She was part of the silver medal-winning Great Britain team alongside Pippa Funnell, Nicola Wilson and William Fox-Pitt, and was also the highest British individual finisher in fourth place aboard Persimmon, ending just 0.1 of a penalty behind bronze medallist Thibaut Vallette.
“My horse has really delivered this week and been on really good form and onside with me,” Wiltshire-based King said.
” I couldn’t have asked for more — I am just a bit gutted we were 0.1 behind the Frenchman — but I can’t be disappointed at all, and to get a team silver was brilliant.
“In terms of Rio, I really hope that I can be in the mix, but horses are horses and you don’t know how they will come out next year. They have got to stay in one piece, and it is a long time until next summer.
“I have got Persimmon and a very nice eight-year-old Ceylor Lan. I would hope to have both horses up there in the reckoning and hopefully in the selectors’ eyes, but anything can happen with horses.
“The Olympics is definitely a huge goal of mine, and I would love to try and get there.
“The last few days have been a brilliant experience, and it has been fantastic having such great home support. I heard the crowds the whole way here, which is pretty special. It really was phenomenal support.”
Michael Jung’s grin as he soared over the final show jump and crossed the finish line said it all. In sealing victory for Germany at the Longines FEI European Eventing Championships with a clear round in the showjumping he equalled the record set by Ginny Elliot in 1989 of winning three individual European Championship titles on three different horses.
The defending champion’s performance on a horse that only has only a fraction of the experience of others in the field was nothing short of remarkable. He finished on his dressage score of 33.5 to win individual gold by nearly 10 penalties.
“FischerTakinou is a young horse, but he’s a top horse, and he has shown today that he has the quality for the next big championship,” said Jung, who received his medal from Her Majesty The Queen, who was presenting the prizes.
When Germany’s Yorkshire-born team trainer Christopher Bartle was asked whether he thought Her Majesty might have something to say about an Englishman training the winning German team, he retorted: “I think you’ll find there is quite a lot of German blood in the royal family!”
Sandra Auffarth and her brilliant partner Opgun Louvo added to their extensive championship medal tally with individual silver.
“I think we will have a party tonight,” she smiled. “To be part of such a great team is an amazing feeling.”
The third counting team member, Ingrid Klimke, finished fifth with Horseware Hale Bob.
Thibaut Vallette, a colonel in the French army, led his country to team bronze and collected the same colour medal in the individual competition.
“This is my first team championship appearance, so I really didn’t expect this result,” admitted Vallette, who has ridden beautifully all week on the spring-heeled Qing du Briot ENE HN. “The main objective was to qualify the team for the Rio Olympics [both France and the fifth-placed Swedish team succeeded], so for me this is a double victory.”
Britain has suffered mixed fortunes all week, but hung on to the team silver medal with all but one of its three remaining members jumping clear rounds.
“Didn’t the girls do brilliantly,” said William Fox-Pitt, who failed to complete yesterday’s cross-country on Bay My Hero, but was there to support the remaining all-female trio.
Nicola Wilson had a lucky escape when One Two Many crashed through an oxer, but both Pippa Funnell and Kitty King jumped classy clears on their relatively inexperienced horses.
“Persimmon’s been fantastic all week and he couldn’t have jumped better today,” said a relieved and delighted King. “I knew he could do it so long as I didn’t mess up.”
There was disappointment, though, for individual Izzy Taylor, whose one fence down on KBIS Briarlands Matilda dropped her from individual bronze to sixth place, but it was still a performance to take heart from.
“Of course I’m disappointed, but there have been a lot of positives this week and I’ve very much got my eye on Rio next year,” said a philosophical Taylor. After all, her cross-country round was many people’s idea of the performance of the day.
Image: Michael Jung during the dressage test at the FEI European Eventing Championships, by Jon Stroud, courtesy of the FEI
Nicola Wilson revealed her huge sense of relief after avoiding a showjumping fall that would have meant Britain’s team being eliminated from the Longines FEI European Championships at Blair Castle.
Wilson somehow clung on to One Two Many following a major mishap at fence eight on Sunday morning.
With team-mate William Fox-Pitt and Bay My Hero out after Saturday’s cross-country phase, Britain’s remaining three riders Wilson, Kitty King and Pippa Funnell all had to complete their showjumping rounds to stay in medal contention.
