Equestrianism: British team repair pride

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THE British three-day event team restored morale at international level when retaining their lead after the speed and endurance phase of the world championships in Holland yesterday. Abnormally high temperatures and humidity added to the challenge of the 26,000- metre marathon.

New Zealand were considered the team to beat, but it was the United States who pushed Britain hardest when their first three riders went clear. When all four British riders had faultless rounds and the American Bruce Davidson was tipped into the water by Eagle Lion, Britain pulled 15 points ahead.

Mary Thomson and Karen Dixon are in second and fourth places individually, but the Australian 24-year-old Prue Cribb is in the lead, riding Naravone in his first four-star event. 'He's a horse and a half,' she enthused. 'I never thought he'd be out of his depth as he's always been confident and he's so scopey and bold.' Like Thomson, Cribb took all the direct routes except at fence 10 - a step up before an arrowhead, where her sister Felicity had fallen earlier.

Thomson - the pathfinder for Britain - set off before the heat intensified and King William looked his impressive self, 'loving it', Thomson said. But when she found herself 25 seconds behind target and asked him to quicken up after fence 23, 'there was nothing there'.

'It was a horrible feeling. He needed a lot of help so I just nursed him home.' Courage and strength carried them to the end, but he was running on empty, so different from the tiger we normally see. Nevertheless, their time was not slow. Thomson cannot explain why he tired so quickly, suggesting dehydration combined with a twisting course, but King William recovered his pulse rate five minutes after he finished.

Thomson praised the 'horse-friendly' course designed by the Dutchman Jan Stokkentre. He had the difficult task of testing the best yet allowing those barely qualified to complete it. He achieved this admirably. Time proved important but was not the dominant factor as the course was demanding enough without being dangerous or unfair.

Kristina Gifford found the course awkward on the big General Jock but coped magnificently, while Charlotte Bathe excelled herself with a well-judged round on The Cool Customer to stand in 11th place. Individually third is the New Zealander Vaughn Jefferis who had a brilliant round on Bounce. He fared better than his illustrious team-mates. Andrew Nicholson, who went first for them on Jager Meister, fell. The world champion Blyth Tait crashed out at fence six when Delta bellied on to the bank. Both retired. Finally, the double Olympic champion Mark Todd also fell, at the first water complex, when Just an Ace failed to climb out.

The French, in third place, were boosted by the reigning European champion, Jean Lou Bigot, who sped round inside the 13-minute barrier on his Twist La Beige. 'It suited my horse,' he said, 'as he does not pull and I could keep a good rhythm and jump out of stride. When he was still fresh after fence 26 I asked him to go on and he did.'

Today's showjumping phase - Britain's weakest - will decide both team and individual honours.