Germany is poised to win its first European team gold eventing medal for 38 years at the HSBC FEI European Eventing Championships after brilliant displays of cross-country riding in almost unremitting rain.

The Germans have an incredible 10 showjumping fences in hand over Britain, and four riders in the top six. Great Britain, who’ve won gold at the last eight Europeans, suffered a rollercoaster day, but are still in the hunt for silver, with William Fox-Pitt our best rider lying 6th.

At first it seemed as if we might be in for yet another German cross-country collapse, as their first rider out, Andreas Dibowski, suffered a horse fall at the apparently straightforward 22nd fence, the Dainese Spirit. Unharmed but clearly incandescent, he flung his helmet to the ground.

Constant rain and drama

Almost an inch of rain fell in overnight thunderstorms and the rain continued through the day. But Luhmuhlen’s sandy turf absorbed it well.

Nicola Wilson was the second rider, after Ireland’s Mark Kyle, to complete clear within the time allowed in a fabulous textbook ride on Rosemary Search’s Opposition Buzz, despite taking the slow route at the much debated penultimate combination, the Rolex turn, on team orders.

“Amazing, just a joy!” was Nicola’s reaction. “I felt as if I pressed cruise control; he had his wings on and was class from start to finish. [Team manager] Yogi’s instructions were to get up on time and then take the long route through the Rolex turn. It goes against my grain to take a long route anywhere but it’s a dream to ride for the team and under no circumstances would I go against orders.”

Brits in the wars

Laura Collett’s dream start on Rayef, lying joint 4th after dressage, swiftly evaporated. They incurred three run outs at different fences and were eliminated, and apparently went to ground afterwards.

Piggy French rode a terrific clear but was overwrought to clock up 6.8 time pens as Jakata became low and strong late on the course. “Being on a British team for the first time really means something to me,” said Piggy. “He’s a very good horse who should be able to go clear inside the time. You just take it out on yourself that that’s not happened.”

But her concerns seemed insignificant when Mary King took a crunching horse fall after stumbling out of the second water, briefly getting dragged by the left stirrup. She eventually walked away, waving reassuringly to the crowds like the consummate pro she is. She was taken for routine X-rays and Imperial Cavalier has been given a clean bill of health.

Germany’s remaining team riders, knowing their first rider was out, were flawless, fast and brave, Sandra Auffarth adding just a handful of time faults to their first day score.

“Today’s been a dream day, and I had a dream ride,” said Ingrid Klimke, (pictured) who retains the individual lead she took in the dressage.

With Mary out of the competition it now rested with William Fox-Pitt to keep our team in the competition at all. He finished clear inside the time but only after floundering round Cool Mountain’s neck at the second water when the horse landed awkwardly. But he made an acrobatic recovery and re-routed to stay clear – after an ungainly scramble at the Rolex turn.

“I’d thought I’d keep you all on your toes,” joked William. “He’s so brave, what an amazing horse. It was nobody’s error [at the Messme teacups] we landed underwater and I don’t know how he stood up again.”

Team positions after cross-country

  1. Germany (100.3pen)
  2. Great Britain (142.6pen)
  3. France (151.1pen)
  4. Sweden (173.2pen)
  5. Ireland (196.7pen)
  6. Italy (201.2pen)
  7. Netherlands (205.5pen)
  8. Spain (291pen)
  9. Poland (299.6pen)
  10. Switzerland (334.2pen)
  11. Belgium (1,126.6pen)

Individual placings after cross-country

1) Ingrid Klimke, FRH Butts Abraxxas (GER), 30pen
2) Michael Jung, La Biosthetique Sam (GER), 33.3pen
3) Sara Algotsson-Ostholt, Wega (SWE), 36pen
4) Sandra Auffarth, Opgun Louvo (GER), 37pen
5) Frank Ostholt, Little Paint (GER), 40pen
6) William Fox-Pitt, Cool Mountain (GBR), 42.7pen
11) Piggy French, Jakata (GBR), 47.2pen
15) Nicola Wilson, Opposition Buzz (GBR), 52.7pen