But it was a close-run thing after Wilson took off too early, yet One Two Many somehow got over the fence and Wilson stayed on. After their miracle escape, the four faults collected hardly seemed to matter.
“I over-prepared,” Wilson said. “The distance came up quite quickly after a treble, and I put him in an impossible position, but what a super horse to jump it.
“All that was going through my head was ‘there are only three of us, don’t fall off, you have got to stay on’. It felt like a lifetime. I had a lot of time to think of the consequences.”
Britain ended up with the silver medal, albeit a distant 50.6 penalties from gold medallists Germany, while France took third and secured Olympic qualification, with the other available Rio 2016 spot being booked by Sweden.
Image: Nicola Wilson during the trot-up at the FEI European Eventing Championships, by Jon Stroud, courtesy of the FEI
The rain fell unrelentingly on Blair Castle today and produced thrills and spills galore on cross-country day at the Longines FEI European Eventing Championship in Scotland.
Ian Stark’s track proved as influential as predicted and, as the day went on, a gripping competition unfolded, characterised by some exceptionally gritty, bold riding in less than ideal conditions.
Germany still lies in first place and the reigning champions look unstoppable, with a 47-penalty lead going into tomorrow’s final showjumping phase.
Having won Burghley last week with FischerRocana, Michael Jung produced yet another masterclass of inspired cross-country riding on the youngest horse in the competition, the eight-year-old FischerTakinou, to finish on his dressage score of 33.5, clear and inside the time.
“He is a fast horse with a lot of thoroughbred blood. I set out quite slowly and helped him a bit, but then, towards the end, I said to him, ‘go faster’ and he did, which was a wonderful feeling,” said Jung.
Overnight leaders Sandra Auffarth and Opgun Louvo dropped down the order with 11.2 time penalties, while Ingrid Klimke and Horseware Hale Bob provided the third counting score for Germany, finishing just over the 10 minute 14 second optimum, having gone round in some of the worst conditions at the end of the day.
“The only ‘moment’ we had was at rail and ditch combination [fences 23 and 24ab], where he chipped in a half stride and I tipped forward. Luckily, he galloped away from the fence and it was OK,” said Klimke. “He finished full of running having really enjoyed himself. He’s so smart and bold; such a good fellow!”
The Brits retained their silver-medal position despite suffering mixed fortunes. Pathfinder Kitty King rode to orders and brought the classy 10-year-old Persimmon home clear with 8.4 time penalties, having taken one long route at the third water, the First of Forth Crossing.
“I’m so relieved because I was feeling the pressure this morning,” said King, who revealed that the team physio has been acting as her “psychiatrist” and “listening to all my worries.
“It was a good fun track to ride and it’s great to feel that I haven’t let anyone down,” she added.
The pressure was on after the next rider out, Nicola Wilson, had an uncharacteristic error when One Two Many glanced off at the second of the corners in the arena, but former double European Champion Pippa Funnell pulled a fantastic performance out of the bag with the relatively inexperienced Sandman 7 to boost the home side’s morale. The nine-year-old visibly grew in confidence all the way round and their clear with 9.6 time penalties left the pair 10th on the individual leaderboard.
“I was very conscious of not over-facing this lovely young horse but I knew I couldn’t go quietly because of the team,” said Funnell. “The horse was really classy and I’d love to think we could go to Rio.”
Anchorman William Fox-Pitt, usually the lynchpin of British championship efforts, saw his fortunes tumble still further when Bay My Hero followed a below-par dressage test yesterday with two run-outs at the narrow triple brush at fence 17.
“I can’t blame him. He’s a genuine horse who never normally runs out, but he wasn’t going on the ground, which was deep and holding by the time I went,” said a despondent Fox-Pitt, who retired the gelding at this point.
Individuals Izzy Taylor and Gemma Tattersall were the two standout performers in the British camp, finishing clear and inside the time – the only two riders to do so other than the overnight leader.
“She’s a very good cross-country horse and she was superb the whole way round,” said Taylor. “I was a little bit down on my minute markers and I didn’t want a few sloppy time penalties, so I pressed for home at the end and she responded.”
Wills Oakden, flying the flag for the Scots, produced a superb — albeit slow — clear, but there was disappointment for Holly Woodhead, whose dreams were shattered when DHI Lupison slipped and stopped in the first combination at fence 4. Sarah Bullimore and Oliver Townend both racked up 20 penalties apiece, while Francis Whittington was forced to call it a day when a tiring Easy Target stopped at the influential Haggis, Neeps and Tatties fence (at 21ab and 22). The middle element of this fence had already been removed after three horses in a row fell while negotiating the haggis at the top of the steep precipice.
