How my best friend and I took on Burghley

If it is every little girl’s dream to own her own horse, then Charlotte Brear was living the dream for real at the Burghley Horse Trials. The 27-year-old mechanic from Guiseley, West Yorkshire, had never even watched a top-class three-day event, let alone competed in one. Here she recalls her debut on board the horse she bred, Manor Missile, known affectionately as Siren, and their creditable 40th-place finish in an international field.

As an amateur rider who had never competed at one of the international CIC four-star events, my first experience of the Burghley Horse Trials was very special, as well as big and scary.

I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on my performance since returning to my family’s mechanics business, where I work full-time and where I was straight into repairing gearboxes on Monday morning after Burghley.

Burghley is one of the premier equestrian competitions, held across three days, and it tested my dressage, cross-country and show-jumping ability on my horse and best friend, Manor Missile, also known as Siren.

Because it was my first time at such a prestigious event I was extremely nervous when walking around the cross-country course on my own before the competition began. It looked really big and bold, but that’s what Siren is like, so I trusted him. I walked the course with my mum and told her not to say anything because every time we got close to the jumps, she looked really scared and I didn’t want to lose my focus, as the crowds were at least six people deep.

I told her it would be fine, and she kept saying: “Siren’s just as big, we’ll be OK.” However, my mum gets quite nervous when I’m competing and she usually takes herself off to a corner where she won’t talk to anyone. At the end of last season, I bought her a gift to say thank you for all her help with Siren. The coat and jacket, which has ‘Nervous Mum’ detailed on the back, is a staple part of her event-day attire. She wears it all the time and gets so much attention, so it’s always kept in our travelling wagon.

We had a really nice stable at Burghley, situated next to other accomplished riders and their horses, but if I had of been in a stable next to William Fox-Pitt, I would have been a little bit star-struck. He’s had notable successes at all of the major horse trials, as well as having competed in the Olympics, so it was really special when he followed me into the dressage arena. I spoke to him on the way up from the wagons to the arena and he was really complimentary, telling me to enjoy it and reminiscing about his first Burghley experience, and how he still looks back at photographs from the day.

My flying changes (half halts) with Siren were actually laughed at by the crowd in my dressage test. One of the commentators on the day noticed how Siren possessed a very unorthodox way of changing and just as he said this, Siren did the most flamboyant change and everybody laughed.

During the cross-country event, I could feel Siren getting distracted, especially for the first water encounter when he had to turn away from the crowd, so I had a ‘ye har’ moment and I remember kicking to shove him over the fence.

My family and I were all staying in our little wagon next to everyone else’s extravagant wagons. There were three of us and our dog all crammed into a small space for five days, but it was fun.

Being the only rider on Burghley’s entry list who grooms her own horse shows how close I am to Siren, while also highlighting my superstitious nature. I don’t really like change and am very particular about the way I turn him out. He used to have 13 plaits in his hair every time we competed, but it has increased because his mane is so thick now. I groom him every day, and when we go to events I’m always the one who tacks him up, backs him up and studs him up, with the help of our small team at times. I always have to wear nail vanish and it always has to be pink so it matches my cross-country top. The jodhpurs I own are about 10 years old and I wouldn’t dare swap them because that will be the day it all goes wrong.

The relationship I have with Siren is unique. He was bred for me, I broke him in and I’m really the only one to have ridden him. I muck him out and groom him every night, and so I do most things for him. I’m essentially his mum.

Everyone said that he was too big to be an event horse, as well as being too big for me. He is on paper, but I’m just glad that we have managed to prove people wrong. Siren is part-shire, part-thoroughbred, so he’s an interesting combination.

I haven’t treated Siren to any special gifts since he competed at Burghley, but I would love to buy him a million-pound horse box if I won the Lottery someday. However, my dad has always said you should never have a horse box that is worth more than what is inside of it, and I suppose we all stand by that. We have each other and that is all we need.

Siren is enjoying his holiday now, so his shoes have come off and he is enjoying time in the field with a Shetland pony called Ben. He used to be petrified of Ben, but now he seems to have developed a soft spot for him. I suppose Ben is temporarily looking after Siren in a way, until we start training again in November. It will be good for him to spend some quality time as a normal horse, instead of being dragged around the country in a horse box.

Personally, I don’t have any ambitions for Team GB just yet. The less pressure there is, the better. I pay my own way to all the events and so this is my hobby. Badminton would be the dream one day and returning to Burghley would also be fantastic. The organisers really couldn’t do enough for us and I know Siren would love to go back.


Article by Charlotte Brear. Interviewed by Megan Joyce.


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