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Rutland rider Matthew Heath is happy with his performance at the Burghley Horse Trials

Matthew Heath beamed with pride after 'brave' mount Askari completed his first Defender Burghley Horse Trials.

In his seventh Burghley, the Rutland rider guided five-star debutant Askari to a top 30 finish at the famed event in leafy Lincolnshire.

While Heath is no stranger to reaching the final day of the competition, having done so on four occasions with The Lion, the development and determination of his latest ride was cause for celebration.

Matt Heath riding Askari during the cross country phase at the Defender Burghley Horse Trials.
Matt Heath riding Askari during the cross country phase at the Defender Burghley Horse Trials.

"It's strangely been a pretty extraordinary week if I'm completely honest," said Heath.

"This horse has a pretty sketchy past and one way or another he wasn't overly confident in the cross-country phase, I thought that was a very strong track.

"I was very proud of the way he dug deep to jump round that, he's had a lot of rails down in the show jumping recently as well and he's jumped out of his skin, so I'm pretty pleased.

"It seems silly to be really pleased when you're sat at the bottom of the leaderboard but an awful lot haven't got this far.

"He’s probably been braver than both myself and Dickie (Richard Waygood) who rode him before, so I think we're both pretty proud of him and maybe coming back next year and having another go."

Heath had modest expectations heading into Saturday's crucial cross-country stage following Askari's struggles at less high-profile events.

But, on a day where some of eventing's biggest stars failed to complete the course, Askari came through unscathed much to the delight of his rider.

"I said when I came here if he comes round here it'll be a fair achievement, it wasn't that long ago we were at Osberton struggling to get round the three star,” added Heath.

"He doesn’t really think for himself when it comes to the distance when you’re coming to the fences, he doesn’t really adjust himself and you have to do a lot of that for him, but you can’t fault him for bravery."

The event was won for a third time by Olympic champion Oliver Townend who was joined on the podium by British pair David Doel Harry Meade.

South Luffenham rider Richard Jones had to pull out of the event less than 24 hours before the competition got under way.

Jones decided to withdraw five star eventer Alfie’s Clover before last Wednesday’s first horse inspection and trot-up after the horse picked up a minor skin injury.

He last year equalled his best finish at the blue riband international competition when the combination finished seventh.

"The injury was superficial@, said Richard. “Alfie is well and happy and out in the field enjoying grass.

"The wellbeing of our horses is central to everything we do here at Team Jones, so ensuring Alfie stays fit and happy is paramount.”

Richard still hosted his Thursday course walk, supporting the Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire Air Ambulance charity.

"We are so very sorry for his owners, our team, and all his connections,” he added.

"We were looking forward to giving it our best shot at making this another very competitive Burghley."

The Defender Burghley Horse Trials has been a major international sporting and social event for more than 50 years.

It attracts the world’s top equestrians and more than 170,000 visitors. For more information visit www.burghley-horse.co.uk

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