Equestrianism: British team feel the heat

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The Independent Online
THE dispiriting performance of British show jumpers at the World Equestrian Games, which closed here on Sunday, indicates that money must be spent on monitoring the horses before (and during) any future major championship.

The Germans did this with telling effect, adding individual gold and bronze medals to their team victory. British horses never looked like winning a medal of any colour. The heat and the age of the horses (John Whitaker's mount, Everest Gammon, is 16; Nick Skelton's Dollar Girl is just two years younger) were the main causes of their lacklustre display. But you also have to wonder whether they were fit enough to compete in conditions that were not expected, but were always a possibility.

Britain's winning three-day event team included two 14- year-olds (Get Smart and The Cool Customer) and neither succumbed to the heat and humidity. Charlotte Bathe reported that The Cool Customer had been pulling right to the end of the cross-country, despite the energy-sapping effect of trotting through soft sand on the previous roads and tracks.

Bathe had trained her partner on Newmarket Heath, deliberately choosing the hottest part of the day. It had been pretty stifling in England at that stage, so the horse was already acclimatised to conditions experienced here. .

Gammon and Dollar Girl were not the only two that disappointed among the British show jumpers. Eleven- year-old Midnight Madness, with whom Michael Whitaker was one of the favourites for the individual title, was nowhere near his best form. He was said to have been showing signs he was troubled by the heat before he went into the arena.

Kelly Brown's last round on the Irish-bred Alfredo (another 11-year-old) was the one and only British performance that looked impressive. The horse did make one mistake, one less than each of Brown's team-mates, but at least he attacked the fences with vigour and enthusiasm.

Although Brown did not realise it at the time, her last round made Britain's show- jumping team eligible for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. One more mistake and the final place on offer at the World Games would have gone to Canada. There will not, however, be much point in sending a British team to Atlanta unless the horses are properly prepared for the heat and humidity, which is expected to be worse than it was here.