Defending champion William Fox-Pitt holds the lead after the first day of dressage at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials, having scored 48.7 on Ballincoola.

“Ballincoola did a good test at Burghley last year which was good for his confidence,” said William. “He came back this year thinking ‘I can do dressage’, whereas previously it was a real dread for him.”

William also has his 2004 winner Tamarillo to ride tomorrow and said the two horses are totally different: “Ballincoola is a tormented soul. Tamarillo is the cocky rock and roller. When you ride Ballincoola he is rock solid. Tamarillo is like one of those wobbly carpets – there are so many things going on you don’t know where he’s going next. Getting him to and from the dressage is a challenge.”

The Tote were offering odds of 8/1 on Tamarillo, making him joint favourite with Primmore’s Pride (Pippa Funnell), Shear H20 and Shear L’Eau (both ridden by Leslie Law).

But it was first-timers who impressed the ground jury today to take the second and third slots. Milla Healey rode a great test on Zarzoo to lie second 0.6 of a penalty behind William, despite admitting her nerves were “massive”. Then, at the end of the day 22-year-old Kitty Boggis took third place with her former Young Rider team gold medal-winning partner Five Boys.

“He can get hot in a three-day atmosphere, but apart from a wobble in the changes and one shoulder-in, he couldn’t have tried harder,” said Kitty.

Olympic champion Leslie Law lies 10th with his first ride Shear H20, who briefly stood up at the end of his extended walk in what was otherwise a good test.

Among those who had nightmare rides were Cressida Clague-Reading, who struggled with Huszar, and Eleanor Brennan, the youngest competitor at 18 years old, whose worst marks came when Bailey Zwei had a bucking fit in the walk.

There was disappointment too for Marie Ryan, whose ride Sparrow Hall was eliminated yesterday at the first horse inspection, and for New Zealand’s Joe Meyer, who withdrew Snip before his dressage test today.

The most anticipated tests come at the end of tomorrow, when William rides Tamarillo, Andrew Nicholson brings out 2004 runner-up Lord Killinghurst, Leslie Law competes his Olympic partner Shear L’Eau and Primmore’s Pride makes his long-awaited Badminton debut with Pippa Funnell. Historically marks are generally higher on the second day.

Looking forward to Saturday, some people have said the cross-country is not as tough as sometimes, but William Fox-Pitt said: “There’s still plenty to jump and there are a lot of chances to make a silly mistake.”

Results after day one of dressage

1. Ballincoola (William Fox-Pitt) 48.7 penalties;
2. Zarzoo (Milla Healey) 49.3;
3. Five Boys (Kitty Boggis) 52;
=4. WP In Limbo (Clayton Fredericks) AUS 54.3;
=4. Keymaster (Magnus Gallerdal) SWE 54.3;
=6. Mr Pracatan (Andrew Hoy) AUS 54.5;
=6. Northern Spy (Heidi White) USA 54.5;
=8. Fenicio (Andrew Nicholson) NZL 54.8;
=8. Macloud (Eric Smiley) IRL 54.8;
10. Shear H20 (Leslie Law) 55.4.