Equestrianism: Dismal Britain need to rethink: Mary G Watson expects the World Equestrian Games to be a tough challenge

Click to follow
The Independent Online
DESPITE the apparent advantage of having many more horses, riders and opportunities to compete than any other eventing nation, Britain's recent international record has been dismal.

They have four teams entered in the six disciplines - the three-day event, dressage, show jumping, carriage-

driving, vaulting and endurance - at the second World Equestrian Games, which open on Wednesday in The Hague, and they will be determined to improve on their modest tally at the inaugural event in Stockholm four years ago.

In Holland, the three-day event team, without the backing of either Ian Stark or Virginia Elliott (formerly Leng), will be all-female for the first time, and their great challenge will be to restore both confidence and reputation. Above all the team needs to complete. Last year, in the European Championships in Germany, they failed to finish.

The sole survivor of that team, Charlotte Bathe riding The Cool Customer, can expect to be more grittily supported this time by Mary Thomson on King William, the individual European silver medallist Christina Gifford, Karen Dixon, Helen Bell and the newcomer Caroline Fiser. Two will compete as individuals.

King William is the joker in the pack. This impressive winner of Badminton in 1992 has the ability to lead the team to victory unless he reverts to his tendency to knock down several jumps on the last day.

Gifford has proved herself in top company but Dixon, riding the ever-enthusiastic Get Smart, now 14, may be the best bet for individual honours. They will need all the luck going however to beat the New Zealander Mark Todd who rides, appropriately, Just an Ace, and the reigning world champion Blyth Tait on the mare Delta.

Hopes for a British victory in the show jumping were recently boosted by taking the Nations Cup in Aachen. Kelly Brown joins the obvious selections John and Michael Whitaker (riding Everest Gammon and Everest Midnight Madness) and Nick Skelton (Everest Dollar Girl) in the team.

Whatever happens in The Hague inadequate horsepower should not be blamed for British shortcomings. The policy of learning by trial and error, which may eventually have got some of our best riders to the top, is far too wasteful of talented competitors and potentially top-class horses. It must change if Britain are to live with the best.