The dressage at the Blenheim Petplan International Horse Trials got underway today, with several familiar faces gracing the dressage arena. But Pippa Funnell proved, yet again, that when it comes to the dressage phase, she it streaks ahead of the rest of the field, when she leapt into the lead on Viceroy II with a score of 38.8.

The 14-year-old stallion was third here last year, and Pippa is confident that he has got stronger, and more mature over the last year.

“He’s become a lot more consistent in his work over the last year, and a lot more established. And he’s been a daddy several times this season — I think he’s had 18 mares — so perhaps that’s why he’s stronger,” she said with a laugh.

German youngster Simone Dieterman was not far behind on 40.2 with Flambeau H, an 11-year-old gelding. This is the 23-year-old’s first trip to Blenheim — she is usually based in Saerbeck, Germany, where she is a student.

Meanwhile, Jeanette Brakewell fared marginally less well on her stallion, McGuigan. The 10-year-old appeared to find the waving flags and the pipe renditions of Beatles songs which wafted continuously from the speakers around the main arena a little trying. Nevertheless, their score was good enough to keep them well within the top 10.

William Fox-Pitt also had to suppress a moment of rebellion in Moon Man, who has “done enough dressage tests to know better.” He preferred to canter when his rider’s instructions definitely said medium trot.

“He did the same at the Europeans, and the same at Badminton,” said William. “He’s usually so calm that I think it’s his way of showing tension.

“The thing is that he just isn’t flash enough on the flat to throw away a whole mark like that.” Moon Man nevertheless finished the day in fourth place.

The cross-country course is on the large side, but the general feeling is positive.

“It’s quite a big course, with lots of spreads,” said William. “But with Mike [Etherington-Smith] you know what expect, and he’s done a good job.”

The going at Blenheim is on the firm side, in stark contrast to Burghley last weekend, but with rain forecast, there is likely to be some give in the ground by Saturday.

The new format here — with no roads and tracks or steeplechase — could prove interesting, but the undulating course, which has had an extra loop added, is not to be sniffed at and will still require enormous stamina.

“The course does walk firm,” said Pippa, “but I think it might be deceptive, as it’s not as if we’ve had a long hot, baking summer.

“As far as this format is concerned, it means that every rider has to be incredibly sensitive to their own horses’ needs. Some need a huge warm up, and some don’t. The most important thing is to make sure that you get their heart rates right down again before you start,” she added.

Results after first day of dressage

1. Viceroy II (Pippa Funnell) 38.8;
2. Flambeau H (Simone Deiterman GER) 40.2;
3. Escape Lane* Mili (Didier Willefert) 43.6;
4. Moon Man (William Fox-Pitt) 45.4;
5. Last Angel (Owen Moore) 45.6;
6. Bally’s Geroninmo (Victoria Carlerback SWE) 46.2.