France, currently lying in the bronze medal position, enjoyed a successful day, posting three clear rounds. Their best-placed rider is championship first-timer Thibaut Vallette, who rode an accomplished round on Qing du Briot to lie fourth individually.
The Netherlands, Sweden and Spain lie fourth, fifth and sixth, but there was disappointment for Ireland, Belgium, Switzerland and Russia, which failed to get three riders home.
1. Michael Jung (GER) and fischerTakinou on 33.5
2. Sandra Auffarth (GER) and Opgun Louvo on 42.6
3. Izzy Taylor (GBR) and KBIS Briarlands Matilda on 44
4. Thibaut Vallette (FRA) and Qing de Briot ENE HN on 45.2
5. Kitty King (GBR) and Persimmon on 45.3
6. Ingrid Klimke (GER) and Horseware Hale Bob on 46.6
7. Gemma Tattersall (GBR) and Arctic Soul on 47.3
8. Dirk Schrade (GER) and Hop and Skip on 48.3
9. Laura Collett (GBR) and Grand Manoeuvre on 48.6
10. Pippa Funnell (GBR) and Sandman 7 on 50.6
1. Germany on 122.7
2. Great Britain on 169.3
3. France on 179.7
4. The Netherlands on 209.3
5. Sweden on 247.8
6. Spain on 253.8
Michael Jung and FischerTakinou jumped clear and inside time during cross-country, helping shore up Germany’s lead at Blair Castle, by Jon Stroud, courtesy of the FEI
Great Britain’s cross-country pathfinder, Kitty King, ensured a bright start for the host nation on a wet and dismal day in the Scottish Highlands as the Longines FEI European Eventing Championships reached its pivotal stage at Blair Castle.
Riders were not only greeted by Ian Stark‘s superbly-designed course, but also by testing weather conditions as heavy rain began falling about 30 minutes before the cross-country start time.
Nevertheless, King conquered the challenge, collecting just 8.4 time faults aboard Persimmon for a score of 45.3 as Britain looked to stay in touch with overnight leaders and reigning European champions Germany.
“I was asked to ride the course as I found it and do my own thing, really,” King said.
“The rails and ditch complex was fairly eventful, but we got throught it. As Yogi (Great Britain chef d’equipe Yogi Breisner) said, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what you look like, as long as you go between the flags. My horse was pretty brilliant.
“It was a bit nerve-wracking going first. It wasn’t the position I assumed I would be going in, but I had a little bit of time to get my head around it and talk it through with our team physio Kate.
“I had a really good plan before I went out, and it meant I just could stick to it and be confident.
“It is a massive relief. It feels great not to have let anyone down. That was the thing that was panicking me most – letting the others down.”
British individual challenger Gemma Tattersall was the early star performer, jumping clear inside the time on Arctic Soul, but Holly Woodhead (DHI Lupison) and Sarah Bullimore (Lilly Corinne) both had time and jumping faults and dropped down the leaderboard.
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
Saying that Dutch rider Merel Blom has a considerable work ethic is a massive understatement. Eventers are not known for taking life easy, and Blom is no exception.
She manages to study financial law at university in Rotterdam while riding up to a dozen horses — a gruelling combination that would tire most people out just by thinking about it, let alone doing it.
However, Dutch success at last year’s World Equestrian Games in Normandy — a bronze medal represented their first podium finish at major championship level — has made her life enormously easier.
“It has helped hugely with sponsorship, which means that we can concentrate on our riding more,” Blom said.
“And the fact that we are qualified for Rio 2016 means we can focus on doing our best at Blair Castle as preparation for the Games next year.”
Blom scored 47.4 in the the dressage at the Longines FEI European Eventing Championships at Blair Castle aboard Rumour Has It, which she bought from Germany’s 2008 Olympic champion Heinrik Romeike at a high-performance horse sale.
“This is my best score at a championships, so it’s a good position to start with. But he is a cross-country machine, so I will just have to run a bit faster to move the team up.”
And while Blom’s hopes of making the Olympics are high, she is also about to embark on a master’s degree: “I think it will have to take three years as I will have to interrupt it for the Olympics.”
