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When Olympians and Royalty flocked to Moray for the Burgie horse trials

Polly Lochore, who with her husband Hamish, founded Burgie International Horse Trials.  Photo: Bobby Nelson
Polly Lochore, who with her husband Hamish, founded Burgie International Horse Trials. Photo: Bobby Nelson

Olympians, Royalty, and competitors from all over the world used to flock to Moray for a three-day equestrian competition like no other.

Think Badminton, Burghley — and Burgie.

The Burgie international horse trials ran for three decades and were the extraordinary achievement of Olympian rider Pollyann Hely-Hutchinson, better known these days as Polly Lochore.

She was brought up in Somerset and was an expert horsewoman, representing Britain in the European Championships where they won team gold, and reserve for the Mexican Olympics with her horse, Count Jasper.

She was third at the famous Badminton Horse Trials in 1969.

Polly Lochore (Hely-Hutchinson) on Count Jasper at Badminton in 1969.

Not only did she create the Burgie International Horse Trials for top riders, she also created ‘Wee Burgie’ for local riders, often coached by Polly herself at the Burgie Eventing Centre.

Burgie was the epicentre of all things equestrian in the north, open to the Pony Club and the local Riding Club, which both held their annual camps there and had the use of the cross-country course for competitions.

The local branch of Riding for the Disabled was based there for around forty years.

HRH The Princess Royal with Captain Hamish Lochore on a visit to the Riding For the Disabled at Cranloch Ridiing School in Moray in 2015.  Photo: Gordon Lennox

How do you set about establishing an international event from ground zero on a farm in Moray?

It was not a problem for someone as determined as Polly.

She married Hamish Lochore, himself a well-known horseman, in 1970.

Hamish was in the army at that point, and Polly started to run events in the south.

The couple returned to Hamish’s home in Burgie in 1972, and gradually the trials took off, with Hamish designing the courses.

Polly at  Burgie’s Albino Anaconda jump.   Photo: Becky Matthews

Eventing is an Olympic sport which consist of three disciplines – dressage, show jumping and cross country.

The same rider and horse must complete each of these.

Dressage is always first, performing movements to a set pattern which gets more difficult as the standard increases.

The trials extend

By 1990, Burgie trials had become a two-day event.

1993 saw the first three-day event, including tests of fitness and endurance with ‘roads and tracks’ and steeplechase.

It wasn’t long before riding royalty like Ian Start, Pippa Funnel, Blythe Tait and Andrew Hoy travelled north to compete, alongside real royalty like Zara Phillips, supported by her mother Princess Anne and father Captain Mark Phillips.

The Princess Royal with Polly and Hamish Lochore.  Photo: Gordon Lennox

Princess Anne joined in Burgie’s 21st birthday celebrations in 1998 when she attended and presented the prizes.

Polly said at the time: “We are particularly honoured that the Princess Royal will be coming to Burgie to mark our 21st birthday.

“She is a past Olympic competitor in three-day events and her support is greatly appreciated,” she said.

“Burgie is the most northerly of all horse trials, but this does not stop the top riders from making the long journey from the south to compete in Moray.”

Ian Stark competing in the 3 Day Event at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.   Photo: Andrew Cowie/Shutterstock</p> <p>

That year the current British Olympic equestrian team members Gary Parsonage, Karen Dixon and Ian Stark and rising star Ruth Friend were among those leading the chase for the major honours.

The trials had become an important family day out too, with a packed programme featuring entertainments such as falconry displays, sheepdog demonstrations, laser shooting, a pets’ parade, quad bike course and electronic rodeo bull to test the layman’s bravery.

Royal delight

The Princess Royal delighted visitors that year by staying most of the day, and meeting up with her daughter Zara, then 17, a pupil at nearby Gordonstoun School.

“They hugged and enjoyed a private chat on the bumper of a Land Rover as the temperature soared to the mid-seventies,” reported the P&J.

Zara on her horse Toytown competing in the Dressage at Burgie horse trials in 2001.  Photo: David Pattinson</p> <p>

Three years later Zara would make her three-day event debut at Burgie.

She recorded 52.6 points on her own 17 hand, eight-year-old chestnut gelding Toytown, to put her in 12th place overall, much to the delight of her father who watched her intently from the edge of the arena.

The Princess Royal and her daughter Zara Philips walk the Burgie show jumping course. Photo: Les Parker</p> <p>

In 2002, the ‘friendly trials’ as Burgie was known, featured every member of the British team from the previous two Olympic Games, as well as Olympians from throughout the world.

By this time Polly and Hamish’s son Hugh had become an international course designer of some distinction, and developed  several novel and challenging fences for the Burgie trials.

Polly said: “Hugh has really let his imagination rip around the 15th century castle where he has built a drawbridge and a catapult as the alternative.”

Burgie buzzing

The event gradually extended to five days, setting Burgie abuzz catering for huge numbers of people, and laying on very popular parties.

Temporary stables had to be hired, so Burgie became a tented village, covered in marquees.

Tim Stark, assistant course builder, Polly Lochore, and Mark Watler, head course builder, pictured in 2011. <br />Photo: David Whittaker-Smith

Meanwhile Polly was also dedicated to the running of the sport and served on the British Eventing Board for three terms.

She was also on the Sports Committee for Eventing for several years and remains honorary vice-president of British Eventing.

With Hamish, she helped run other events in the country, with Hamish commentating on the cross-country.

Polly encouraged younger riders

She never forgot younger riders, and was on the Pony Club Eventing Committee for two decades, helping re-shape their rule book.

Eventually the growth of similar-level horse trials in the south, and the high price of diesel made it less attractive for competitors to come to Burgie.

The last three-day event was in 2011 and the last international in 2012.

Polly Lochore with her horse Couldoran aka Flavy.  Photo: Jason Hedges

But Burgie continued to run events for intermediate, Novice, Pre-Novice and beginners which proved very popular.

The very last event in Burgie trail’s history was held in July this year, attracting around 200 competitors- and a fair degree of sadness at the end of an era.

Grace Moran is the British Eventing rider representative for Scotland, and organised a tribute to the Lochores at this year’s Blair Castle event, presenting them with a picture summing up their contribution to eventing.

Polly and Hamish Lochore with their presentation picture at Blair Castle this August.  Photo: Jim Crichton Media

Competing in the last trials this year brought things full circle for Grace as she first competed at Burgie at the age of nine,  eventually being placed in the trials as a teenager.

She said: “It was inspirational having the top names coming up and yet Burgie being accessible to everyone.

“There was inclusiveness at all levels, and it was great having it so far north.

“I’m a huge fan of Polly and Hamish, a huge fan of Burgie.”