In just two weeks time, many of the best Event riders in the world will have arrived at Blair Castle, stabled their horses, and got a first glimpse of Course Designer Ian Stark's cross country track.
Ian Stark OBE, a five time Olympian and multiple medal winner himself, is renowned for building big, bold cross country courses. His stated design ethos is to: “allow the horses to go forwards and attack the course. I'm happy to challenge the riders, so long as the fences are jumpable and understandable for the horses to read.” Riders underestimate his courses at their peril.
Of his first ever Championship track Ian says: “I have tried to build fences that look impossible to us but which horses will understand; to incorporate the modern, accuracy side of cross country riding, but still to have horses going forward and attacking the fences, rather than going round in ever-decreasing circles.
“Designing any course is nerve-wracking. It's not over until the last horse has jumped the final fence. I love to set riders challenges, but my dread is that the horses won't understand the questions – and I have been known to get up in the middle of the night and change a fence! Whilst you don't want everyone jumping clear inside the time, you do look for the first good result before relaxing just a tiny bit.”
“With the Longines FEI European Eventing Championship 2015 visiting Scotland for the first time, event riders from all 16 nations, and Team GB in particular, can expect a hugely warm welcome when they arrive in Perthshire,” added Paul Bush OBE, VisitScotland’s Director of Events. “Scotland is the perfect stage for events and there could hardly be a more fitting setting for one of the final major contests ahead of Rio 2016 than Blair Castle, allowing spectators to take in world-class sporting action while discovering one of the country’s most stunning and historically significant locations in the process.” Germany is the current European Champion nation but, spurred on by their silver medal at last summer's World Equestrian Games, Great Britain will be sure to pull out all the stops on home soil. She has an enviable record at European Championships, winning a remarkable eight consecutive team gold medals, from 1995-2009.
The British challenge will be led by William Fox-Pitt, riding Catherine Witt's Bay My Hero but with two direct reserve horses, Fernhill Pimms and Luxury FH, lined up. A member of seven of those British gold medal winning teams, William needs no introduction. He has been British number one 11 times, won five of the six CCI4* events worldwide and more Three Day Events than any other rider.
Pippa Funnell MBE and Nicola Wilson are also no strangers to representing their country. The only rider ever to win the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing for consecutive wins at Kentucky, Badminton and Burghley, Pippa is a past Individual European Champion (1999 & 2001) and has represented Great Britain on countless occasions. Whilst she rides the relatively inexperienced Sandman 7, with Second Supreme as a direct reserve, her track record means that she shouldn't be overlooked for a podium finish.
Nicola's selected horse for the 2015 Longines FEI European Championship enjoys Blair; One Two Many won the Scottish Open Championship here last year. Nicola also has a direct reserve horse in the shape of her parents' Annie Clover.
Oliver Townend is one of the most competitive riders on the circuit, so whilst his partnership with Fenyas Elegance is relatively new, his CCI4* winning experience and the mare's CCI3* winning track record could make them a wildcard for a medal.
Great Britain benefits from 12 entries to the championship, as host nation. Also called up are Izzy Taylor, with KBIS Briarlands Matilda, Kitty King who brings Persimmon and multiple youth team gold medal winner Laura Collett with Grand Manoeuvre.
This year's Senior British debutants are Blenheim winners Francis Whittington and Easy Target, Gemma Tattersall on Arctic Soul, Dani Evans with Smart Time, Tom Jackson on Waltham Fiddlers Find and the youngest of the squad, 21 year old Holly Woodhead with DHI Lupison.
Germany undoubtedly starts as favourite for both gold medals. Reigning World, European and Olympic title holder, the German squad should take some beating. The current individual World Champion Sandra Auffarth will be looking to add the European title to her record, although Michael Jung (current Olympic and European individual champion) is unlikely to relinquish it readily. Sandra will be riding her multi-medalled Opgun Louvo, while Michael has the choice of either FischerTakinou or Halunke FBW.
The on-form Ingrid Klimke has been selected with Horseware Hale Bob or FRH Escada; with a win at this year's Luhmühlen and the runner up spot at Badminton CCI4*s, plus a 1-2 in Aachen earlier this month, Ingrid's confidence levels will be flying high. Germany has enviable depth in talent, with the experienced Bettina Hoy (Designer 10), Dirk Schrade (Hop and Skip) and Peter Thomsen (Horseware's Barny) completing the line up.
In total, 16 nations will be taking part in the most prestigious event of this year's British equestrian calendar; the Longines FEI European Eventing Championship should not be missed by any equine enthusiast.
For more information including a link to the box office, visit www.blair2015.com
Image: Ian Stark, Course Designer.
Credit Jim Crichton.