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