Epic Europe Trip 2019: Final thoughts

Now that I’m home and de-jetlagged (it was brutal this time, geez) I’m able to reflect a little bit on the trip as a whole.

First of all, Burghley is incredible. I would 110% recommend it to anyone. The shopping was ridiculous (over 600 vendors???), the food was insane (we ate a lot of cheese), and the crowds were huge. I found the Brits to be extremely nice too – special shout out to Gadding About with Galahad, who I happened to meet on a train platform by pure happenstance, and who also showed us a much quicker shortcut to get into the grounds. Blogging, y’all… it goes worldwide. Getting to see iconic fences like the Cottesmore Leap and the Leaf Pit with my own two eyeballs was really fun, too. The jumps are massive, the terrain is intense, and it’s easy to see why Burghley is the biggest and baddest XC in the sport.

extra scope required

As to the controversy that’s been swirling around regarding all the falls and retirements, I’m a little bit on both sides of the fence. I did not like the gates combination and didn’t think it was fair or safe. Mark Phillips admitted as much himself in a press conference. I also didn’t like the big log oxer going downhill into the Trout Hatchery, I didn’t think it jumped well overall. But I will also say that I saw a lot of big rider mistakes, especially at the Maltings, and a lot of people that should have pulled up but kept going. Most of those falls you could see coming from several fences before. And despite all the problems the course was causing, surprisingly few selected to take the longer easier routes, even when it was clear that the horse was already feeling a bit overfaced. The riders who did it well did it really, really, really well. Smooth and textbook and easy, a total masterclass. The ones that didn’t… it was bad. Take out the trappy, unfair questions for sure. But at a point the rider has to take responsibility for the horse they’re sitting on and know when they need to take a long route, or when they need to put a hand up and call it a day. I did not see enough of that until it was already too late.

Dom and Boly taking a smart option at the Maltings

The other thing that wowed me about Burghley was the turnout for the Young Horse finals. I know I talked about it a bit on the day recap, but it’s something I haven’t stopped thinking about since. The whole culture over there is so much different regarding breeding and young horses, so many people are interested in it. Being part of the crowd there, which numbered in the thousands, and having been a part of the crowd here, which numbered less than 50… it makes you wonder how to get that same level of enthusiasm about young horses and breeding over here. Are we just such a culture of “if you want a nice horse, go import it” that we’ll never have that kind of interest here? I don’t know. It’s a little depressing. Although I did have a bit of a chuckle at the thought of us running our Championships in the same format, with the dressage arena marked in the grass in the ring, and you do your dressage test then go straight over to the jumps. I think some folks might have a fit. I remember doing a FEH clinic a few years ago where someone brought up how the judge rides the top 3 in England, and suggested trying something like that here… one of the ladies had an absolute STROKE at the mere thought of it, saying she wasn’t going to let anyone else sit on her horses under any circumstances. We’re a bit primadonna sometimes. Having to do your jump warmup, then a dressage test, then go straight to your stadium course… I bet there would be a lot of grumbling about that.

This 5yo by Quidam Junior didn’t really trust those thin little branches sticking up out of the top. When in doubt, clear it by a few extra feet and just keep cantering like nothing happened.

Setting Burghley aside, there were lots of other perks of the trip. I’ll be honest, I had been a bit worried about all the trains we had to take (that involved 4 different trainlines and many different stations) because I have historically been REALLY dumb about trains. No joke I’ve gotten lost in the Atlanta airport before because I took the train the wrong way. But somehow we managed to always get where we needed to be, never missing a train or ending up in the wrong place. Way more confident about the train systems in each country now, and next time I think we’ll modify our trip to include more trains and less driving.

I am also completely convinced that the only way to really see a country is to avoid the bigger cities. I’ve come to hate them, even Paris. Getting out in the more rural areas, away from the tourist traps and the constant bustle… that’s my favorite thing. Driving through the French countryside was just so lovely, a thousand times better than anything the city has to offer. You can see the real soul of a place. The same was true in England, I don’t think there is a town in the world that is cuter than Stamford. And have you even FRANCED until you’ve stood in a pasture full of mares and foals in Normandy, fields stretching out in every direction as far as the eye can see?