Merel Blom and Rumour Has It at the World Equestrian Games 2014 in Normandy, by Aurel, CC BY 2.0
Oliver Townend continued the feelgood factor surrounding Great Britain’s squad at the Longines FEI European Eventing Championships on Friday as his ride Fenyas Elegance posted a dressage personal best.
After the heady heights of day one, when five British riders claimed places among the top seven at Blair Castle, Townend also put himself in contention with a horse he only started competing on earlier this season.
But the richly promising partnership showed signs of its quality by recording a score of 38.7 penalties.
“It’s the first time in her life she has been in the 30s, so I couldn’t be happier,” said former Badminton and Burghley winner Townend.
“It has been written that she couldn’t handle the pressure, but she has gone in there and gone very well.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with her performance. She has done a very, very nice job, she has scored a personal best and there is still room for improvement.
“You can always improve – there are still things I need to get to grips with. She is a very new ride — I think this is only my fourth event on her, really — so I am very pleased with her.
“It was a fantastic crowd reaction. It worked in her favour, she lifted up a little bit and felt happy and relaxed.”
Townend helped Britain to European team gold at Fontainebleau in 2009, but this time around he is among eight British riders competing as individuals alongside Izzy Taylor, first-day leader Holly Woodhead, Francis Whittington, Wills Oakden, Laura Collett, Sarah Bullimore and Gemma Tattersall.
Holly Woodhead, a 21-year-old making her debut at a senior championship, tops the leaderboard at the end of the first day of dressage at the Longines FEI European Eventing Championships 2015.
It has been a wonderfully successful day for the British squad at Blair Castle, with the host nation occupying five of the top seven places and sitting top of the team standings. The first two riders, Kitty King and Nicola Wilson, scored 36.9 and 34.6 respectively.
“It’s been an exciting day for us with a lot of personal bests in the dressage arena,” said Wilson, who was thrilled with her test on the elegant One Two Many.
Woodhead’s performance, though, was the main talking point of the day. It was soft, fluent and expressive and earned her and the 11-year-old gelding DHI Lupison, owned by her father and step-mother, Ian and Heidi Woodhead, a score of 31.7.
“My aim was to try and produce the same test as I did at Aachen [where they scored 34.3 in the recent Nations Cup]. It takes a lot of work to get him to that point, but I had a plan for the warm-up and stuck to it. He felt very relaxed and rideable in there,” said Woodhead, who was an individual silver medallist at last year’s Young Rider European Championship in Portugal and won the Under-25 CCI3* at Bramham earlier this year with DHI Lupison.
Riding the youngest horse in the field proved no handicap to German team member Michael Jung, who has made the best possible start to his title defence at the Longines FEI European Eventing Championship by scoring 33.5 on the eight-year-old FischerTakinou.
The world number one has an extraordinary ability to ride for every possible mark and, as the test progressed and the horse relaxed, his scores steadily improved; he earned three 9s for his riding from the Ground Jury, President Sue Baxter (GBR), Andrew Bennie (NZL) and Sandor Fulop (HUN).
“I’m very happy,” said Michael. “Takinou is a wonderful horse, very good at dressage and relaxed. He has been to a few bigger competitions this year with a bit of atmosphere, but he listens to the rider.”
Jung, who is still limping after his fall at Burghley, has been enjoying travelling around the event site on a Segway vehicle.
“I’m having great fun,” he said after using it to get around the cross-country course. “It’s a true championship track, tough with big hills and I think the optimum time will be difficult.”
If Jung wins this weekend, he will equal Ginny Elliot’s record in the 1980s of three consecutive European titles on three different horses.
Frenchman Thibaut Vallette got his country off to great start this morning, posting a mark of 36.8 with Qing de Briot ENE HN. Karim Florent Laghouag boosted France’s team score further with a mark of 38.7 on Entebbe de Hus to leave the French in second place in the team standings, just ahead of Germany.
Laura Collett, back on the British squad for the first time since 2011, was thrilled with her test on the big-moving Grand Manoeuvre, which left her on a score of 37.8 and in sixth place at this stage.
“After Holly’s test, I knew I couldn’t let the side down,” said Laura, who followed her friend into the arena.
