Triple European champion remembers eventing’s good times

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The winning British team in 1985 at Burghley, from left, Lorna Clarke, Virginia Holgate, Lucinda Green and Ian Stark.
The winning British team in 1985 at Burghley, from left, Lorna Clarke, Virginia Holgate, Lucinda Green and Ian Stark.

As the Longines FEI European Eventing Championships get under way at Blair Castle in Scotland, British eventer Ginny Elliot (neé Holgate), the only rider to win three successive individual European titles, recalls her three victories and the horses who made them happen.

“It was a splendid period in the sport for me. No doubt someone will come along one day and beat my record,” Elliot said.

“But I am glad I did it when the European Championships were still long format and held at four-star level. Those were the good old days, and I was very lucky.”

Ginny Elliot (neé Holgate) and Priceless at the 1985 European Championships at Burghley.
Ginny Elliot (neé Holgate) and Priceless at the 1985 European Championships at Burghley.
Priceless, Burghley 1985:

“My first individual gold medal was special, particularly because it was on home ground. It was also the first time I’d been last to go for the team, which was a totally different experience and meant a horribly long nervous wait.

“Priceless had a habit of bucking at awkward moments and he did a massive buck in front of a big downhill trakehner. I thought I was doomed, but somehow we stayed together.

The three individual medal winners of 1987 in Luhmühlen: Ian Stark, Virginia Leng and Claus Ehrhorn.
The three individual medal winners of 1987 in Luhmühlen: Ian Stark, Virginia Leng and Claus Ehrhorn.

“There was also a difficult angled fence three from home. Our chef d’equipe Malcom Wallace [Wol] told me that if I got there three minutes inside the time I was allowed to do the long route.

“Of course, I never used to bother to look at my watch, so when I got there – in time as it happens – I thought: ‘I’d better go straight!’ Poor Wol, who was expecting me to take the less risky route, nearly had a heart attack.”

Night Cap ll, Luhmuhlen 1987:

“Night Cap was a timid horse who had a tendency to ‘blow up’ in the dressage. We prepared for this at home by asking a ‘rent-a-crowd’ of people up from the village to clap.

“On the day of our test, we took him up to the dressage arena early, fed him his lunch, and let him graze and listen to the clapping. It worked amazingly well.

“I was also worried that the cross-country would be too much for Night Cap. He was insecure in comparison to Priceless, who was a bossy horse. But Night Cap gave me a fantastic ride and proved he was a champion after all. It was one of those competitions that went for me all the way.”

Virginia Leng (Elliot) winning her third European Championship, on t the 1985 European Championships at Burghley, on Master Craftsman at Burghley in 1989.
Virginia Leng (Elliot) winning her third European Championship, on t the 1985 European Championships at Burghley, on Master Craftsman at Burghley in 1989.
Master Craftsman, Burghley 1989:

“Master Craftsman (Crafty) had been to the Olympics in 1988 when he was only eight years old. He was still quite green and I didn’t know if he would be athletic enough for Burghley. But he did a lovely dressage test and a fast cross-country.

“However, he was a difficult horse to show jump. I am a bit ‘blonde’ so I used to walk the track about 10 times and, of course, this time there was so much at stake.

“There was a dreadful moment when we landed over a fence and I realised I hadn’t a clue where to go next! Thankfully, it seemed as if a guardian angel had tapped me on the shoulder and said: ‘Turn right’. I did, and it was the right decision, but it was a nasty moment!”

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