Behind the scenes at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials

Words by:
Carole Pendle
Featured in:
May 2015

It’s easy to walk through the gates of the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials each September and focus on the world class sport on offer and the fantastic shopping experience, without giving a thought to the dedicated, behind the scenes team who work tirelessly to ensure that the UK’s sixth largest sporting event runs without a hitch.
While it’s natural to notice the exciting changes to the cross-country course, the launch of the latest Land Rover vehicle or the new exhibitors on the food walk, less obvious is how a complex infrastructure fit to welcome around 160,000 visitors over just four days is created on a ‘greenfield’ site without electricity or plumbing.

Away from the competition, the considerations are endless – acres of tentage, tickets, traffic management, loos, litter, security, medical cover, catering outlets, over 600 shops and onsite camping for contractors and exhibitors, to name but a few. And at the end of it all, the park must be returned to a pristine state in half the time it took to build this extraordinary event.

This mammoth task is co-ordinated year round by a secretariat of just eight staff who are based at Event HQ, a Nordic-style log cabin situated in the grounds of Burghley Park.

The youngest member of the team is Georgia Papworth (24) who has worked on the event since 2011.

“As a local Spalding girl, the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials has always been a part of my life and I remember coming as a child. I never thought back then that I’d be lucky enough to work here. This has got to be my dream job!” says Georgia.

Georgia’s main role is to support competition secretary Anne Whitton with all aspects of the main Three Day Event. She also manages The Pony Club Team Jumping, the Sunday Programme in the Main Arena and liaises with the Equestrian Sponsors. Along with the marketing manager, Sol Sunnarvik, she also edits the equestrian content for the in-house magazine Burghley Life.

“We’ve been planning this year’s 150-page Burghley Life magazine since January,” says Georgia. “I work closely with Sol and we are both involved in coming up with interesting feature ideas, making them happen and of course proofreading the results. The final product, after more than seven months’ work, is sent out to our members on the August bank holiday weekend.”

The Burghley team are acutely aware of the need to keep up to date with the latest technical innovations and the evolving ways in which people now want to receive information. Georgia explains: “Sol is responsible for keeping the event’s social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter packed with news and information. She also incorporates a series of fabulous competitions, with prizes sourced from sponsors and exhibitors, in the immediate run-up to the event.”

Another crucial part of the jigsaw is producing the competition content for the event programme. The whole process takes many months and is started well in advance. Georgia explains: “I start with last year’s programme as a template and then look at areas that need updating and changing. Once the layout is confirmed, I then populate the pages with all the key information – from the names of the Dubarry Land Rover Burghley Young Horse class judges, to details on the Twemlows Stud embryo transfer prize, not to mention entries – so a keen eye for detail is a must.

“I’m generally a pretty laid back sort of person. But getting the programme right is the one thing that can give me sleepless nights. Because there is so much time pressure, it’s easy to make a mistake and I do worry that I might miss a really big ‘typo’ or get the names of horses and riders wrong.

“Although most of the programme is signed off in August, the tricky part is getting the entries published as there are always changes up to the last minute. We do a final proofread on the Sunday before the event, to update the entries and withdrawals, before sending it to the printers on the Monday. Our brilliant printers then fire out 16,000 copies, which are rushed back to the office for Wednesday afternoon, just in time for the first trot up.”

Georgia’s colleagues are also hard at work, year round. Sophie Attwood’s role is to liaise with the event’s contractors. She’s responsible for the onsite build of the showground while Katherine Nicholls’s remit is to coordinate both in-house and external signage and traffic routing to ensure that visitors have a quick and easy journey into the grounds.

Having taken on the management of the Equestrian Sponsor portfolio this year, Georgia now works closely with Katherine to cement relationships with existing sponsors and recruit new ones. 2015 has already seen premium clothing brand Dubarry renew its sponsorship of the Burghley Young Event Horse Series, while Winston Churchill’s favourite champagne, Pol Roger, has just come on board as the ‘Official Champagne’ for the event.

Georgia’s line manager, Anne Whitton, is widely recognised for her encyclopedic knowledge of the event. Her multifaceted role covers everything from preparing the competitors’ schedule to organising the fence judge training sessions. These are crucial and run through various scenarios that the judges could be faced with – for example a fall, refusal, a run out or a serious incident involving injury to horse or rider.

Communicating with volunteers is another important task, as Georgia explains: “All our medics, vets and farriers are volunteers. Anne and I write to everyone who took part last year to invite them back. There are nearly 2,000 volunteers working over the four days of the event. Their generosity of spirit is amazing and we’re extremely lucky to be able to call on such an array of experts.”

Philip Herbert, Clerk of the Course, is responsible for the groundwork and management of the cross-country course year round and heads a team of fence builders who work out of a dedicated onsite workshop.

Philip ensures the grass on the course is mown all year round to a length of about three inches, which provides the perfect cushion for galloping horses. It is also regularly spiked with an aerator, which allows any surface water to drain away. He will host regular
visits from course designer Captain Mark Phillips to review work, changes to the course and new fences.
Mark then works closely with David Goldstrom, who heads up TV in Europe and produces Burghley’s dedicated online TV channel. It’s crucial that Mark and David get together at an early stage to discuss TV requirements and the detail of where cameras can be situated, without getting in the way, but at the same time showing off the action to its best.
So, while September may feel like a long way off for most of us, for the small busy team in Burghley Park the countdown has already begun.

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