Sarah Bullimore, whose last-minute call-up to the British squad yesterday following the withdrawal of Dani Evans’ Smart Time left her with no time for arena familiarisation, still conjured a beautiful test from her chestnut mare, Lilly Corinne. Despite some tension in the walk it was still good enough to break the 40 barrier [38.2].
“It’s been a whirlwind 24 hours,” admitted Sarah. “She’s a hot-headed mare and it was a pity about the walk, but I’m thrilled with her overall.”
Sweden’s Anna Nilsson (Luron) and Switzerland’s Patrizia Attinger (Raumalpha) complete the top 10 at this stage.
1. Holly Woodhead (GBR) and DHI Lupison on 31.7
2. Michael Jung (GER) and FischerTakinou on 33.5
3. Nicola Wilson (GBR) and One Two Many on 34.6
4. Thibaut Vallette (FRA) and Qing du Briot on 36.8
5. Kitty King (GBR) and Persimmon on 36.9
6. Laura Collett (GBR) and Grand Manoeuvre on 37.8
7. Sarah Bullimore (GBR) and Lilly Corinne on 38.2
8. 8. Karim Florent Laghouag (FRA) and Entebbe de Hus on 38.7
9. Anna Nilsson (SWE) and Luron on 39.7
10. Patrizia Attinger (SUI) and Raumalpha on 42.4
1. Great Britain on 71.5
2. France on 75.5
3. Germany on 76.6
4. Sweden on 91.4
5. Ireland 96.6
Holly Woodhead and DHI Lupison, by Jon Stroud, courtesy of the FEI
Patience proved a winning virtue for Kitty King, who got Great Britain off to a flying start at the Longines FEI European Eventing Championships.
King, who is part of the four-strong British team alongside Nicola Wilson, Pippa Funnell and William Fox-Pitt, set the tone for a memorable opening day at Blair Castle when she posted a dressage score of 36.9 penalties on Persimmon.
“I couldn’t have asked for more from him,” she said.
“Tracie Robinson (Great Britain eventing team dressage coach) has been really helpful all week just trying to get him right. We haven’t worked him up often, we’ve done lots of stretching and softening work.
“I was getting a bit tetchy to do more and ask for more, and she told me to hold fire and wait for the day, and she was right. He really did deliver for me.”
After her dressage heroics, King must now refocus for Saturday’s cross-country test, when she will be pathfinder for the British quartet as the medal race begins to hot up.
“I was a little surprised when Yogi (Great Britain chef d’equipe Yogi Breisner) said would I go first,” she added.
“Because I haven’t been on a team before, I thought they would put me in the middle somewhere, so I kind of got that in my head. I’’ve had a bit of time to get my head round it, and it’s not as bad as I thought.
“You want to make sure you get a good round – and a quick one – for the team, so there is a bit more pressure than when you are riding for yourself, but we will do our absolute utmost and hope to have a good round. He is a solid cross-country horse, so hopefully he will be alright.”
Sarah Bullimore admitted she had been on “an emotional rollercoaster” after delivering an outstanding dressage performance on day one of the Longines FEI European Eventing Championships at Blair Castle.
Earlier this week, Bullimore would not have expected to be part of the 12-strong Great Britain squad, but she answered a late call after Dani Evans‘ ride Smart Time was withdrawn following routine blood tests.
It meant a hectic 24 hours once she had received the call to head north, yet she responded magnificently by posting a dressage score of 38.2 penalties aboard Lilly Corinne as Britain enjoyed a memorable opening day in the Scottish Highlands.
“Because it’s quite a journey from home, we were travelling up so we were available,” said Bullimore. “We would have been gutted to have been waiting at home and someone dropped out and I missed the start, so we were at least on route.
“She (Lilly Corinne) was working towards Pau, so you are always working, but you normally have a pinnacle and those last final stepping stones, so when we got here yesterday I did feel a little bit under-prepared in that sense, but the horse is ready and she’s fit and well and fine.
“I am chuffed with her. She is a hot mare, but she can deliver a stunning test. It was a shame she was just slightly on the wobble in the walk, but I’m really really pleased with her.
“She literally has only had 24 hours to settle in and see the sights. She was fantastic, she was absolutely lovely to ride in there, really soft and amenable.”
And reflecting on her senior championship chance, Bullimore added: “It’s all my dreams come true. I have waited 20-odd years for this, and to get my flag is just fantastic.
