Having made a habit of proving people wrong en route to international success, rising dressage star Caitlin Burgess is determined to stick to her guns in pursuit of her Olympic dream.
The Ilfracombe native has lost count of the number of times she’s been advised to part company with horse Chocotof, with Burgess initially struggling to get the best out of the now 14-year-old after pairing up with him in 2015.
Burgess herself admits she sometimes wonders why she persisted with him, but her unwavering commitment eventually paid dividends and the duo’s clean sweep of success at May’s Wellington CDI added to a record that previously stood at 11 podium finishes in 15 international starts.
Never short of self-belief, 20-year-old Burgess – who got her first equestrian fix on her fourth birthday – is now dreaming of progressing through the Young Riders ranks and emulating London 2012 heroes Carl Hester, Charlotte Dujardin and Laura Bechtolsheimer on the senior stage.
“One particular moment stands out in my mind when a trainer came up to me at a competition and told me I’d never achieve anything with Chocotof,” she said.
“We’ve beaten that trainer a few times since, which makes me quite happy. I always saw his potential but he had lots of injuries, and people thought he was dangerous and naughty.
“In my head I always had a plan of what I wanted to do but I tended to keep it to myself. He’s completely transformed and he just seems to get better and better.
“Watching the dressage team at London 2012 inspired me to commit to dressage, and get to the top. It has been a lot of hard work but it’s paying off and hopefully I can continue to be successful with Chocotof going forward into the Under-25s category.”
Burgess’ fledgling dressage career is powered by a partnership between Entain – owner of Ladbrokes and Coral – and SportsAid, which provides vital funding for training, travel, equipment and access to mentoring.
After completing her GCSE studies at Pilton Community College in Barnstaple, Burgess spent two years learning her trade at the Talland School of Equitation in Cirencester, while she has recently moved to a new yard in Devizes, Wiltshire.
And though the Covid-19 pandemic has restricted her opportunities in the competition arena the 2020 National Young Rider Championship winner is focused on a tilt at this summer’s European Championships – and bringing on Chocotof’s successors with one eye on the future.
She added: “I’ve actually moved yards twice since the first outbreak of Covid-19. Competitions have been affected but I’ve been training well all the way through lockdown.
“We’ve narrowly missed out on the Europeans before, so that’s the big aim now. The show in Wellington was one of the qualification events, so hopefully I can get over the line in terms of selection.
“Competitions like the Olympics will be big goals of mine looking ahead, but not on my current horse. I have a few youngsters who are looking good, so hopefully the future can remain bright.”