Organisers of the Blair Castle Horse Trials have spoken of their devastation following the deaths of four horses in a tragic road crash.
The horses were on their way to the international event at Blair Castle on Wednesday when two lorries – one carrying the animals – were involved in a collision on the A9.
Two of the horses were killed outright while two others had to be euthanised at the scene by vets.
As thousands of spectators gathered for the hugely popular event’s opening day on Thursday, assistant event director Nicky Townshend said the equestrian world was in shock.
She said: “It’s devastating. It’s a small community and we are very saddened.”
An estimated 4,500 people from across Europe gathered for the opening day of the trials, widely regarded as Scotland’s premier equestrian event.
It was the first competition in two years after the 2020 spectacular was cancelled due to Covid restrictions.
How does it feel to be back?
The horse riding community was glad to be able to get back to some kind of normality despite Wednesday’s tragic events.
Ms Townshend said: “We are really excited to be able to hold the event this year.
“We are thrilled to be welcoming back competitors from all over the UK and Europe.
“It was devastating to cancel last year. It was strange standing with an empty field.”
Regulars and first-time attendees were also raring to go.
Gail and Keith Whitehead have been coming every year since 1988.
Alongside their dog Stanley, the duo – who travelled from Banchory, Deeside – were delighted to be back after missing out last year.
Gail said: “It’s absolutely tremendous.
“We have been coming for about 30 years. We came to the very first one and we come every year.
“It’s nice to see people out and about and the horses are on good form.”
Ruth Harris travelled from just outside East Kilbride to attend for the first time.
She said: “It’s my first time here.
“I was in the area in September and I saw this advertised so I thought I’d come. I love horses.”
‘I’m really emotional about being here’
But it wasn’t just spectators who enjoyed being back out at events: businesses in their hundreds attended with stalls.
And they were thrilled.
Louise Nicolson of Edinburgh-based Gordon Nicolson Kiltmakers said: “It feels fantastic to be here. We have come for 11 or 12 years.
“It’s the one event we’ve been to in two years. I’m really emotional about being here.
“Everyone is just pleased to see each other again.”
England-based Event Horse Owners Syndicate was equally as delighted to set up at the Trials.
Megan and Heather Sanders of the company said: “It’s amazing – it’s really nice.
“It’s our first time here and the scenery is amazing.
“We’re a new business – we started in November – and it’s all been online so it’s nice to be here. And everyone here is friendly and helpful.”
The Horse Trials will run until Sunday. Tickets are still available in advance from Horse Trials website.