Sandra Auffarth and Opgun Louvo demonstrated the same cool-headedness that has won them six championship medals, including the world title in Normandy last year, to take over pole position at the end of the dressage phase at the Longines FEI European Eventing Championships.
A punchy, flowing and completely mistake-free test earned the pair a mark of 31.4, leaving them 0.3 of a penalty ahead of yesterday’s leaders, Britain’s Holly Woodhead and DHI Lupison.
“He was perfect and relaxed, and he really enjoyed the test,” said Auffarth, who spearheads Germany’s campaign to retain the European title it won in Malmö two years ago.
Unsurprisingly, Germany is out in front at the end of the first phase. Its score of 102.7, bolstered by anchorwoman Ingrid Klimke’s mark of 37.8 this afternoon, leaves them almost 10 marks ahead of the second-place British team. The reigning European and Olympic Champion, Michael Jung, is currently lying third individually with FischerTakinou.
The host nation couldn’t quite reproduce yesterday’s glut of scores in the 30s, but there were nevertheless some exciting performances from squad newcomers and young horses.
Pippa Funnell’s nine-year-old, Sandman 7, lived up to expectations and a great test left the pair in 19th position on a score of 41.
“I could feel he was a bit nervous, but he tried very hard and I think his performance shows the quality of horse he is,” said Funnell, who holds the distinction of being the only rider to win back-to-back European titles on the same horse (on Supreme Rock in 1999 and 2001).
British individual Oliver Townend pulled off a great test on new ride Fenyas Elegance to score 38.7. The chestnut mare, a winner of Blenheim and Bramham with Irish rider Aoife Clark, can be difficult to manage but the Scottish Highlands obviously suits her as she was soft and biddable, stopping to eat grass as she came out of the arena.
“The place seems to work in her favour as she felt light as though there could be even more improvement,” said Townend.
Squad debutant Francis Whittington followed Townend’s lead, scoring 37.5 to lie in seventh place. Of tomorrow’s cross-country test, he said: “It helps having ridden round Burghley last week, which was huge and puts this course in perspective.”
The loudest cheer of the day was reserved for local rider Wills Oakden, the sole Scottish representative at the championship.
Oakden, who hails from Fife and is trained by Blair course-designer Ian Stark, was given a rousing reception when he left the arena after his test on Greystone Midnight Melody, which earned him a mark of 46.4.
“I was expecting to be more nervous than I was, but I put myself into a bubble and tried to stay there,” said the 25-year-old. “I’ve always wanted to ride for Great Britain, but if I’m honest I didn’t think I was quite ready yet. The selectors have shown a lot of faith in me and I hope that I can justify that.”
France currently leads the race for Olympic qualification – there are two spots up for grabs at Blair – and lies third in the team rankings. Its trailblazer, Thibaut Vallette, a 41-year-old lieutenant-colonel in the French army, is currently the best-placed of the quartet, sitting in fifth place on a score of 36.8 on Qing de Briot ENE HN.
“I’m very proud to be on the team. I don’t mind going first, as I like to concentrate on myself at a competition rather than watching other people,” he said.
1. Sandra Auffarth (GER) and Opgun Louvo on 31.4
2. Holly Woodhead (GBR) and DHI Lupison on 31.7
3. Michael Jung (GER) and FischerTakinou on 33.5
4. Nicola Wilson (GBR) and One Two Many on 34.6
5. Thibaut Vallette (FRA) and Qing du Briot on 36.8
6. Kitty King (GBR) and Persimmon on 36.9
7. Francis Whittington (GBR) and Easy Target on 37.5
8. Ingrid Klimke (GER) and Horseware Hale Bob on 37.8
9. Laura Collett (GBR) and Grand Manoeuvre on 37.8
10. Niklas Lindback (SWE) and Cendrillon on 38.1
1. Germany on 102.7
2. Great Britain on 112.5
3. France on 115.2
4. Sweden on 119.4
5. Italy on 140.9
Image: Sandra Auffarth and Opgun Louvo take the lead after the dressage phase at the Longines FEI European Eventing Championships at Blair Castle in Scotland, by Jon Stroud, courtesy of the FEI