Although I will say, the French are interesting people. The culture is a lot different from America, especially with regards to lunch time. Like… everything just STOPS at noon and doesn’t start again until 2. Businesses close. Don’t ask to meet anyone anywhere during that time unless it’s for lunch. And if you walk into a restaurant one minute after 2, they won’t be serving anymore, you’re just kind of SOL. This is how we found ourselves at a French McDonald’s, having been a bit late for lunch time and unable to find anything else that was still open. But bonus – you can order at the kiosk and change the language to English, which was a bit of a relief after a couple days of having to use the Google Translate app on every menu. Unsurprisingly, French McDonalds was way better than American McDonalds.

Speaking of which, if you find yourself in a restaurant that offers an english menu, totally get it. It will be entertaining AF. We laughed particularly hard at this dessert section at a restaurant in Deauville.

People have been asking me how we got to meet a lot of these stallions and visit these big farms. There’s not much science to it: just ask. I’ve found that, usually anyway, people are quite generous with their time, and were super kind to us, showing us their horses and talking to us about them in depth. Even if there’s a bit of a language barrier, we all speak horse. You can learn so much just from looking at other people’s horses, and listening to what they have to say. And especially when it comes to breeding, there’s nothing quite like seeing these horses in person. Some really wowed me that I didn’t expect. Others I liked less than I would have thought. Either way, we come away from every trip having learned something and having made at least a couple new friends.

really liked this stallion, Comfort. Legs for days!

And of course, seeing Mighty Magic in person was just BONKERS, I knew from pictures that Presto took a lot after him, but good lord. Now instead of asking him “WHY ARE YOU LIKE THIS” I just look at him and go “I KNOW WHY YOU’RE LIKE THIS”. I keep showing his video to everyone that knows Presto and the reaction is always “oh my god they’re identical, same mannerisms and everything, how crazy is that???”. I’m now totally convinced there’s a gene for mouthiness. Presto is never getting nice reins. Have to admit though, I really loved MM’s total ham personality. Cheeky bastards are my thing.


I think this might have been our best Europe trip yet. We got to do so much, even if it did seem like the trip just flew by. Every day was busy busy busy. I can’t wait to go back and do it again. Maybe Ireland next time?

Michelle is still uploading all the pictures, I’ll post links to the albums once everything is up! If there’s anything I didn’t cover or anything you want to see, just ask.


17 thoughts on “Epic Europe Trip 2019: Final thoughts

  1. I think I agree with your assessment at the maltings… I wish some of the questions on burghley had been left unasked from a course design standpoint. I think the horses were having a hard time riding the white oxers. Don’t even get my started on the stupid angled gates, which were setup in such a way that the safety pins were useless.

    I wish the questions weren’t asked, but I also wish that some of the riders had been more realistic about their abilities. A 5* is the best of the best. I think riders need to accept that not everyone is going to be able to jump every direct route presented on the course. It was hard to watch some of the decisions that people made.

    I don’t like when the XC is hard to watch. I don’t like watching horses get flipped over or tangled up in fences. It makes it distinctively unfun for me.


    1. There were some people who tried the oxers that really shouldn’t have. If your horse was not quite in front of your leg and bold and TACKLING by that point, you were going to have a problem. I was really surprised that only one person took the longest route that skipped the oxers, considering how many horses were already quite backed off by that point.

      I do kind of think that one more let up fence between the trout hatchery and the maltings may have helped too… some of them really got a bit rattled at the trout hatchery and then came into the maltings really wide-eyed. That whole part of the course was question after question after question.


      1. that’s probably true, and I like the idea. a confidence boosting big table getting them jumping out and forward would’ve helped.

        Not that I’m ever going to a 5*, but 0% chance would I ask my horse to jump a fence that size at that point of the course. They were HUGE O.O


  2. Oh gosh Burghley.

    Every time they said that this was someone’s first 5*, I wanted to pull my hair out. If Burghley wants to continue to be the big bad behemoth of the 5* courses, maybe it needs to have an extra qualifier. (Clear XC rounds at the level already). I do think that CMP built the course to be intentionally trappy, which I hate. It’s just too punishing for the horses to make my see it as good sport.

    As for the young horse event, I think people would definitely watch it if they held something similar at KY3DE. I wouldn’t think it would be that hard to set up in the arenas across the road from the Rolex Arena on Dressage days.


