Following last night’s Welcoming Ceremony, which saw Blair Castle beautifully lit up and the teams parade in front of the waiting crowds, today’s action provided a thrilling first day of dressage with Great Britain leading the way in both the team and individual standings.
Britain’s pathfinder Kitty King coaxed a beautiful performance from Frank and Jane Inns’ 10-year-old Persimmon and was duly rewarded with a mark of 36.9, which set an early standard. Kitty, who first represented Great Britain on a senior team at Blenheim in 2005, commented on today’s test saying; “He was fantastic, he tried his heart out for me and was really on side, he really let me ride him through the entire test. He got a bit tight before his last change and we missed that which was a shame but that was the only time he got a bit tight against me otherwise he was really listening and working well for me.”
Gemma Tattersall with The Soul Syndicate’s and her own Arctic Soul were next into the Perthshire arena to make her senior debut for Great Britain. Showing some lovely work aboard Spike, with just some slight tension creeping in during the walk, Gemma was delighted with her score of 47.30 penalties.
“He [Arctic Soul] was really nervous but he tried his heart out not to explode, unfortunately we would have lost hundreds of marks in the walk which he’s normally really good at and today he just couldn’t walk. We’ll forgive him for that it’s quite a serious atmosphere in here today, he really tried hard for the rest of it,” Gemma said.
With four athletes riding back to back for Great Britain in the morning’s session, next in was Sarah Bullimore, who only arrived on site at the Championships on Wednesday morning – to then receive her first senior call-up. Aboard Brett Bullimore and her own Lilly Corinne, the pair produced a great test to see a score of 38.20 penalties awarded.
“I’m 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, but she was fantastic, she was absolutely lovely to ride in there, really soft and amenable,” said Sarah of Lilly.
“It’s all my dreams come true, I’ve waited 20 odd years for this and to get my flag is just fantastic! It’s been a whirlwind and an emotional few days. It feels fantastic [to be in team colours] it’s just sad that my gain is someone else’s misfortune, all I can say is that Dani [Evans] has been the upmost professional and I know she will have her day and we wish her all the best.”
Then, later in the afternoon, Nicola Wilson riding One Two Many boosted the host nation’s score with a faultless display to post a mark of 34.6.
“It’s been an exciting day for us with a lot of personal bests in the dressage arena,” said Nicola, who was thrilled with Janine Shewan and Gerry and Mary Kemp’s elegant bay.
But the talking point of the day was 21-year-old Holly Woodhead, who rode the test of her life to top the individual leaderboard with Ian and Heidi Woodhead’s 11-year-old chestnut, DHI Lupison on a score of 31.7.
“I was a bit nervous before my test, but I had a few little words with myself in my head,” said Holly, whose test oozed class and composure. “I’d had a good preparation and my team-mates have been giving me lots of advice, so I knew we were on track to do a good test. He was amazing out in Aachen and I wanted to go in there and do the same, today he was a little bit different to ride in there but I just kept my cool and remembered what we had been working on at home and it paid off. It is hard work to get him like that – but when it comes off he’s amazing and I can’t fault him. I’m really excited about Saturday, I’ve got all day tomorrow to walk the course and get my head in cross country mode so I’m really, really excited.””
Laura Collett with Mrs Diana Chappell’s Grand Manoeuvre entered the arena just as Holly exited. With the sun shining, they showcased some great movements for a score of 37.80 penalties.
“Chuffed to bits,” commented Laura after her ride, “he’s done his personal best and that was his best test yet – and what a time to do it! He tries so hard I can’t really fault him to be honest. I’ve never done a home Championship before it’s a really buzz; I knew following Holly in was going to be tough, the crowd got behind her so I waited for them to quieten down when they read her score out! He coped really well, he’s a real trier.”
The world number one, Michael Jung began his quest to retain the European title he won in Malmo two years ago in fine style with the family-owned FischerTakinou. A smooth, expressive test earned the German a mark of 33.5 and leaves him in second place overnight. “My horse is always very relaxed and concentrated, so it is easy to ride him in the arena,” he revealed.
Of his decision to ride the eight-year-old gelding, who is the youngest horse in the field, rather than his more experienced ride, Halunke, with whom he won his last European gold medal, he said: “It has always been my plan to bring fischerTakinou here. Halunke does not have thoroughbred blood for the hills.”
Germany currently lies third in the team standings, just behind France, whose first two team riders, Thibaut Vallette (Qing du Briot) and Karim Florent Laghouag (Entebbe de Hus), recorded scores of 36.8 and 38.7 respectively. The stunning, mountain-edged amphitheatre of Blair’s main arena, was alive with waving flags and cheering crowds.
Event Director Alec Lochore said: “I was extremely grateful to see the sun today; on a day like this you can see just how magnificent this venue is. Our sport is rich because we can come to beautiful places like Blair Castle to ply our trade.”
He added that more than 30,000 tickets have already been sold in 26 different countries.
Tickets are available to purchase daily on the gate, for more information please visit: www.blair2015.com
The dressage phase concludes tomorrow, as the remaining British squad (Izzy Taylor, Oliver Townend, Pippa Funnell, Wills Oakden, Francis Whittington and William Fox-Pitt) get their European campaigns underway.
Times for tomorrow’s session can be found here
Finally watch Horse & Country TV’s interview with Ireland’s Sam Watson to find out why his horse is called Bart and hear his thoughts on Ian Stark’s first championship cross country course.
All photos © MDR Photo