Riders from 15 nations are getting ready to tackle Ian Stark’s ‘big and bold’ cross country course at the Longines FEI European Eventing Championships 2015 at Blair Castle.

This is the Scotsman’s first championship track as course designer but he has a wealth of knowledge having won six team Gold medals as part of the British team at the European Championships as well as World and Olympic medals. He was individual Champion on Glenburnie in 1991 when the championships were held in Punchestown, Ireland.

Of the course, he comments: “I have tried to create a course that reflects the heritage of Scotland and provides a true test of horsemanship without catching horses out. Blair Castle’s hills are well-known, but I have used them as sympathetically as possible. Riders who “attack” the course but who ride intelligently and conserve their horses’ energy for the later combinations should enjoy a thrilling ride.”

Blair Castle has held international horse trials since 1989, but Ian has produced a course that has a very different and fresh look.

The course has a distinctly Scottish flavour to it, and the first combination – the Shepherds Bothies – at Fence 4. These three “houses” are to be jumped while turning a half-circle downhill around a tree and provide riders with their first test of control and accuracy.

The first water complex appears at Fence 8 after a short run downhill to two imposing hanging logs with one stride between them. Horses land after the second element and splash through the water, before the two more serious water jumps to come.

One of the visually impressive obstacles on the track is the Castle Wall & Cannon at Fence 14. Horse and rider must jump up a sleeper-faced wall with a ditch in front into the gardens of Blair Castle before tackling a wooden “cannon” three strides later. They then run downhill to Fence 15 – the Stag Heads – a hanging log with huge carved stags’ heads with antlers that stretch to 9ft on either side of it.

The third and final water complex is possibly one of the most challenging on the course. It has a “Firth of Forth” theme that represents the road bridge that crosses that iconic stretch of water outside Edinburgh. Once horses have jumped in over this first element, they must turn left and tackle the “b” part – an imposing reconstruction of the rust-red “rail bridge”, with the train as the jump, perched on a slope before the second water fence. In this, 19ab, Malcolm’s Lochan & Corner, an island fence in the water represents the new “unfinished bridge” and the efforts are completed by jumping a brush corner after exiting the water.

The optimum time has been set at 10 minutes and 13 seconds, but with all the hills, twists and turns, it will be interesting to see how close riders are able to get to it, especially with unfavourable weather conditions forecast for the day’s competition.

Cross country starts at 11am and first on course for the Netherlands will be Theo Van De Vendal on Zidane. The first of the British riders to set out on cross country will be Kitty King with Persimmon at 11.16.

Then come the individual riders – Gemma Tattersall & Arctic Soul (11.44), Sarah Bullimore and Lilly Corinne (11.48), Holly Woodhead and DHI Lupison (11.52), Laura Collett and Grand Manoeuvre (11.56). The second team combination will be Nicola Wilson and One Two Many at 12.24. Izzy Taylor and KBIS Briarlands Matilda and Oliver Townend with Fenyas Elegence will follow one another at 13.24 and 13.28 with our third team rider Pippa Funnell setting out on Sandman 7 at 14.00.

Our last three riders will start with Wills Oakden and Greystone Midnight Melody at 14.40 and Francis Whittington and East Target heading out at 14.52. Anchorman for the British team, William Fox Pitt riding My Bay Hero will set out at 15.16.

The German team, which currently occupies the Gold medal position, will be led off by Dirk Schrade and Hop and Skip (11.24). Michael Jung will be next with FischerTakinou (12.32) and individual leader after dressage Sandra Auffarth and Opgun Louvo (14.08). Their final rider will be FEI Classics winner Ingrid Klimke and Horseware Hale Bob at 15.24.

Eventing Worldwide will keep you up to date with all the latest action as it happens.

Sarah Carless

Top 10 standings after dressage:

1; Sandra Auffarth, Opgun Louvo (GBR), 31.4
2; Holly Woodhead, DHI Lupison (GBR), 31.7
3; Michael Jung, FischerTakinou (GER), 33.5
4; Nicola Wilson, One Two Many (GBR), 34.6
5; Thibault Vallette, Qing du Briot (FRA), 36.8
6; Kitty King, Persimmon (GBR), 36.9
7; Francis Whittington, Easy Target (GBR), 37.5
8. Ingrid Klimke, Horseware Hale Bob (GER), 37.8
9; Laura Collett, Grand Manoeuvre (GBR), 37.8
10; Niklas Lindback, Cenrillon (SWE), 38.1

Other GBR Results

11; Sarah Bullimore, Lilly Corrine, 38.2
13; Oliver Townend, Fenyas Elegance, 38.7
19; Pippa Funnel, Sandman 7, 41.0
23; William Fox-Pitt, Bay My Hero, 43.0
26; Izzy Taylor, KBIS Briarlands Matilda, 44.0
30; Wills Oakden, Greystone Midnight Melody, 46.4
35; Gemma Tattersall, Arctic Soul, 47.3

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Cross country proving influential at Blair Castle