Germany stood in a class of their own at the FEI Longines European Championships for eventing the triathlon of the equestrian world when four days of fierce competition culminated at Blair Castle.
Michael Jung who made eventing history in 2012 when he became the first rider ever to hold the Olympic, World and European Championship titles at the same time successfully defended his title as the reigning individual gold medallist, whilst the Germans also snared European team gold for the third time in succession, smashing the remainder of the field by a margin of more than 50 penalties.
Despite riding the youngest horse of the competition the eight-year-old chestnut Fischer Takinou Michael said he knew the Blair Castle’s hilly terrain and ‘temperamental’ weather would certainly be “up his street”.
“He’s a fast horse and he’s very strong across country,” Michael said. “He’s also incredibly easy to handle towards his fences.”
Indeed, Michael rode the predominantly Thoroughbred gelding, by Jaguar Mail, in a snaffle bit from start to finish adding no penalties whatsoever to their impressive dressage of 77.69%.
“He doesn’t lose time in the air he ran around the cross country like it was a steeplechase and he felt amazing,” Michael said. “He is such a top horse. It is very exciting to have a new champion to go forwards with to the future.”
Takinou was one of only three horses to storm home inside the optimum time of the influential Blair European cross country track which was dogged by torrential rainfall – without incurring any time penalties.
Team GBR horses KBIS Briarlands Matilda ridden by Izzy Taylor; and Arctic Soul ridden by Gemma Tattersall were the only others to complete the challenge on a clean sheet.
Standing aside Michael on the rostrum, individual silver also went to Team Germany with Sandra Auffarth and Opgun Louvo; whilst the bronze was won by French rider Lt Col Thibaut Vallette and Qing du Briot.
“I really didn’t think I’d achieve a podium finish, but for me it’s a double victory as the result has qualified the French team for the Rio Olympics,” Thibaut commented.
Finishing just off the podium in fourth place, and top of the 12-strong ‘home’ entry, Kitty King, from Wiltshire, said she never expected to do so well, despite finishing second at Bramham earlier this year.
“I set out positively for all phases of the competition,” she explained. “I couldn’t be more pleased with Persimmon.”
In the final team standings, Germany’s team gold came courtesy of a combined penalty score of only 122.7; Britain took team silver on 173.3; whilst France collected the bronze podium position with a score of 183.7. The medals were presented by Her Majesty the Queen.
Reflecting upon his first Championship event as course designer, former European title winner and Great British Olympian Ian Stark, from the Scottish Borders, said he was pleased with how the cross country both rode and influenced the competition.
“We were never going to get seven days in Scotland without some rain,” he commented.
“It certainly affected the end result of the competition but the problems were spread around the course. Some good riders went out of the running but equally some inexperience partnerships came home clear so I have to be happy with that.”
Torrential rain dogged much of the competition and as a result, Ian backed by the ground jury made the decision mid-way through the field to remove the ‘haggis’ from fence 21 during the event, which sat at the top of a steep incline.
“I watched three horses fall in a row [from France, Belgium and Austria] at the jump, and although they weren’t the most experienced, the horses were clearly tired so I couldn’t risk another.”
Although Ian said he would have liked to see more riders take on the ‘direct’ route through the Firth of Forth crossings (a combination of the three bridges set on two waters at the Malcolm Lochan), he felt the German riders put on an exemplary display.
“The riders from Germany excelled out on the course. They were in a league of their own showing great balance and a superior feel for both the fences and the terrain.”
Scotland’s hopes dashed
After tackling the challenging cross country with relative ease to finish clear and in 26th position, Wills Oakden and Greystone Midnight Melody were absent from the final horse inspection yesterday.
According to an official team spokeswoman, the decision was taken not to present the 12-year-old Scottish-bred mare ahead of the showjumping phase at Blair Castle as she was “just a little sore” following her performance around the cross country.
“The decision was taken in the best interests of the horse,” British Eventing said.
Thanking all his supporters for their “incredible” backing both ahead of, and over the duration of the Championships, Wills said: “Sadly Molly picked up a minor injury which ruled her out of the final phase of the competition.”
He bestowed his biggest thanks to Molly’s owners and breeders Sylvia Douglas and David Kenwright as well as to Team GBR and UK Sport for taking him on “an incredible journey”.
He added: “I couldn’t be happier with Molly these past few days, she tried her heart out over the cross country in such tricky conditions and gave me a clear round my first championship track.”