The Netherlands came within 0.541% of beating Germany and making history at the European championships in Hagen. Team Germany has won every single gold medal since the championships began in 1965.

The competition for bronze was closer still with a draw between eventual medallist’s Spain, and Sweden, who pushed Britain in to fifth place.

Britain’s team trainer Ferdi Eilberg said: “If you say fifth it doesn’t look too impressive, but it is important to stress that the bronze medal was very close and we were not far behind.”

The judge at C, Vincenzo Truppa of Italy said: “It was so tight that we judges did not know who was winning. I was sure that Britain was in a great position.”

Olympic hero Carl Hester, riding Roly Laurd’s Escapado, put in an impressive performance that earned nines for the extended trot and a total of 72.792%, which placed them seventh individually.

British team chef d’equipe David Trott said: “Carl put in a fabulous performance. The partnership have really come on and this test was the best we’ve seen.”

Wayne Channon earned 67.625% on his first European championship appearance, riding Lorenzo CH, the 12-year-old stallion by Ferro.

“He was awestruck by the arena and the atmosphere,” said Channon, who was disappointed with the test. “As he began to relax the work improved.”

Channon’s marks increased throughout the test to lift his percentage by more than 1% after the midway point.

David Trott said: “Wayne put in a fabulous performance at his first championships. We are using this competition as a building block for next year. And all four of our horses have even more in the tank.”

Three British riders — Carl Hester, Fiona Bigwood and Emma Hindle — will go through to the individual grand prix tomorrow. The top 15 will contest the kur for individual medals on Sunday.

Germany was under pressure after Anky van Grunsven and her Olympic gold medallist Keltec Salinero earned 77.417% and went in to the lead.

Hubertus Schmidt and Wansuela Suerte followed this for Germany and scored 74.625% with a relaxed fluent test.

Sven Rothenberger became the discard score for the Netherlands after a mistake with Barclay II in the piaffe that cost them a place in tomorrow’s individual grand prix.

Germany’s final combination of Heike Kemmer and Bonaparte made a mistake with the same movement, but dropped only to sixes and sevens. Her score initally appeared as 71.900%, which led the Netherland’s to believe they had gold, but was then confirmed as 72.833%, which gave gold to Germany for the 21st time.

“The pressure makes us all stronger and helps us to do better,” said Kemmer.

Sweden and Jan Brink were a threat to British bronze medal-winning hopes going in to the second day of the team competition. Brink scored 74.292% with Bjorsells Briar, the 14-year-old stallion he rode to an individual silver medal at Hickstead’s in 2003.

But Spain came to the fore after Juan Antonio Jimenez and Guizo scored 71.792%. Then Beatriz Ferrer Salat and Beauvalais, who were not performing at their best, did enough to put Spain on equal marks with Sweden. The bronze medal was decided by the results of the third riders — Spain’s Ignacio Rambla produced a higher score than Louise Nathorst of Sweden.

European championships team competition results

1. GERMANY 221,708% (K Husenbeth, A-K Lisenhoff, H Schmidt, Heike Kemmer)
2. THE NETHERLANDS 221,167% (L van Lierens, E Gal, A van Grunsven, S Rothenberger)
3. SPAIN 213,125% (I Rambla, J-I Lopez Porras, J-A Jimenez, B Ferrer Salat)
5. BRITAIN 211,292% (C Hester, F Bigwood, W Channon, E Hindle)