
The Olympic eventer on his nervous time-wasting habit, keeping it simple in training and the magazine purchase that changed his life
AUSTRALIAN-BORN Chris was an Olympic eventing team bronze medallist in Rio riding Santano II. Among other accolades, he won Burghley with Nobilis 18 in 2016 and finished third and fourth at Badminton 2019 on Cooley Lands and Graf Liberty.
GROWING up, I was lucky to have supportive parents who were always there for me and backed all the decisions I made. This has stood me in good stead during my career; although when I was younger I didn’t realise that a job in the horse world could – and would – go on for so long.
At school I was asked about what I wanted to do and, while I knew I wanted to work with horses, my answer wasn’t necessarily what everyone else wanted to hear. I didn’t really know a career in horses was a real thing. My father still jokes about this now, telling me that it’s time to get a proper job soon. Maybe I will one day.
I had so many idols growing up in Australia; I watched the likes of Andrew Hoy and Matt Ryan win medals in the 1990s and 2000s, which was hugely inspiring. But in later years I’ve trained with Nelson Pessoa, who has been an incredible influence, and I’m so lucky to have spent time with him.
LOOKING UP AND AHEAD
I’VE probably had around two dozen separate moments in my career that have made me change my management or riding in some way – I reckon that every good athlete will have experienced the same. Part of being a professional sportsman is recognising that you’re always working towards a moving target and that you should be working on your own personal growth and performance all the time.
Even the other day an owner said to me, “Surely you don’t need to use those poles on the ground,” and I replied, “Of course I do!” I’m constantly looking to improve my technique, my eye for a distance and my general riding. We should never stop working on ourselves.
I train all my horses and clients over simple poles on the ground at a canter. While it helps the jumping phases, it aids the flatwork side of things, too. I often see riders thinking that they’re really lengthening or collecting their horses but they’re actually not. Working over two simple poles on the ground helps you to get your eye in and ride a better stride – it’s simple but effective.
Horses are meant to live outside so if they’ve been boxed I’ll walk them for at least 20 minutes before I begin trotting and cantering. They’re designed to be free in nature, but this is not always possible due to weather and other circumstances. I hate to compare Australia and the
UK, but over there horses can be outside for longer due to the warmer climate. Here, during summer, our horses are out as much as they can be. It’s about working with what you have and adapting your regime accordingly.
WHEN I’m nervous I spend – or should I say waste – a lot of time polishing my boots. The more nervous I am, the more I polish. You can bet that my boots have an ultra-high sheen when I’m at a major championship, such as Burghley.
The last thing I try to remember before I leave the start box is if I packed a fresh pair of underpants in case I fall at the water jump. While I’m a fairly organised person, my wife is uberorganised so I can be safe in the knowledge that if I haven’t packed them, she will have done it for me.
The one horse I wish I had now would be the one who made me – the full thoroughbred Deo Juvante. My mother found him in Australia’s Horse Deals magazine for $5,000 (£2,770). I was 14 years old and my family were so stressed about spending such a huge amount of money on a horse. But he turned out incredibly and took me from Pony Club to fourstar (now five-star).
“When I’m nervous I spend – or should I say waste – a lot of time
polishing my boots”