On a bright and breezy morning at Blair Castle, the first dressage session of the Longines FEI European Eventing Championships threw up several surprises. Fourth into the arena was the Great Britain team pathfinder Kitty King riding Persimmon. Elevated paces and a supremely accurate ride from Kitty saw the 10 year old bay gelding take an early lead with a score of 36.9. Kitty was surprised to be named as pathfinder, saying “I thought because I hadn’t been on a team before I assumed I’d be in the middle somewhere, so I’d kind of got that in my head.” Persimmon is a tricky horse, and Tracie Robinson (Team GBR dressage trainer) has been helping Kitty all week. They’ve been concentrating on suppling, stretching work because Kitty arrived feeling rather stressed since Persimmon wasn’t on his best form last week.
The first of the German riders, Dirk Schrade, was pleased with his test which saw him post a 43.1 with the experienced Hop and Skip. He commented that “the competition isn’t over after the dressage” and he expects the corner after the last water will be influential.
Going into the first break, the Frenchman Thibaut Vallette went into the lead by just 0.1 of a penalty over Kitty King. His ride Qing du Briot performed a solid test, with the canter work gaining them several nines.
As host nation, Great Britain were allowed to enter eight individual riders, and the selectors used this opportunity to give some less experienced combinations their first taste of senior squad selection. Four British individuals rode before lunch, with Gemma Tattersall first in on Arctic Soul. The 12 year old gelding looked very on edge, with the crowd reminded several times not to applaud them before the test. Gemma did an excellent job of keeping a lid on his exuberance, to post a score of 47.3.
Next up was late call-up Sarah Bullimore, whose beautiful chestnut mare Lilly Corrine performed a stunning test to leave them in fifth place at this early stage. This score is even more impressive knowing that she didn’t arrive in time to partake in the arena familiarisation. Sarah had fully expected to be driving all the way to Blair, trotting up and then driving home again – so she hadn’t even unpacked from Burghley, and joked that she hopes they haven’t forgotten anything. Her inclusion on the team was so last minute that she hadn’t even had time to walk the course, and she paid a gracious compliment to Dani Evans, saying “it’s just sad that my gain is someone else’s misfortune and all I can say is that Dani has been the utmost professional and I know she will have her day.”
Holly Woodhead and DHI Lupison produced the real magic of the morning, which nearly got off to a bad start when the chestnut gelding spooked at the entrance to the arena. Holly rode with maturity beyond her years and experience to conjure a stunning test from him which saw them rocket into the lead by over 5 penalties. To post a 31.7 at her first senior squad event and only her second CCI 3* ever was beyond the 21 year old’s wildest expectations. “I knew he could go well, but I’d have been happy with being in the top ten.”
Laura Collett and the former Nick Gauntlett ride Grand Manouevre produced a polished test to slot into fourth before lunch with a score of 37.8. Laura gave the 11 year old chestnut gelding several reassuring pats on the way into the main arena, and their relationship looks to be going from strength to strength.
At lunchtime on the first day, Great Britain hold four of the top five spots, and you can see the full leaderboard here.
Our coverage from the Longines FEI European Eventing Championship is brought to you by Sportzvibe massage rugs from Horseware. Read our reviews of the Sportzvibe Horse Rug here and the Dog Rug here and here.