Britain has made a solid start to the European Show Jumping Championships, with the team lying in fourth place going into today (Friday’s) nations cup behind Germany, the defending champions, France and the Netherlands.

Nick Skelton, team anchorman, is in fourth after a superb fast clear on Arko lll; Michael Whitaker and William Funnell are in 18th and 22nd after good four-fault rounds. William’s error was frustratingly at the last fence and Michael’s at the first part of a massive double on a long distance.

John Whitaker suddenly sprung into the trailblazing spot on the departure of his niece Ellen, who was forced to pull out of the team when AK Locarno developed a temperature after arriving in Italy. The elder Whitaker brother was going well until hitting the last two fences when Exploit du Rouland kicked back with a hind leg.

Germany’s anchorman Marcus Ehning, riding the grey mare Gitania, has taken the individual lead with a typically fluid performance, posting easily the fastest clear and the only sub-80 score. His compatriot, the defending champion Christian Ahlmann (Coster) is in fifth place.

“We have three good scores in our team, which means we can all have the freedom to go for the individual medals,” said Ehning.

Jos Lansink, who defected from the Netherlands to Belgium in 2001, is second on another grey, Cavalor Cumano. Gerco Schroder, the youngest of three show jumping brothers, is in third for the new-look Netherlands team in which only Jeroen Dubbledam, the Sydney Olympic champion, has previous championship experience.

The Swedes are fifth, thanks to clears from Peder Frederickson and Ralf-Goran Bengtsson, ahead of Belgium.

There was ecstatic cheers from the home crowd when Italy’s Bruno Chimirri (Landnecht) and Juan Carlos Garcia (Loro Piana Albin lll) rode fantastic clears to put the team in seventh.

Ireland, currently 10th, is likely to be down to three horses after Robert Splaine took a crashing fall at the second part of the double (12b) on Coolcorran Cool Diamond, who was subsequently lame on his off-fore.

Few riders have much experience of course-designer Marco Cortinovis’s handiwork, although he produced the course at Rome in May where Britain won the nations cup.

“The last time I rode one of his tracks [at Wiesbaden], I was eliminated!” said Ehning, who echoed his colleagues sentiments in praising the grass surface in the arena. “We all thought it was a very good course; it had some options that may have looked easy, but you had to concentrate at every turn.”

Results after first leg

1, Germany, 6; 2, France, 7.48; 3, Netherlands, 7.76; 4, Great Britain, 12.03; 5, Sweden, 13.75; 6, Belgium, 14.04.