Seventeen nations are converging on the Pyrenean capital of Pau, France, this weekend for the European three-day event championships.
Inevitably, some squads have suffered last-minute blows. Great Britain, the defending champions, lost Rodney Powell due to Flintstone lV having an injured pastern.
Unbelievably, Rodney similarly lost his Olympic slot at the eleventh hour, this time with his own ankle injury.
Instead,British rookie Caroline Pratt gets the surprise call, riding Dick and Frances Kinsey’s Primitive Control.
The horse is apparently a bit short of a run, but the pair, who will run as individuals, have a useful record and a European Championships with no qualifying pressure is the right time to test a new combination.
William Fox-Pitt, a team gold-medallist in 1995 and team gold and individual bronze-medallist in 1997, is now likely to get the fourth team slot, riding Jayne Apter’s New Zealand-bred Stunning, who was originally imported by Mark Todd.
The horse has not put a foot wrong in the past 12 months and has won twice at three-star level, but he has an enigmatic character and this will be a test of pressure.
The other three teammembers are the defending champion Pippa Funnell with Pitt- Lewthwaite Syndicate’s Supreme Rock and her Sydney team-mates Jeanette Brakewell (Over To You) and Leslie Law (Shear H20).
Britain’s main rivals are likely to be France, who will have every advantage, being on home soil and with 12 riders to choose from, and Germany.
The French team is likely to be headed, for the eighth time, by the 1993 European Champions Jean-Lou Bigot and the Anglo-Arab Twist La Beige.
Others in contention are the 1995 silver-medallist Marie-Christine Duroy with Elton, the evergreen Jean Teulere and a host of army riders.
The German team, silver-medallists at Luhmuhlen in 1999, will comprise Bettina Hoy, the 1997 champion, riding Unsung Hero – one of the favourites for the individual title – Andreas Dibowski, who has a choice of three horses, Inken Johannsen, a former dual Young Rider European Champion,and Bodo Battenburg.
Ingrid Klimke, daughter of the late Dr Reiner Klimke, the most successful Olympic dressage rider of all time, rides as an individual on Robinson’s Concord and, if all goes well on this slightly inconsistent horse, would be in line for a medal.
Other contenders for the individual title are Finland’s Pia Pantsu, fourth in 1999, and Greece’s Heidi Antikatzides, who so nearly won an Olympic medal next year.
The Swedes are often strong at this level, but can only field four riders, the British-based Dag Albert on the fairly inexperienced Midnight Blue and “the three Annas” – Lidar, Nillson and Hasso.
The Belgians had their first taste of medal glory in 1999, bronze, and, led by Constantin van Rijckevorsel, will be hoping to go one better.
The Irish have been depleted by injury, to both horse and rider, losing Austin O’Connor’s Horseware Fabio at the last minute. They will be led by Trish Donegan on the stunning grey Don’t Step Back, and will be strong across country, but any Irish success will depend on whether they can be close enough after dressage.
Dressage begins on Thursday morning (11 October).