Tait, the Olympic champion who now holds the world title for a second four-year period, had insisted beforehand that a New Zealand victory was not inevitable. "We were favour-ites in 1994, but most of us fell off then and it could happen again," he had said.
The British, who won in 1994, had been so hampered by the succession of horses on the sick or injured list that they had little hope of a repeat victory even if all the Kiwis did bite the dust. Under the prevailing circumstances, the team bronze medals were to be a source of jubilation. So was the manner in which they were achieved.
Polly Phillipps (with Coral Cove), Gary Parsonage (Magic Rogue) and Nigel Taylor (The Frenchman II) do not have horses with much natural flair for dressage. They were to excel on the cross-country course in the rain-soaked hills of Pratoni del Vivaro. Thanks to gallant efforts here on Saturday, Britain was the only nation to finish with three horses clear within the optimum time. Not even the all-conquering New Zea-landers could equal that achievement.
Karen Dixon, the most experienced member of the British team, set out with similar resolve on Too Smart - but she alone failed to complete the journey.
The little horse had never before been known to run out of steam, but he looked ominously tired when falling three fences from home and retiring. Dixon will have him blood-tested when he arrives back at his stable in County Durham.
Given their fine cross-country performances, the British advance from eighth to fifth after the cross-country seem-ed disappointingly small. It suggested that the dressage would have an undue influence on the result.
That was certainly the view of Giles Rowsell, the British chef d'equipe, who was annoyed to learn that the 17th cross-country fence had been taken out of the course on Saturday morning on the advice of Hugh Thomas, the technical delegate, who was concerned about the ground after heavy overnight rain.
The course had already been measured fairly leniently, and with horses galloping past fence 17 instead of being set up to jump it, the optimum time became easier to achieve. There was not, however, any question of amending the time since it is decided solely on the overall distance of the course, which remained unchanged.
Rowsell would have liked the British horses to have been given the chance of tackling the complete course, including fence 17, which he did not regard as dangerous. Captain Mark Phillips, chef d'equipe of the United States team, was equally adamant that the course should not have been changed. The British, however, did advance to third place and they were happy enough to settle for bronze medals.
It was Mark Todd who had to bear by far the biggest disappointment on Sunday, when he lost the individual championship through two show jumping errors. There will be no comfort for the New Zealander in knowing that, under the new rules to be introduced next year, he would have had two show jumping fences in hand and a world title to his credit.Reuse content