Equestrianism: Nagging effect of heat and humidity: Britain's team bring home gold while providing evidence for scientific experiment

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A COOL breeze was blowing here yesterday as Britain's three-day eventers began their journey home from the World Equestrian Games with team gold medals. The show jumpers will do their best to follow suit this week.

The three-day event riders would have welcomed such a breeze on Saturday, when they tackled the speed, endurance and cross-country phase. But at least the heat and sweltering humidity has advanced research being carried out by the Newmarket-based Animal Health Trust (AHT).

They were monitoring the horses' heart-rate and temperature as part of tests designed to assess the possible effects of the weather at the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996.

Details of Saturday's conditions were given yesterday during a seminar on three-day eventing, which was chaired by Lord Carew. Surprisingly, they were found to be at their worst at 9am. The temperature was then a reasonable 23C in the shade but the humidity, at 70 per cent, was at its highest.

That may well explain why Mary Thomson's mount King William, who normally looks as though he could gallop forever, appeared ominously tired on the last quarter of the course. Thomson nursed the horse home and, thanks to her sympathetic riding, he recovered quickly.

Having been among the early starters, King William had the worst of the humidity. Alhough the temperature rose throughout the day to reach 30C by 6pm, the humidity had fallen to 55 per cent by the evening. It is the effects of heat combined with humidity (the latter is estimated at 80 per cent during summertime when the Games take place in Atlanta) that is being researched.

The AHT has already carried out tests at its Newmarket headquarters using a treadmill. From 26 to 28 August they will be running field studies with six horses from Europe (two each from Britain, Germany and Italy) joining others already in America for a modified three- day event.

These studies will be used to ascertain the modifications that will be necessary on the Olympic cross-country course, which is being designed with as many variables as possible so that last-minute changes can be made.

It has already been accepted that the second section of roads and tracks, which precedes the cross-country, will have to be shortened. But officials at the seminar were confident that the event can be run, although there might have to be fundamental changes.

So far eight countries are eligible to send three-day event teams to Atlanta: the host nation and the top seven in the final standings here on Sunday (Britain, France, Germany, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and Italy). There will be further chances to qualify, notably during next year's European Open Championships, in which teams from other continents will be able to compete.