HUDDERSFIELD’S Oliver Townend labelled Armada an “exceptional talent” ahead of his bid for glory at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.
Townend will be aiming for his second win in the CCI four-star event, four years on from his tremendous success in 2009 on Carousel Quest.
But this year the world No 7 is relying solely on the experienced Armada – a former ride of worldNo 1 Andrew Nicholson – on whom Townend was fourth last year.
Townend, 30, had been enduring a frustrating summer – both Bramham and Luhmuhlen were missed through various setbacks – but he roared back to form at the British Festival of Eventing with three second-placed finishes, highlighted by Armada’s runners-up berth in the CIC three-star event.
He was kept fresh for Burghley with Townend having full confidence in this year’s sole mount, who is now 14 years old.
“Armada, to me, is an absolute exceptional talent,” said Townend.
“He has huge mileage, fantastic form, and he was the best British horse in the class at Gatcombe.
“I think in terms of the European team he was joint best score with the British lot so why write him off? To me, Armada is the most consistent four-star horse or one of the most consistent four-star horses in the world for the last five years.
“He has completed 11 four-stars which is just unheard of and he’s still very good.”
Townend and Armada are battling against a stellar field at Burghley.
New Zealand’s Nicholson is represented by last year’s winner Avebury as well as his Pau and Luhmuhlen CCI four-star heroes Nereo and Mr Cruise Control.
World No 2 William Fox-Pitt – a six-time winner at Burghley – has three horses in Parklane Hawk, Neuf Des Coeurs and Equi-Trek Bramham International Horse Trials winner Chilli Morning.
World No 3 and Kiwi Jock Paget relies on Clifton Promise and Clifton Lush – his heroes of the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials and the British Eventing Open Championship at Gatcombe Park,
Sir Mark Todd, whose first Burghley came in 1987, aims for glory with new ride Oloa and Ravenstar while Pippa Funnell, the only rider so far to win the Rolex Grand Slam at Burghley in 2003, relies on 2010 World Equestrian Games mount Redesigned.
Rising stars Izzy Taylor and Tom McEwen also feature among the top-class entry with Kbis Starchaser and Dry Old Party, respectively, while further Yorkshire representation comes from Northallerton’s Nicola Wilson on her London 2012 hero Opposition Buzz plus Beverley’s Gary Parsonage on Sligo Luckyvalier.
Townend was just 27 when winning his first Burghley title but the Shropshire-based star is putting himself under no undue pressure to quickly add a second.
Townend said: “The most frustrating thing is that just because I don’t win Badminton and Burghley every year since I’ve done that, every time I do anything less it seems like people want to say ‘oh well it’s not the same as it was’ or whatever.
“But people forget that Mark Todd had 14 years between his first and second Badminton win.
“Also, Andrew Nicholson is world No 1 but he’s been eventing for 25 years and won very little. And he still hasn’t won Badminton.
“It’s a long job and I just try and keep blinkered myself and keep working hard.”
Expressing his satisfaction with the team at his disposal, Townend continued: “I’ve got a lovely set of horses, a fantastic set of owners and I’m just absolutely loving what I’m doing.
“I love getting up every morning and riding these future top class event horses and I’ve got a really good string.
“Obviously it’s always helpful to get even more owners and I’d always keep very, very open to new owners and new ideas and new sponsors.
“It seems like I am established because of my owners but obviously I still have to sell horses to make a living.
“But the better or the stronger the team of owners becomes then the less pressure there is to sell horses.
“Then I can concentrate on getting results.”
The bid for a strong Burghley result began with Thursday and Friday’s dressage tests with the cross-country phase taking place today and the show-jumping tomorrow afternoon.
Townend will then hope to be crowned champion tomorrow evening but there will be scant time to sit back on reflect on Burghley 2013.
Townend added: “From Burghley, it’s on to Blenheim then Ballindenisk and then Le Lion and Pau.
“It’s pretty endless!”
Rare opportunity to hear from ‘whispering’ trail-blazer Levinson
INTERNATIONALLY-acclaimed natural horsemanship expert Franklin Levinson is making a long-awaited return to Yorkshire this month.
It is three years since Levinson last came this far north.
However, when he was approached by Tadcaster equine physiotherapist Karina Hawkridge when she was lecturing in Corfu in May, Levinson agreed to squeeze in a four-day clinic before heading off to Australia and New Zealand as part of his winter tour.
There are still some places left for private tuition.
Levinson, originally from Colorado and now based in Greece, has been travelling the globe teaching his effective and gentle horse-training techniques to the public long before the natural horsemanship craze was popularised by the current big names and his popularity is growing.
Levinson’s ‘Training through Trust’ and ‘Way of the Horse’ seminars appeal to equestrian enthusiasts looking to gain confidence and harmony with their horses by applying gentle, intelligent and elegant horsemanship techniques.
Tadcaster’s Hawkridge, who has attended many of Levinson’s clinics, said: “Showing humans how to have the best relationship possible with their horses and how to maintain that relationship has always been one of Franklin’s main goals and his no gimmicks approach is refreshingly simple and effective.”
Levinson now splits his time between running the ‘life enrichment’ centre at Silvaland Equestrian Centre on Corfu with his wife Ilona Staikou and presenting Equine Facilitated Learning and Training through Trust programmes internationally.
This month’s Yorkshire clinic takes place at Broadacres Stables, near Tadcaster, from September 19-22. Spectators are welcome.
For more information please call 07900 887527 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a booking form.