Britain’s showjumpers made a fantastic start to their campaign at the FEI European Showjumping Championships in Aachen, Germany, today (19 August).

The team sit in bronze position after the Turkish Airlines-sponsored speed and handiness competition, with Joe Clee also third individually.

Placings in today’s competition are converted into points to determine the team standings. Riders then carry these points with them throughout the team competition (Thursday and Friday) and, for the top 25, into Sunday’s individual final.

Joe was the final team member today and he rode tight, economical lines to finish clear in 69.67sec on Ludwig Criel’s Utamaro D’Ecaussines.

“I was aware I had to go fast and he’s a great horse to go fast on — the faster you go, the more he tries,” said Joe. “But I was worried about going fast for the first time in the arena as the faster you go the bigger he jumps. But he handled it well and the further round I went, the more risks I felt I could take.”

Joe Clee and Utamaro D'Ecaussines in the speed competition at the 2015 European Showjumping Championships. Picture by Peter Nixon

Joe Clee and Utamaro D’Ecaussines in the speed competition at the 2015 European Showjumping Championships. Picture by Peter Nixon

Britain’s first and second team members in, Michael Whitaker and Ben Maher, put the team in a strong position.

Michael was sent in first for the team as his horse is not particularly fast. His clear with Beverly Widdowson’s Cassionato put him 41st of the 92 starters today in 76.56sec.

“My horse is pretty inexperienced and not very fast because he jumps so high,” said Michael. “I did as good as I can today and I just need to carry on doing that, but the other three need to be faster than me.”

Ben was next in on Tatiana Korsakova’s Diva II and had a fantastic round for seventh place in 70.78sec.

“I played it safe to one jump, the Mercedes fence at number 10,” he said. “I saw one less stride quite a way back, but I felt her lose balance a bit [so I added a stride].”

Ben Maher and Diva II during the speed competition at the 2015 European Showjumping Championships. Picture by Peter Nixon

Ben Maher and Diva II during the speed competition at the 2015 European Showjumping Championships. Picture by Peter Nixon

Jessica Mendoza took the number three slot today on her senior championship debut with Sarah Mendoza’s Spirit T. She started off well, but had the second part of the double at fence 8 down and then also fence 11, a purple oxer off four strides from the Mercedes upright. Her time was fast, but with 8sec added for the knockdowns she sits 56th on a total of 79.35sec.

“It wasn’t my best round,” said Jessica. “The first fence was a bit unlucky, then I pushed her on and she found the distance a bit short in there [to fence 11]. I try not to get nervous, but today I was a bit nervous.”

Britain’s focus here in Aachen is to win qualification for the 2016 Olympics in Rio, which means finishing in the top three, excluding the teams already qualified (the Netherlands, France, Germany, Sweden, the Ukraine). The team certainly got off the start blocks towards that aim in great style today.

Home side lead

Germany leads the team competition after today’s speed class. Three of their riders went clear, with Ludger Beerbaum (Chiara 222) sitting second, Christian Allman (Taloubet Z) eighth and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (Fibonacci 17) 11th.

“We’ve only done a third of the team competition, so no one went completely flat out like you would in a jump-off, but I’m happy with my performance and that of my team,” said Ludger.

The fourth home side pair, Daniel Deusser and his 2014 World Cup champion Cornet D’Amour, had the gate at fence six down to sit 22nd — this was the largest fence on the course at 1.53m. This was one of the two places where course-designer Frank Rothenberger had given riders a choice of an inside or outside line over different fences, but the slower outside route was barely used.

France holds silver position, spearheaded by Penelope Leprovost, who retained the individual lead she took as the seventh rider into the arena today. She scorched round in 67.67sec on Flora De Mariposa.

“I was too long to the triple bar, but she was amazing,” said Penelope. “I didn’t think I would be so fast.”

Penelope Leprovost and Flora De Mariposa win the speed competition at the 2015 European Showjumping Championships. Picture by Peter Nixon

Penelope Leprovost and Flora De Mariposa win the speed competition at the 2015 European Showjumping Championships. Picture by Peter Nixon

The ground in the arena felt a little soft underfoot today after some rain over the past few days, but riders said it rode well. Frank Rothenberger explained that he avoided setting any tight turns to protect the ground with nearly 100 horses running over it.

All the competitors progress to tomorrow’s team competition. After that, only the top 10 teams (out of 23 who have started today) and the top 50 individuals will move forward to Friday’s class.

Full report on the European Showjumping Championships in H&H next week, out Thursday, 27 August.