“It feels fantastic (to be in team kit), it’s just sad that my gain is someone else’s misfortune. All I can say is that Dani has been the utmost professional, and I know she will have her day and we wish her all the best.”
Eventing history will be made this week when Scotland stages its first Longines FEI European Eventing Championships at the spectacular Highlands setting of Blair Castle.
But will the script remain unaltered and German domination of the sport be underlined less than 12 months before all routes lead to Rio and next summer’s Olympic Games?
Blair is set to provide its unique challenges — not least a cross-country course designed by British Olympian Ian Stark that will make maximum use of undulating, rolling terrain — and home advantage could be important for a 12-strong Great Britain squad led by former world-number-one William Fox-Pitt.
Eventing’s power-shift in recent years has been graphically illustrated through results at the Europeans. Whereas it used to be a tale of British domination — eight successive team titles between 1995 and 2009 — this is no longer the case.
The last two championships have proved to be German property, with team gold secured in 2011 (Luhmühlen) and 2013 (Malmö), while star rider Michael Jung has claimed a European individual gold medal double, and it would be no surprise if he was joined on the podium this time around by his colleagues Ingrid Klimke and Sandra Auffarth.
Klimke is in the form of her life and fresh from an emphatic three-star triumph at Aachen, while Auffarth arrives in Perthshire as reigning world champion and Jung, just three days ago, won his first British four-star when he captured the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials crown, although at Blair he rides one of his lesser-known horses in FischerTakinou.
France, Sweden, Holland and Ireland will be among the other teams determined to have their say in proceedings, but it is difficult to look beyond the German dream machine as potential winners, despite a healthy British mix of youth and experience having been selected for Blair.
“We are going with a lot of confidence,” Klimke said. “It is quite something that we have come so far as a team (reigning Olympic, World and European champions), but it is also even harder to stay there! You only have to look at some of the surprising results at Burghley to see that anything can happen.”
Britain have not been beaten on home soil in a European Championship since Russia triumphed at Burghley 53 years ago, and they are likely to mount a strong title bid, given the presence of riders like Fox-Pitt, Nicola Wilson, Pippa Funnell, Oliver Townend and Kitty King.
“It makes a nice change to be on home soil,” said Townend, who was part of the 2009 gold medal-winning British team in Fontainebleau, France.
“Blair is a great venue and it is very testing, with a very tough cross-country course. It is a big week, and we are all looking forward to it.”
Townend rides Fenyas Elegance at Blair, while much will also be expected of riders like Fox-Pitt, who is aboard his 2014 Kentucky four-star winner Bay My Hero, an in-form Wilson on One Two Many and renowned dressage star King on Persimmon.
Meanwhile, two remaining Rio Olympics qualification places are up for grabs this week, with France and Sweden among those nations yet to have booked their places in Brazil.
Centre of attention, though, will be Stark’s cross-country course, and he said: “I have tried to create a course that reflects the heritage of Scotland and provides a true test of horsemanship.
“I have used the hills as sympathetically as possible. Riders who attack the course, but who ride intelligently and conserve their horses’ energy for the later combinations, should enjoy a thrilling ride.”
Dressage takes places on Thursday and Friday, with cross-country on Saturday being followed by Sunday’s showjumping finale.
Great Britain squad: Laura Collett (Grand Manoeuvre), Sarah Bullimore (Lilly Corinne), William Fox-Pitt (Bay My Hero), Pippa Funnell (Sandman 7), Kitty King (Persimmon), Wills Oakden (Greystone Midnight Melody), Gemma Tattersall (Arctic Soul), Izzy Taylor (KBIS Briarlands Matilda), Oliver Townend (Fenyas Elegance), Francis Whittington (Easy Target), Nicola Wilson (One Two Many), Holly Woodhead (DHI Lupison).
Derby House Post predictions: Team – 1 Germany, 2 Great Britain, 3 – France, 4 – Ireland, 5 – Sweden, 6 – Holland.
Individual – 1 Ingrid Klimke (Horseware Hale Bob), 2 William Fox-Pitt (Bay My Hero), 3 Sandra Auffarth (Opgun Louvo), 4 Michael Jung (FischerTakinou), 5 Nicola Wilson (One Two Many), 6 Thomas Carlile (Sirocco de Gers).
Image: William Fox-Pitt nd Bay My Hero at the 2015 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event in Lexington, Kentucky, by StockImageServices.com, courtesy of the FEI