Equestrianism: Nolan in charge of dressage: Sir Barnaby chased by The Oxford Don from America in the first stage of equestrianism's British Open Championship

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PIPPA NOLAN made a splendid start to the MacConnal-Mason British Open Championship when she rode Sir Barnaby and Metronome into first and fourth places in yesterday's opening day of dressage. Her two mounts are divided by the American rider Christine Scarlett on The Oxford Don and Switzerland's Christian Landolt on Enterprise V, writes Genevieve Murphy from Gatcombe Park.

Barnaby's excellent test will be hard to beat when the remaining competitors take their turn in the dressage arena today. They will nevertheless include some formidable opponents - in particular Mary Thomson (who is aiming for her third successive win) on King Boris and New Zealand's Blyth Tait (the reigning world champion) on both Ricochet and Delta.

Nolan has been runner-up in this contest, which incorporates the national championship, for the last two years on Sir Barnaby. Now 15 (but, according to Nolan, 'feeling more like an eight-year- old') the little horse seems to be in fine form as he prepares to tackle the 30 daunting fences on Mark Phillips' cross- country course tomorrow.

Barnaby's last two outings included a win at Brightling Park. He would have been the victor again at Dauntsey but for Nolan making one error in the dressage test. That mistake cost two penalties and Barnaby was beaten by only one point.

Yesterday it was Ian Stark who made a mistake. He had begun the international test on Clan Royal when one of the judges, Jane Houghton-Brown, told him that he was riding the wrong one.

'Jane said I should be doing Dressage Test R, and I thought, help, I'm not sure that I remember it,' Stark said. But he managed to recall the right sequence of movements to incur only two extra penalties for that one initial error with Clan Royal, who is now lying equal eighth.

Stark had expected to ride his dressage today. It was only when his wife, Jenny, rang to find out the time of his test that he discovered he was due here yesterday afternoon. As a result, he arrived half an hour before his test began.

MACCONNAL-MASON BRITISH OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP (Gatcombe Park): Standings after first day of dressage: 1 Sir Barnaby (P Nolan, GB) 30 penalties; 2 The Oxford Don (C Scarlett, US) 32; 3 Enterprise V (C Landolt, Swit) 33; 4 Metronome (P Nolan, GB) 34; 5 King's Jester (M Stibbe, Neth) 35; 6= Stepney Bartholomew (K Dixon, GB) and Rudi Pest (N Holmes-Smith, Can) 36.

(Photograph omitted)