Excitement is mounting for the Longines FEI European Eventing Championship at Blair Castle (GBR) next month (10-13 September) when riders from 16 nations will arrive for the first senior championship to be held in the grounds of the fairytale white Scottish castle.
It will be a first taste of the Scottish Highlands and hospitality for many nations, but it’s anticipated that the reigning champions, Germany, will be fully prepared for this new test amid the Perthshire hills and forests.
Germany has never won a European team title on British soil before – and the host nation, Great Britain, has never been beaten in a home European Championship – so the scene is set for a fascinating competition.
The German team is likely to have a very similar look to the one that won gold in Malmö (SWE) in 2013, with Michael Jung, the reigning European and Olympic champion, Ingrid Klimke, who won silver on that occasion, Andreas Dibowski and Dirk Schrade all named on the squad.
Add to the mix the reigning World Champions, Sandra Auffarth and Opgun Louvo, plus the 1997 European Champion Bettina Hoy and the up-and-coming talents of Nicholas Bschorer and Claas Hermann Romeike, son of the 2008 Olympic Champion Hinrich, and Germany looks the nation to beat.
But Great Britain, which is entitled to field 12 riders, will not be relinquishing home supremacy without a fight. William Fox-Pitt, acknowledged as one of the most talented riders in history and the individual bronze medallist in Malmö, is likely to act as team anchorman on the CCI4* winner Bay My Hero, backed up by Nicola Wilson, who has her strongest string of horses yet.
Pippa Funnell, dual European Champion in 1999 and 2001, is back in the big time with exciting young horses; Laura Collett, Kitty King and Izzy Taylor have competed in previous senior championship teams and will be looking to build on their experience at this level.
The squad sees five athletes making their senior team debut; Dani Evans, Tom Jackson, Gemma Tattersall, Francis Whittington and Holly Woodhead all of whom have good CCI3* form under their belts and are hungry for a first taste of senior championship success, plus there’s the intriguing new combination of the seasoned Oliver Townend with Fenya’s Elegance, the chestnut mare formerly partnered by nominated Irish rider Aoife Clark.
Many predict – and hope – that this will be the year that Ireland, European team champions back in 1979, is back in the medals and, with a strong squad comprising Aoife Clark, Padraig McCarthy with fiancée Lucy Wiegersma’s former British team ride Simon Porloe, plus Sam Watson, Michael Ryan, Camilla Speirs and Austin O’Connor, medal prospects look extremely promising.
France, bronze medallists in 2013, have never won the European team title, and they are among the nations that have yet to qualify for the Rio Olympic Games in 2016, but trainer Thierry Touzaint has a talented squad to call on, including Arnaud Boiteau, Astier Nicolas, his nephew Nicolas Touzaint, the 2003 and 2007 Champion, Thomas Carlile, Rodolphe Scherer and Gwendolen Fer.
The Swedes, also, will be hoping to maintain momentum after their silver in Malmö, and bring a stellar squad that includes Niklas Lindbäck, Olympic silver medallist Sara Algotsson-Ostholt, her sister Linda Algotsson and British-based rider Ludwig Svennerstal.
The Netherlands, world bronze medallists last year and Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Poland, Russia, Spain and Switzerland are also expected to field teams. Whilst Austria, the Czech Republic and Finland entering individual athletes in what should be a thrilling 32nd running of the FEI European Eventing Championship.
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.
Don’t miss out on this memorable weekend in the Scottish Highlands, to find out more information and to book your tickets visit the website www.blair2015.com