Great Britain’s Ben Maher and Cella soared straight to the top of the individual standings in a nail-biting opening leg of the PSI FEI European Jumping Championships in Herning, Denmark.

The Olympic team gold medallist and Jane Clark’s 11-year-old Cento mare finished just ahead of the individual champion in London — Steve Guerdat riding Nino Des Buissonnets — in this first round against the clock.

“From experience, you have to be quick on the first day of Europans,” said Ben. “Cella felt pretty special over the first few jumps today and did the rest of the work for me!

“There’s a long way to go, but it is always good to be ahead — if I can just keep jumping clear, I can’t be beaten.”

Even Swiss rider Steve Guerdat was surprised at the ferocious pace of the opening class.

I rode a lot faster than I intended to when I walked the course,” he said. “I was perhaps a bit chicken to the last fence, though, but I thought about all the days still to come.”

Roger Yves Bost finished third on Castle Forbes Myrtille Paulois, helping a powerful-looking French squad to the top of the team standings. Great Britain are currently in the silver medal position with Switzerland just behind going in to tomorrow’s 2nd leg.

Scott Brash (Hello Sanctos) and Michael Whitaker (Viking) rolled 1 pole apiece while the final team member William Funnell (Billy Congo) had 8pen to add.

Some striking performances from the Irish quartet — Shane Sweetnam (Amaretto D’Arco), Cameron Hanley (Antello Z), Shane Breen (Balloon) and Conor Swail (Lansdowne) have helped them into 6th, with only fractions of points separating the top 10.

The only disappointment on a thrilling start to the championships was the lack of spectators and therefore lack of atmosphere. But organiser Bo Kristoffersen was bullish about ticket sales for the rest of the week.

“We concentrated on sales for Thursday to Saturday and didn’t do too much to sell for today and tomorrow,” he said. “We have big crowds expected though.”

European showjumping championship standings: round 1

Individual standings (positions are converted to penalty points)

1. Ben Maher (Cella) GBR​ ​0
2. Steve Guerdat (Nino Des Buissonnets) SUI ​0.29
3. Roger Yves Bost (Castle Forbes Myrtille Paulois) FRA​ 0.58
4. Luciana Diniz (Winningmood) POR​ 0.85
5. Kevin Staut (Silvana HDC) FRA​ 0.90
6. Jens Fredricson (Lunatic) SWE​ 1.29
12. Shane Sweetnam (Amaretto D’Arco) IRL​ 2.38
13. Scott Brash (Hello Sanctos) GBR​ 2.72
38. Michael Whitaker (Viking)​GBR​ 5.46
52. William Funnell (Billy Congo) GBR​ 7.76

Team standings

1. France ​3.14
2. Great Britain ​8.18
3. Switzerland ​8.45
4. Germany​ 8.77
5. Italy ​8.84
6. Ireland ​9.42