    1. They hold our YEH Champs at Fair Hill in the fall. Spring is a bit impractical for doing things of value with babies. But even having it with FH, NO ONE watches. Maybe the crowds will improve when its a 5* instead of a 4*, but… I kinda doubt it. I will say, you do have to cross the street and make a concerted effort to get to the area where we have our YEH, you can’t just stumble upon it, but it’s no farther than we had to walk to get to Ring 2. Maybe a lot of people don’t know it’s there, I suppose. Or don’t want to walk over. I don’t know where else FH could put it though, with how the facility is currently set up.

      Liked by 1 person

            1. I’m hopeful that with the new facilities being built for the 5*, they’ll be able to have more of it in the main area? That would be the dream, at least. Although I remain unconvinced that it would do much to bolster the turnout, at least it would take away one excuse.

              Liked by 1 person

  3. A professor/horse friend of mine typically plans a “horse industry in Ireland” trip every year or two. It was the only study abroad I ever was interested in college! I had a blast, and we stayed on a lot of university/colleges, got to ride, etc


  4. I think CMP has a lot to answer for with that course. Even to me (as a non-eventing “layperson”), when a course produces one trainwreck after another…. well, it just can’t be ALL the rider’s fault. Fine, make it tough as hell but also make it FAIR to our wonderful equine partners who try so very hard. I also like the idea of more qualifying!

    I love your thoughts about staying out of big cities and visiting the countryside on trips abroad. In my travels to Europe I thoroughly enjoyed both… but you’re right, visiting the backwaters and small towns gives you much more of a feel of the place, and more opportunity to interact with the people. I long to explore England and Scotland in this way, and the South of France. If my BF or I could just hit the lottery we’d be off like a shot. 🙂

    Congrats on conquering the train schedules! I get a little (to a lot) nervous just taking mass transit here at home. If you make a mistake you CAN get off at the next stop and turn around, but it sure can be nerve-wracking/confusing. That said, at age 17 I got myself from our hotel to a department store in Paris all by myself via Metro on a completely unauthorized junket (my group chaperones were not best pleased). Never have figured out NYC subway too well, though!


  5. I definitely think the riders need to take more responsibility for their mounts (i.e. if everyone is falling at the maltings, why were people STILL not taking the longer route just to… you know… give yourself the best chance of getting home?), but I do think there were some questionable decisions made regarding that course.

    Yes Burghley is the big bad event, but I don’t think it should be to the detriment of the horse. These are some of the highest level horses and riders in the world and basically 50% got wiped out.


  6. Totally agree about getting out of the cities. When I went to meet Jampy, we went to the quaintest villages. It was like straight out of a history textbook. I felt like I was back in the 1500’s in some places (in a good way)! I feel like cities are somewhat similar everywhere, but the countryside is where you get the real feel of a place. 100% agree with you.
    I didn’t watch Burghley, but have followed along a bit through you mostly. I do like your stance that riders need to take a little more responsibility for their horses. Whether or not the course was fair, we owe it to our horses to do what’s best for them. Even if that means not finishing. Even if it’s at Burghley. Or Devon. Or whatever big venue.


  7. I am LOL at the mouthy pics — I don’t think that’s a special gene, as evidenced by Exhibit Echo. Mouth exists to inhale all things, as per the Young Horse way, sigh. Now you know why I have to dress him up as Horse-ibal Lecter, hahaha. I didn’t follow Burghley, I have a general rule that I won’t watch or ride anything CMP is involved in. It’s been sad to hear he hasn’t changed at all. There is absolutely always a role for rider responsibility, but there is also no excuse for course design which is unfair to the horse, punishing mistakes with horse falls & confidence smashers. I’ve worked with some excellent course designers & observed for a long time — it is absolutely possible to make a top-level, challenging course that doesn’t trap or trick a horse. We know better, we can do better, we owe the horses better, & I don’t want to be part of something that doesn’t take that responsibility as the top priority.


    1. Everyone I know with a MM, even much older and well past baby stage, says they’re quite mouthy. I was hoping he’d grow out of it but now I really doubt it. MM just wanted to hold things in his mouth 24/7 and he’s 16. LOL


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