Christopher Burton, or Burto to his friends, is an established elite rider, competing on the Australian, British and European Eventing circuits and is currently based in the UK.
The Gaitpost caught up with Christopher en route to the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials to find out about his inspirations, his road to Rio and how Great Britain compares to Australia on the eventing scene.
Burton has enjoyed a flying season coming 4th at Luhmühlen with his rising star 10 year old Graf Liberty in the horse’s first CCI 4*. Burton went on to win the British Eventing Open Championship at the Festival of British Eventing at Gatcombe on TS Jamaimo, (becoming the first Australian to do so since Clayton Fredericks in 2006) and most recently finished 3rd and 4th at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials on TS Jamaimo and Haruzac.
How did you get in to riding?
My mother is a terrific horsewoman and always rode. She always had nice ponies for my brother and me and we used to ride around the family farm and pretend to be stockmen and the man from Snowy river! We both did Pony Club and enjoying showjumping around Queensland. From there, I think watching Australia win team gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and the 2000 Sydney Olympics was when I knew I wanted to ride.
I came over here with a Young Rider horse and competed at Badminton in 2004. The trip went pretty dismally as I fell off and the same happened at Burghley. I stayed with Sam Griffiths then and when I went back to Australia, I was even more determined to be an event rider out of Australia. I modelled my business on what the guys were doing here in terms of getting owners and getting on the eventing scene.
I moved to England in 2011 with 6 really nice horses. All my owners in Australia supported my move here and helped me to get set up here.
I think people are surprised when they watch eventing back home. Of course there aren’t as many events on the calendar but people are surprised by the quality of the events, the great venues, the really good courses and the very high standard of horsepower. People forget that Australia really dominated the sport of eventing in the 90s and into 2000 and it hasn’t really gone anywhere. But it is fair to say, if you ask me, England is the best place to be based as an event rider and is the hub of eventing. For me, being based here, I can compete more horses and get to more major competitions.
What or who inspires you within the equestrian world? Past and present.
Australia’s success at the Atlanta and Sydney Olympics was very inspirational for me. We were all at Sydney to watch and the way we competed so successfully to Olympic glory was electric.
I‘ve had lots of inspirations but the one that stands out was an amazing little thoroughbred called Deojuvante that I had when I was younger. He took me from pony club to 4* and I really believe I owe most of it to him. He always got great dressage scores and beat everyone. He never had a rail down and was an incredible jumper for such a little blood horse. I never understood why people got time faults, if you needed to make some time up, as if I needed to go faster, my horse speeded it up.
He went on to enjoy a showjumping career with a girl competing at Young Riders, jumping 1.40 up to age of 25.
Is there an all time favourite competition that you’ve been to? And why?
For me, I have been very lucky to have been part of a couple of teams and had a lot of fun, but I have had success at Aachen CHIO. It is my favourite event and everything about it is incredible.
In the CCI 3* I am riding a horse called Nobilis 18, owned by Sue Lawson and Carolyn Townsend and in the CIC 3* 8/9 year class I am riding Monarchs Exclusive.
There have been a few little hiccups with the preparations, but that is fairly normal – you learn to adapt and work with that. I am happy with the shape they are in and the fitness of both horses as long as it doesn’t rain all week.
Competing at Blenheim is very special. I have competed here before and it is an event we very much love due to its amazing setting. That’s one of the most amazing things that makes the British eventing scene so special, we are invited on to these incredible estates that we would never be invited on to ordinarily, and it’s a really great thing.
It was a great event! I took a horse to Burghley in 2011 we were having a beautiful round but perhaps pushed her a bit fast. She jumped the Cottesmore Leap a bit low and we didn’t finish. It was fantastic to cross the finish line this year…twice! It’s a really great event – we thoroughly enjoyed and I was very happy with my lovely horses and delighted for their owners who have supported me for so long. You have to enjoy the good times when they come.
That’s a tough question as I have had so many different horses over the years. I think that whilst I have had some that are über talented and haven’t wanted to do it, and some less talented that have really tried, the willingness to try is important. You can’t always pick that early on. Lailani ended up being one of my better horses, she wasn’t a stand out young horse but always tried hard and just improved and improved right up until she was 18.
It is always difficult to determine, as a professional rider, whether we are being stubborn about a horse’s capacity, or whether the horse genuinely doesn’t want to do it and that’s a difficult thing but I do believe that if you train most horses well, they can deliver.
If you weren’t eventing, what would you be doing?
I’m fairly sporty and love snow skiing. I would want to still be involved in sport but if I didn’t have the capacity to ride, which is something I think about a lot, I would still like to be involved with horses somehow such as training or coaching.
Do you have a secret superstition before a competition?
I’m not superstitious – I try very hard not be to superstitious and put them out of mind, but if I’m nervous you will find me frantically polishing my boots. They end up very shiny!
It’s such a frenetic season, how do you unwind/relax?
Since Burghley you wouldn’t believe how busy it has been and we haven’t stopped with training and novice competitions. I don’t mind a hit of golf and enjoy the driving range, but when I have had a big day, the couch beckons and I watch some terrible US drama on the TV!
Ordinarily our dog Harvey, our cocker spaniel but he is at home and coming to Blenheim later in the week.
What would be your perfect weekend?
Tough one! Just to have a weekend off is always nice! I would have to say being with a small group of my very best friends enjoying a good dinner and a few glasses of wine.
You competed at the London 2012 Olympics. How is your Road to Rio going?
Rio is always in the back of our minds. I am in a fortunate position that I have horses already qualified and a few to choose from. You have to match the horse for the event. The Olympics is a bit different to an event like Burghley for example. You have got to be strong in the dressage and very strong in the show jumping. I am very fortunate to have a good string at the top level so time will tell.
What are your top 4 indispensable pieces of kit?
My huge list of owners. They are our real sponsors. These people are the reason I am able to do what I do. Without them I wouldn’t be lucky enough to be here.
Schockemöhle Sports have been a huge support to my career along the way and you may have seen us out and about in our orange and grey truck. They are wonderful sponsors and have helped us out a lot.
Kentucky horse boots and my saddles from Brighton Saddlery run by Tony Flynn in Australia
We are very grateful to Christopher for chatting to us. We wish him and all riders and horses a safe and exciting weekend at the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials.