Youth proved no barrier at the Longines FEI European Eventing Championship at Blair Castle (GBR) when 21-year-old Holly Woodhead (GBR) and DHI Lupison took the lead after the first day of Dressage with the outstanding score of 31.7 penalties.
And Michael Jung (GER), the defending champion, produced a masterful display on the youngest horse in the field, the eight-year-old fischerTakinou, and is in second place on 33.5.
The first two British team riders, Kitty King, who is lying fifth on Persimmon, and Nicola Wilson, in third place on One Two Many, both scored under 40 and have put the host nation in the lead at this early stage of the competition.
Woodhead, an individual silver medallist at the 2014 Young Rider European Championship, has only ridden at three-star level a handful of times, but a win in the national under-25 championships and her ability to score highly in the Dressage arena prompted the selectors to give her valuable experience at senior level.
“My team mates told me to try to stay focussed and to enjoy myself,” said Woodhead, who produced a beautifully soft test on the 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding by Lupicor.
Jung explained that he had chosen to ride FisherTakinou instead of his 2013 champion Halunke because he felt the chestnut Anglo-Arab, which he spotted as a six-year-old at Le Lion d’Angers (FRA), would cope better with the hills. “He is a wonderful horse,” said Jung. “He listens to you and is very relaxed.”
If Jung were to win gold again this weekend, he would equal British rider Ginny Elliot’s record, set in the 1980s, of three successive European titles on three different horses.
Nicola Wilson said the mood in the British camp was one of elation as two more individual riders, Laura Collett (Grand Manoeuvre), and Sarah Bullimore (Lilly Corinne), a late substitute for Dani Evans, have both scored personal bests and are in sixth and seventh places.
France have had an excellent day as well because their first rider, Thibaut Vallette, a Lieutenant-Colonel in the French army, scored 36.8 to lie fourth on Qing du Briot ENE HN, and Karim Florent Laghouag (Entebbe de Hus) is in eighth place on 38.7 to put the team into second place at this stage with Olympic qualification as the main goal.
“My horse has super paces but he can be a bit shy in the arena, so I was pleased that he felt able to show off here,” said 41-year-old Vallette, who is competing at his first championships. “I’m very proud to be on the team. I don’t mind going first, as I like to concentrate on myself at a competition rather than be distracted by watching other people.”
Dirk Schrade (GER) and the 16-year-old Hop And Skip, holders of European and world team gold medals, did their usual reliable job for the German team, which is in third place, and scored 43.1 to lie 11th individually.
As Schrade explained, their real job is on Saturday morning when the aim will be to give the team a confidence-boosting start on the Cross Country. “Dressage is not our best phase, but now we can both enjoy ourselves!” he said.
Sweden is currently in fourth place, ahead of Ireland, whose first rider, Joseph Murphy (Sportsfield Othello) was quickly re-routed from Burghley after Aoife Clark’s horse Vaguely North had to be withdrawn. “It’s been a rollercoaster week, but team spirits are great,” said Murphy.
Irish team rookie Padraig McCarthy has made a great start to his first championship and is in 15th place on a score of 46.6 with Simon Porloe, the horse formerly ridden on the British team by his fiancée Lucy Wiegersma in 2013.
“I’m pinching myself, it’s like a dream,” admitted McCarthy, who only started Eventing at novice level last year. He originally competed in Jumping, but gave up riding in 2003 to concentrate on his career in economics until meeting Wiegersma in 2011.
“It’s been quite a steep learning curve and Nick Turner [team manager] has taken quite a gamble giving me a shot,” said McCarthy, “but we have had some consistent form Cross Country and in the FEI Nations Cup™ this year.”
The competition is building up excitingly, and there is great expectation for the teams’ third and fourth riders who perform their Dressage tests tomorrow. The first rider, British individual Izzy Taylor, is in the arena at 10.20 and the first team rider, the Netherlands’ Merel Blom, rides her test at 11.08.
Individual Results after first day of Dressage
1 Holly Woodhead/DHI Lupison (GBR) 31.7 penalties
2 Michael Jung/fischerTakinou (GER)* 33.5
3 Nicola Wilson/One Two Many (GBR)* 34.6
4 Thibaut Vallette/Qing du Briot ENE HN (FRA)* 36.8
5 Kitty King/Persimmon (GBR)* 36.9
6 Laura Collett/Grand Manoeuvre (GBR) 37.8
7 Sarah Bullimore/Lilly Corinne (GBR) 38.2
8 Karim Florent Laghouag/Entebbe de Hus (FRA)* 38.7
9 Anna Nilsson/Luron (SWE)* 39.7
10 Patrizia Attinger/Raumalpha (SUI)* 42.4
*denotes team rider
Team Results after two riders
1 Great Britain, 71.5; 2 France 75.5; 3 Germany 76.6; 4 Sweden 91.4; 5 Ireland 96.6; 6 Italy 99.0; 7 Switzerland 100.4; 8 Netherlands 104.7; 9 Russia 107.3; 10 Spain 115.8 (NB: only one Belgian rider completed Dressage today)