A battle against the elements played out during today’s cross-country phase at the Longines FEI Eventing European Championships, as the heavens opened over the Perthshire hills, to provide a testing run for the sixty-five competitors.
Some bold performances on the Ian Stark designed course saw Izzy Taylor and Gemma Tattersall record two of only three rounds inside the time, as the weather played a deciding factor on the day’s results. Great Britain head into the final day of competition - tomorrow’s (Sunday 13 September) showjumping phase, in silver medal position, with Izzy currently lying in third place individually, as five British athletes occupy top ten spots.
Pathfinder for the British team was Kitty King with Persimmon, owned by Jane and Frank Inns. Taking the terrain, and the weather, in their stride, the duo produced a solid clear round to get the Brits off to a positive start in the team event, adding just 8.4 time penalties to see them onto a total score of 45.30 penalties.
A delighted Kitty spoke after her round; “He’s a real feisty little character, he loves cross country but it does make my job more difficult! I felt the pressure quite a lot going first but it was great I just did my own thing. It’s very slippy out there; the rain has really altered the ground from when I walked it earlier.”
Commenting on the crowd; “I’ve gone round Badminton and not noticed the crowd, but I really did here today. It’s great having the support behind you. I really enjoyed going first; I could ride my horse as I found him”
Next up was debutant Gemma Tattersall with The Soul Syndicate and her own Arctic Soul, who flew around the track. Stopping the clock well inside the time, the pair finish the day on their dressage score of 47.3 penalties to shoot up the overnight leaderboard to lie in seventh place.
“I’m absolutely chuffed to bits, an awesome ride, what a horse! So fast and he came back to me when I asked him to, he was so straight over the skinnies, so careful, like a cat through all the tricky combinations, just amazing. With the home crowd cheering - even if it was in the pouring rain and mud - it was still really special. I was even kind of pleased that it was raining for him. Give him tough conditions and he’s even better, an absolute machine. Ian’s been incredibly clever and sited them in tricky places and us riders, we’ve had to use our brains out there today.”
An early run-out at fence four for Sarah Bullimore and Lilly Corinne (owned by Sarah and Brett Bullimore) was disappointing for the talented combination, but they continued to attack the course and added only a couple of time faults to finish on a score of 68.6 penalties.
“It was a stupid stop to have at something that was really a schooling exercise” she said when she got back, “After I’d turned her there she realised she’d made a mistake and she doesn’t like to make a mistake, so she was a bit looky for the next few fences, then she got going and gave me a fantastic ride.”
Holly Woodhead with DHI Lupison, owned by Ian and Heidi Woodhead, headed into today’s cross-country sitting in second place on the leaderboard. Like Sarah, they were unlucky to have a run-out at fence four, but produced a great debut ride on only their second CCI3* track to finish with eighteen time faults for a score of 69.7 penalties.
Speaking after her round she said, “He gave me an amazing ride; after Aachen and now the Europeans I’ve learnt a lot. I held him a bit too much coming to the first part and turned a bit too tight, I should have given him a bit more time to see the second bit”.
Following Holly was Laura Collett who produced a fantastic ride from Mrs Diana Chappell’s big jumping Grand Manoeuvre, over the tough terrain to finish clear with just 10.8 time penalties to add for a final score of 48.6 penalties.
“That was such a buzz! Early on at the houses [fence 4 A,B,C] I didn’t end up going on the line that I’d planned because I couldn’t get the turn in – but that is where the horse is amazing, if I can get him anywhere near the jump he’ll jump the jump. I had to go to plan B there but everywhere else he was fantastic. Through the water at the end he just fiddled his way through and it was sort of over in a flash, I’m just really pleased with him. He was brilliant - I’m chuffed with him,” commented Laura.
Second team rider for GBR, Nicola Wilson, had a good round aboard her championship debutant One Two Many, owned by Gerry and Mary Kemp and Mrs Janine Shewan, but a run-out at fence 16A saw the duo head home on a total score of 73.4 penalties after accruing 18.8 time faults.
“I’m absolutely gutted,” said Nicola, “he gave me a super ride all the way round; he jumped the first corner really nicely and turned onto the line and was bang on, I don’t know if he just didn’t see it properly because to duck out like that it’s just not like him. The terrain obviously does take its toll, but he’s [Ian Stark] been extremely clever in the way he’s positioned the fences, and given the horses time to recover.”
Following Nicola was Izzy Taylor and KBIS Briarlands Matilda, owned by Mr Guy Avis, who last represented Great Britain in Malmo at the Europeans in 2013. Flying out of the start-box, the combination kept the momentum going throughout their round to head home clear and inside the time to remain on their dressage score (44.00 penalties), and move up into the top-three.
“She was superb,” commented a thrilled Izzy, “She’s a very good cross country horse, I ran her in Poland this year and the heavens opened so I knew she would be OK in the rain, but she felt on form and she was amazing! She was superb just the whole way round, we had a trip going into the second last [fence 28] and that really took the breath out of her and she was very good to go on two strides.
