It’s silly to say Blair Castle Horse Trials is a unique event, because every event is unique. And as a grammar nazi I despise phrases such as “very unique” — something is either unique or it isn’t. You can’t be a little bit unique, like you can’t be a little bit pregnant.
But Blair is… very unique. For a start, it feels a long way from anywhere. Of course that depends where you start from, but the reality is that the majority of the eventing community are based considerably further south. Coming to Blair requires a certain commitment.
“How did you get here?” “When did you get here?” people ask. I’ve travelled to and from Blair multiple ways. I did my first three-day here, in the days of long format, and came up by horsebox through the night. So exciting. And I’ve done all sorts of combinations of planes, trains and cars.
Today it was a six-leg, 8hr journey from Wandsworth, leaving at 6am and arriving at 2pm — two buses, a plane, three trains. It’s a long old way, but parts of the train journey from Edinburgh are very beautiful — crossing the Firth of Forth (right), and then seeing the Scottish countryside unfolding in increasingly remote communities. I shared a carriage from Perth with a very noisy hen party… that’s another story.
Once you get here, there are lots of wonderful Scottish accents and tartan. And fudge. And whisky. (I don’t like whisky, I do like fudge). The cross-country goes up the side of a mountain, there’s a fairytale castle. It often rains, it’s often muddy, it’s often cold. I don’t care. I’ve always loved it here, from my first trip at 18 through to today.
I remarked this afternoon that I do wonder why they bother to run the dressage here — it never has any bearing on the results. Yes, I was joking, please don’t anyone tell me off. But there’s a kernel of truth in it. With the hilly cross-country the time is virtually impossible to get and I bet it’ll be the same this year, despite Mark Phillips telling me today the three-star course is generously measured to the tune of 100m. At every level from CCI* through to CCI3*, this is a great place to come if you don’t have a fabulous dressage horse.
There’s a special frission here this year ahead of next year’s European Championships. The field is noticeably different, Ian Stark has taken over as course-designer and people are talking about 2015. There’s a new specially prepared grass arena being developed for the dressage and tickets are on sale to the public.
Meanwhile, dressage has finished for this year. Nicola Wilson — who understands Blair as well as anyone after three Scottish Open victories here — leads that class again, this time with One Two Many. The USA’s Elisabeth Halliday-Sharp holds top spot in the CCI3*, with Fernhill By Night, while Hayley Wright (In The Darco) and Emily Young-Jamieson (Gortmore Tommy T) head the CCI2* and CCI*.
I haven’t walked the course yet, but I’m looking forward to venturing up the mountain tomorrow and seeing what awaits them…
Full report on Blair in H&H magazine next week, out Thursday, 28 August.