Holland’s Harry de Ruyter (pictured) gained a thrilling victory after narrowly defeating Australian Boyd Exell in a contest of the highest calibre for the horse teams trophy in the 2003 Land Rover International Driving Grand Prix at Royal Windsor.

“I am really pleased because it’s a relatively new team,” explained Harry, 54, who last won the horse teams class here in 1999. “In fact, it was the first time I’d driven the right leader in dressage in any competition!”

The former world gold medallist’s team of grey Dutch Warmblood geldings performed superbly to take second place in the dressage on the opening day, behind rising star Boyd Exell and his immaculate team of chestnut horses.

Dick Lane, who represented Britain in the 2002 World Equestrian Games in Jerez, Spain, was third, ahead of last year’s Windsor winner, Felix Brasseur of Belgium, driving a new team of grey Lusitanos in their second competition.

Muddy marathon

Heavy rain made for muddy going on the cross-country course and weather conditions steadily deteriorated as the horse teams went through the eight spectacular marathon obstacles in Home Park.

Britain’s George Bowman had two new black Cumberland Cobs in the lead of his team in their first ever event and was sixth after dressage. Unfortunately, his inexperienced horses refused to enter the daunting watersplash in obstacle seven on the marathon and the team picked up penalties for getting grooms down.

Fellow British drivers Barry Capstick, Karen Bassett and Dick Lane all performed well and were in contention after the cross-country phase.

Marathon specialist Harry set a cracking pace in the challenging second phase. The “Flying Dutchman” and his athletic team raced through the obstacles in defiance of the treacherous conditions underfoot to win the marathon.

“The cross-country course was good but the obstacles were definitely built for advanced drivers; they were tough and tight,” said Harry.

Overnight leader Boyd Exell was defending a six-point lead going into the marathon, but disaster struck when he bounced his groom off the back of the carriage in obstacle two.

Boyd, 30, who won the British national championship last season, recovered well to complete a storming round through the remaining six obstacles, but that 10-point penalty allowed de Ruyter to capture the lead by just one point going into the final phase.

In a tense cone-driving competition, a splendid double clear secured Harry’s victory, with Boyd a gallant runner-up and last year’s winner, Felix, third.

Karen Bassett was Britain’s highest placed competitor in fourth place, while Barry Capstick, also driving two new bay leaders, took the USET Trophy for the best cones round on his way to sixth spot.

Read the full report from the International Driving Grand Prix at Royal Windsor in next Thursday’s Horse & Hound (29 May), or click here to subscribe and enjoy Horse & Hound delivered to your door every week.