“I was slightly down on my minute markers but I just let her stay within herself, but in the end I was like come on we are not having a few stupid time faults and she dug deep and she was super. She’s just brilliant! If I ride her she just goes and she’s awesome on cross country!”
Heading out after Izzy, Oliver Townend with PJ Hegarty’s Fenyas Elegance were unlucky to have a run-out at 19B, after an otherwise super round, to see them finish their cross-country with 20 jumping and 6 time penalties to add to yesterday’s dressage score to end the day on 64.7 penalties.
“She has a good past record but she’s lost her way a little bit, we’re a new combination but it doesn’t make it any easier and there’s no excuse. I had her a little bit strong to make sure she was going and then right when I needed control I didn’t quite have enough of it,” said Oliver.
With the weather conditions worsening next to go was team stalwart and third team member Pippa Funnell. Aboard Mrs Jennifer A Nolan, Miss Ruth McMullen and her own Sandman 7, Pippa produced an amazing ride to finish with only 9.6 time penalties after a faultless jumping performance.
An emotional Pippa spoke afterwards; “I’m just absolutely over the moon! Mum and I gave Ruth a share in him for her 80th birthday, sadly she’s not here at Blair, as much as anything I did it for her because I owe my whole career to her. He’s very special because Mum owns him with her and me.
“He really delivered, there might have been a few places I could have been quicker but at this stage I don’t think I could have gone faster in these conditions. Today I have actually been really relaxed because I feel when you get terrible conditions you have to just ride on your feel rather than on any other set plans, you have to go on how the horse is going and the feeling.”
With the roar of the crowd spurring them on, Wills Oakden and Greystone Midnight Melody, owned by Mr David Kenwright and Sylvia Douglas, produced a well-judged clear round with the talented Molly to finish on 72.8 penalties after incurring 26.4 time faults.
Commenting afterwards Wills said; “I’m just so thrilled for the owners I really am, having bred her, I’m just so thrilled for them, to have the horse here at a Championship it’s a real big deal for them. And the crowd were incredible the whole way, especially in the main arena, but the whole way they were just brilliant it gave me a really good boost, it’s made my first Championship experience extra special – it’s unreal.
“It’s not her ground at all so I just had to go at her speed and use my head, but I’m so pleased with her she answered every question, kept going, dug deep and I’m thrilled with her.”
Francis Whittington was next to go for the Brits. After yesterday’s stunning dressage test aboard Easy Target, owned by Mrs Catherine Witt, the pair were unfortunate to have a refusal at fence twenty-one, after which Francis made the decision to retire from the competition.
Francis explained; “He was trying so hard, as we got to the top of the hill and I came to the fence it was really upright, and as I came to it I just felt him come back and drop back off the leg completely so I just pulled on the reins and stopped him and just thought I’m not even going to jump it. He’s absolutely fine, there’s nothing wrong with him, he just got tired and leg weary galloping in this going. This going isn’t his ideal going and it wasn’t worth the risk, simple as that, heartbreaking.”
Final rider for the British camp and the last team member, William Fox-Pitt came flying out onto the course with Mrs Catherine Witt’s Bay My Hero. Clear round the first half of the course, Bay My Hero then had two uncharacteristic run-outs at fence seventeen, a skinny arrowhead, prompting William to retire on course.
A dejected William spoke afterwards saying, “Very disappointed, I came here with Bay My Hero on terrific form; he’s been feeling fabulous this year and running well. Very disappointing when things don’t go to plan, he’s ok and he’ll be there to fight another day but he just didn’t enjoy it today. He did his best but I think he just lost the will, it’s so unlike him, he’s never had a run out in his life. He’s the most genuine horse I’ve ever ridden, he’s a superstar.
“The team has gone really well today, the girls have gone brilliantly, Kitty showed us how to do it, Pippa went superbly with a young horse and Izzy Taylor cruised round. The conditions have changed during the day and some horses are just well suited and others not.”
After today’s cross-country Germany lead the way in the team competition on 122.70 points; Great Britain occupy the silver medal position (169.30) heading into tomorrow’s showjumping phase, with France sitting in bronze (179.70). In the Individual standings, Olympic champion Michael Jung heads the leaderboard, with Sandra Auffarth second and Britain’s Izzy Taylor sitting in third place.
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, where GBR will be represented having already qualified a team spot after the World Equestrian Games last year.
All six British athletes competing today are members of the UK Sport National Lottery funded World Class Programme. Equestrian Team GBR is supported by the UK Sport National Lottery funded World Class Programme; the British teams are very grateful to the support they receive from official Team GBR suppliers Dodson & Horrell, Equi-Trek, Equiline, Land Rover, NAF, NuuMed, Point Two Equine, Tagg Equestrian and Toggi.
British standings after cross-country:
3rd - Izzy Taylor (44.00)
5th - Kitty King (45.30)
7th – Gemma Tattersall (47.30)
9th – Laura Collett (48.60)
10th – Pippa Funnell (50.60)
19th – Oliver Townend (64.70)
21st – Sarah Bullimore (68.60)
22nd – Holly Woodhead (69.70)
26th – Wills Oakden (72.80)
28th – Nicola Wilson (73.40)