Italy, who holds the European bronze medal, has taken a nine-point lead at the halfway stage of the dressage phase of the European Three-Day Event Championships at Punchestown, Ireland, thanks to a relaxed performance from 22-year-old Susanna Bordone on her new ride Ava.

“She is a lovely mare to ride and she works really well. I let her do what she wants and this morning I grazed her before our test. She is experienced and she did everything very nicely,” said Susanna.

Susanna has a commanding six-point lead over Ireland’s Sasha Harrison, riding as an individual on the French-bred All Love Du Fenaud, who in turn is just 0.8 ahead of British individual Mary King (pictured) on King Solomon.

The British team is in second place, with pathfinders Leslie Law and Shear L’Eau lying fifth individually, just behind British-based Irish individual Jonty Evans on Cregwarrior.

“The cross-country is big enough and I am planning some long routes – my choice, not the team’s,” explained Susanna, whose mother purchased Ava from Australian Olympian Stuart Tinney at the start of the year.

The horse was put on the market after last year’s World Games when Stuart plummeted from medal contention to eventual 16th place with a clatter of show jumps down. Susanna and Ava won the three-star CCI at Bialy Bor, Poland, in June.

Susanna, a member of the Italian team at the WEG last year, is based with Eddy Stibbe in Britain. She is trained in dressage by Pammy Hutton and in the jumping phases by Eddy and Julian Trevor Roper. She was quick to credit Louise Walsh, who rides Ava in her absence.

Sasha Harrison, twice a member of the Irish team but happy to be an individual this time, is excited by the prospect of riding across country in front of a cheering Irish crowd. “It’s a beautiful course and I’m feeling positive. This is the highlight of my career, to be riding on home ground, and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Mary King’s test was only marred by an error of course. “I had a bit of a senior moment and forgot the rein back. I got a nine for it when I did do it, but of course you get two marks deducted for a mistake,” she said.

Mary was a member of the British team that won gold at Punchestown back in 1991. “The course is similar to then; a lovely, big galloping track with every fence beautifully presented. Solomon is a hugely experienced horse and, as long as I do my job, this should be well within his capabilities.”

Leslie Law is content with his new role as British pathfinder. “I have had some good performances when going early,” he explained. “The year I was second at Badminton I was first to go and it suits me just to go out and ride the course I’ve walked without getting any other information. Nowadays, I tend just to go back to the lorry and rest before I ride, rather than watch too many others.”

Explaining his decision to ride Shear L’Eau instead of his three-times team horse Shear H20, he said: “He’s had three placings at four-star level already, and we should have won Burghley. The selectors and I felt it was now or never.”

Riders agree that the cross-country, designed by Irish legend Tommy Brennan, is a “meaty” test. Britain’s Jeanette Brakewell, 14th on Over To You on 52.20, said: “The first part is quite straightforward, but then it’s question after question, and there are so many waters. It’s also a pity the ground is so hard – you wouldn’t want to run a young horse hard around here.”

The drought has clearly taken the Irish hosts by surprise; they were convinced it would rain in time. Now some hasty watering is taking place, but it is probably a case of too little too late.

Results

Teams: 1, Italy, 86.6; 2, Great Britain, 95.4; 3, France, 99.6; 4, Sweden, 103.8; 5, Germany, 105.4; 6, Ireland, 109.4; 7, Belgium, 109.8; 8, Austria, 126.2.

Individuals: 1, Susanna Bordone/Ava (ITA) 33.8; 2, Sasha Harrison/All Love Du Fenaud (IRL) 39.8; 3, Mary King/King Solomon lll (GBR) 40.6; 4, Jonty Evans/Cregwarrior (IRL) 41.6; 5, Leslie Law/Shear L’Eau (GBR) 43.2; 6, Hinrich Romeike/Marius (GER) 44.4.