Wiegersma leads hunt for European team crown
Great Britain's eventers have been served with emphatic early notice about how tough a task they face to wrestle the European Eventing Championships team title back from reigning Olympic champions Germany.
Britain won eight successive European crowns from 1995, but Germany ended that run on home soil in Luhmuhlen two years ago, which was a prelude to their London 2012 success.
With just over half of the 61-strong field having completed their dressage tests, Germany's opening two riders – Ingrid Klimke and Dirk Schrade – lie first and third respectively in Malmo.
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Britain's Lucy Wiegersma, riding Simon Porloe, held fourth place overnight, while Pippa Funnell and Mirage d'Elle are tenth. Multiple major championship medallists William Fox-Pitt and Tina Cook begin their campaigns today (Friday) in Sweden.
Germany, though, have plenty left in the tank – notably current Olympic, world and European individual champion Michael Jung – and the host nation also made a flying start with Niklas Lindback holding second spot on Mister Pooh.
"He just got a bit bright and a bit sharp and I couldn't quite ride him as much as I had wanted," said Wiegersma, reflecting on her dressage test and score of 45.2 penalties.
"It really showed up in the halt and rein-back, which was very expensive, but overall he coped pretty well."
Tomorrow's tight, twisting cross-country course, part of which runs adjacent to the sea, is likely to play a pivotal role in deciding where the medals end up. Devon-based Wiegersma added: "I think it is going to be a whole different competition on Saturday.
"I think the time will be incredibly tight to get, but I think the course will really suit my horse because he is very well balanced."
Former European individual champion Funnell marked her first British team appearance in a major championship since the Athens Olympics nine years ago with a solid score of 47.6.
The three-time Badminton winner is bidding to emulate her husband – showjumper Will Funnell – in the medal stakes after he was part of Britain's European Championship title-winning team in Denmark last week.
"With him [Mirage d'Elle], it really is like playing roulette," said Funnell, who was sidelined from London 2012 selection when her horses Redesigned and Billy Beware suffered injuries last year. "The best tests he has done have been when I haven't ridden him immediately beforehand.
"I was very much coming here to get as good a tune out of him as I could, and I think we did. His changes were better than they have ever been.
"It is a funny cross-country course, isn't it? I don't think any of us know how it is going to ride.
"It is certainly big, and I think we are all well aware it is a serious track out there," Funnell added.
Britain will hope, with justifiable optimism, that world number two Fox-Pitt and 2009 individual European champion Cook can now strengthen their medal challenge.
Fox-Pitt rides the stallion Chilli Morning, winner of Bramham's three-star event two years in succession, while Cook is on her double bronze medal-winning 2008 Olympics ride Miners Frolic.
Germany's enviable strength was underlined, however, by 45-year-old Klimke, a team gold medal winner at the last two Olympics, aboard her major championship newcomer FRH Escada. They scored 39.4.
This time a year ago, Klimke wondered how much progression she could make with the young mare, admitting: "When I first rode her, whatever I did she wanted to do the opposite.
"I finished 69th or something with her at Blenheim, then I was 105th out of 109 in Boekelo with her. You had to look at the last page of results to find out where we were! But I saw she had so much potential.
"She is so smart and brave and very determined in what she wants to do. The full winter, we worked so hard together. It was about being patient and doing plenty of repetition work."