Olympian Andrew Heffernan made a formidable start to the Defender Burghley Horse Trials as he looks to claim his second piece of silverware in 2023, writes Sportsbeat's Ben Hart.
Heffernan, 48, represented the Netherlands at London 2012 but now bases his operation out of Somerford Park in Cheshire.
He and Harthill Phantom arrived at the storied 5* event in fine form after winning the 4* Aston-le-Walls event in July, and Heffernan believes his horse will be stronger for his pleasing score of 35.2 in Thursday’s dressage.
“It’s the horse’s first time at a competition environment like this and he did get a bit excited which proved a bit challenging in the arena,” said Heffernan.
“From my point of view, it’s all about Saturday. I think the horse has shown me that he is ready to go.”
Nowadays, Heffernan’s primary focus at the top-level lies in the coaching side of things as the Dutch national team’s head coach.
He hopes he can use his experiences from 11 years ago to help the current cohort continue their rich history of Olympic equestrian success.
“It’s up to me now to select the other riders to represent them in the Olympics,” he said.
“Now I’ve ticked that box and qualified myself, I’m stepping back and letting them get on with it, and hopefully they’re good enough.”
For now, Heffernan is not looking any further ahead than Burghley, as he bids to improve upon his 2014 outing when Millthyme Corolla retired in the early stages of the competition.
“I’m Dutch by nationality but I’ve lived in the UK for donkey’s years and it’s all about Badminton and Burghley,” he added.
“I haven’t had loads of horses at this level over the years and I’ve done so many Championships that I’ve ended up going to Badminton more than Burghley.
“I’ve only ridden here a couple of times but it’s really special and I can’t wait for Saturday.”
Defender Burghley Horse Trials (31st August - 3 September 2023) has been a major international sporting and social event for over 50 years. It attracts the world’s top equestrians and over 170,000 visitors. For more information visit www.burghley-horse.co.uk