Johnson makes impressive British debut

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Philip Surl and Milla Clayton-Bailey held the joint lead at the conclusion of yesterday's first day of dressage at the Blenheim Vauxhall Monterrey International Horse Trials. Jennifer Johnson, who is on her first trip to England from the United States, is just 0.6pt behind the two Britons in third.

Surl, who runs a breaking and schooling yard in Northamptonshire, advertised the effectiveness of his training methods with an excellent test on the chestnut mare, Coxley Kontiki. Being only half thoroughbred, Kontiki is not the fastest horse around, but compensates for any deficiency in speed by being a trier. "She needs to be fitter than most," Surl said, "and I'm confident that I've got her as fit as is humanly possible."

Clayton-Bailey and her mount, the eight-year-old James Bigglesworth, are both competing at this level for the first time. The horse's name was inspired by the Biggles books, as a result of the way he got himself into the air when he first jumped as a three-year-old.

Johnson, who is here on a grant from the US equestrian team, had valuable help yesterday from Mark Phillips, who trains the Americans. She was shortlisted for this year's Olympic Games on Tiger One, on whom she is lying third.

Tiger One has already competed in two three-star events in the States, but Johnson believes that tomorrow's cross- country course will prove a tougher test. Johnson is not, however, in the least dismayed by the severity of the course. Indeed, she seems to relish it. "In the US, every rider tells you that you have to go to England and when they get here, they don't want to go home," she said. "I concur with that."

Christopher Bartle, who was sixth when riding for the British dressage team at the 1984 Olympics, is now lying fourth on Word Perfect II. He finished fifth on the same horse at Bramham in June, when he had a clear cross-country round, whereas Surl had a fall at the same venue with Kontiki, when she tripped up a step out of water.

Results, Digest, page 27