By Ben Hart at Burghley Horse Trials
Tom Bird may have been the youngest competitor at this year’s Defender Burghley Horse Trials but he delivered a brilliant performance which belied his years.
The Chipping Norton-based rider, 21, secured a top-30 finish at the fabled 5* event onboard Rebel Rhyme, known affectionately as ‘Hughie’ at home.
The 13-year-old was bought as a failed hunt horse but has been mellowed by Bird and his uncle David Kerry on his way to the highest eventing level.
The imposing grey gelding laboured during the dressage – his weakest phase according to Bird – but rallied to climb the leaderboard after successive strong performances in the cross-country and show jumping events.
“It’s been great, it’s a massive achievement just to finish,” said 5* debutant Bird.
“I am super proud of him. The show jumping didn’t quite go to plan but he came out, jumped really well in the warm-up and if I’m honest I probably went in a bit quiet to start with but I’m really proud of him and really proud of the journey to get here.
“We’ll just have to nail it to get ready for Badminton next year.”
Bird initially earmarked Rebel Rhyme as a novice horse before his ‘big heart’ powered him to a handful of top-10 4* finishes.
The week was undoubtedly a roaring success for the pair, but Bird has already identified areas for improvement ahead of their next top-level outing.
Speaking about the atmosphere in Burghley’s majestic main arena, Bird said: “It’s great, it’s really quiet when you go in and I was in there for a little while before the show jumping.
“I went in with a really good canter and probably just dropped off it a bit as I turned to the first so I’m a bit disappointed with myself for that.
“I can’t fault him at all and for us to finish the event, I’m super proud of him.”
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