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  • 28 August 2015

    Longines FEI European Championship 2015: An increasingly Scottish Spectacle

    Not only does the Longines FEI European Championship 2015 at Blair Castle boast a Scottish Event Director Alec Lochore and cross country Course Designer, Ian Stark OBE, it now has a Scottish athlete in the British squad, preparing to fight for medal glory.

     Wills Oakden, 25, based in Newburgh, Fife, has been called up to ride Mr David Kenwright and Sylvia Douglas's British bred 12-year-old mare, Greystone Midnight Melody. It will be a journey of less than 40 miles for Wills to make to his first senior Team GBR appearance at Blair Castle in two weeks time. Blair Castle is a favourite for Oakden, coming away with Team Gold in the Young Rider European Championships in 2011 and finishing 2nd in the Scottish Open Championship last year.

     “I can't believe it to be honest. It never crossed my mind that this would happen – I didn't even expect to be on the reserve list, so the last few days have been something of a whirlwind. It's been a real team effort to get this far and things have just come together at the right time.

     “Obviously I'm hugely disappointed for Tom [Jackson, whose horse has been withdrawn]. I've trained with him through the British Equestrian Federation World Class Programme and know him well – he's a really nice guy.

    “For myself and my owners I am, of course, extremely excited. They bred 'Molly' - to be able to give them back something like this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. They were among my first owners and have been a long standing, massive support to me; I used to ride Molly's sire, Greystone Pathfinder, for them.”

     Molly has already proved herself on Blair Castle's testing terrain; placing 2nd in the Scottish Open Championship with Wills last year. “Molly has an open, natural gallop, preferring the top of the ground but also adapting when it's wet. It took us a wee while to gel in the early days. At first I was a bit too dominant, but I realised what a free spirit she is, so now just give her a touch of guidance as and when she needs it. I have so much respect for her as an athlete, and she's a real character on the yard.

     “With the European Championship being so close to home, it makes it even more special for me; the thought of competing in front of a home nation crowd is mind-blowing. I went to watch the cross country at London 2012 and the atmosphere was incredible; I'm hoping that the home crowd will be just as enthusiastic at Blair. I can't wait.”

     This important championship is part of UK Sport’s National Lottery funded #EveryRoadtoRio series, supporting British athletes’ preparation and qualification for Rio 2016, this summer’s event is the last major championship before the Olympic Games. The Championship is also supported by EventScotland, which has a longstanding relationship with the team at Blair Castle.

    For more information on the Longines FEI European Eventing Championship 2015 including a link to the box office, visit www.Blair2015.com.

    Category: International Events

  • 28 August 2015

    Crowds descend on Dunoon for day one of Cowal Highland Gathering

    Dunoon welcomed thousands of people today (27th) as the world’s most spectacular Highland Games finally kicked off.

     Visitors have been pouring into the town over the last few days in the run-up to what is one of the most eagerly awaited events in the Scottish calendar.

     Today they joined crowds of local people in flocking to Cowal Highland Gathering (CHG) for the start of the action.

     At 10am sharp the first event got underway - the Scottish National Highland Dancing Championships.

     The Nationals, which continue tomorrow, is one of three dancing competitions being held during the Gathering. The others are the Scottish Championship and the World Highland Dancing Championship, the finals of which provides the most eagerly anticipated and biggest afternoon in the global dancing calendar on Saturday.

     Today’s action saw top class entertainment from 192 dancers in 11 categories. Among the winners were:

    •          Hannah Butchart from Stonehaven in the 10 years category

    •          Rosey Watt from Macduff in the 11 years category

    •          Jessica Morrison from Fraserburgh in the 15 years category

    •          Kirstin Stewart from Leven in the 18 years and over category

     CHG chair Ronnie Cairns said he was delighted by both the crowds and the entertainment they witnessed.

     “It’s no exaggeration to say Dunoon is the centre of the Highland dancing world this weekend,” he added.

     Highland dancing aficionados from all corners of the globe will be waiting with bated breath to see who comes out on top in the various competitions.

    “If today’s action is anything to go by, we’re in for a real treat over the next couple of days.”

     Ronnie added that the meticulous preparations for this year’s event seem to be paying off, with everything going without a hitch today.

     “Even a bit of wet weather failed to dampen the spirits of competitors and spectators, most of whom come prepared for rain at some stage of the proceedings!,” he added.

     “We’ve got a packed schedule for tomorrow and Saturday with something for everyone to enjoy, whether it be Highland Dancing, pipe bands, solo piping, heavy athletics, ceilidh music, running, stunt cycle teams, animal display teams, kids’ entertainment or any of the other many attractions the Gathering now boasts.

     “I’m delighted with how the first day has gone, and we very much look forward to welcoming everyone back again tomorrow for another day of spectacular entertainment.”

     Paul Bush OBE, VisitScotland’s Director of Events, said: “The Cowal Highland Gathering is an extremely important event for the local community and we are delighted to be able to offer our support to this historic event once again this year. It combines many of the most celebrated aspects of Scottish culture and heritage across a highly entertaining event programme and it is fantastic to see thousands of visitors from across Scotland and many from overseas descending on Dunoon to join in with the festivities.”

     The day’s events are not yet over, with the 5K Cowal Run due to start from the Coal Pier on Dunoon’s Alexandra Parade at 7.15pm this evening.

     This year’s Cowal Highland Gathering is part of EventScotland’s National Events programme - runs from Thursday 27 to Saturday 29 August. 

     For more information about the event or to buy tickets for either tomorrow or Saturday, please visit the Gathering’s website at www.cowalgathering.com or contact the event office by emailing info@cowalgathering.com or phoning 01369 703206. 

     A full list of today’s results will be posted on the website as soon as possible.

    Category: National Events

  • 27 August 2015

    THE FINAL COUNTDOWN TO THE LONGINES FEI EUROPEAN EVENTING CHAMPIONSHIP 2015, AT BLAIR CASTLE

    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. 

    Category: International Events

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