The weather is not being kind to the start of the European eventing season. All British national events were cancelled for the second weekend out of three. While the first internationals of the year did take place at Barroca d’Alva in Portugal on the first two weekends of March, providing those intrepid enough to have prepared their horses for competitive CIC and CCI runs this early in the year with valuable early qualifications, it was a far cry from the “sunshine tour” riders had expected, with continual heavy rain dampening everyone’s spirits.

But the eventing world is up and running, albeit in fits and starts – so what did we learn from the Barroca d’Alva results?

#1. Principally, that the Japanese really are becoming a force to be reckoned with in the sport. Yoshiaka Oiwa – pictured above – scored Japan’s most significant result to date when winning the CCI3* at Bramham last year on Calle 44, and he took the CIC3* in Barroca with The Duke Of Cavan for the second year running. Yoshi, who has been based in Germany with Dirk Schrade for nearly a decade, also won the CCI* on Bart L JRA.

But he is not alone. Kazuma Tomoto – second in the CIC3* at Blenheim in 2017, and based in the UK with William Fox-Pitt – secured his WEG qualification with fourth place in the CCI3* on Tacome D’Horset. Former showjumper Kazuma was also fifth in the CCI2*, and Ryuzo Kitajima finished third. And Japanese riders took five of the top 20 placings in the CCI* as well. Any nation that hosts an Olympics – as the Japanese do in 2020 – wants to acquit itself well, but if the Japanese can continue this upward curve and keep these good horses sound, they are going to be serious medal prospects.

Fouaad Mirza and Seigneur Medicott

#2. That India has a long way to go before they can field a championship team, but they too are making decent strides in that direction. Indian riders filled three of the top 10 places in the CCI*, the best placed of whom was Rishabh Mehta, third on Sara Algotsson Ostholt’s Rio Olympics ride, Reality 39. That lovely mare isn’t the only top horse stepping down a peg to give an Indian rider invaluable experience – Fouaad Mirza was 12th in the CCI* with his trainer Bettina Hoy’s multiple three-star winner Seigneur Medicott. There were 78 starters in the CCI*, so those results should be seen as competitive.

#3. That we are going to have to adjust mentally to the new dressage scoring system. Irish rider Michael Ryan led the CCI3* on Dunlough Striker with a mark of 32.6, which we are conditioned to think is really impressive. It was certainly a personal best for the pair, but in “old money”, i.e. before the co-efficient was removed, it would have been 48.9, which doesn’t sound quite so shiny. Michael and his wife Trish (who was second in the CIC3* with Dunrath Eclipse) took a lorry-load of horses to Portugal, ironically to try to avoid bad early-season weather in Ireland. Their focus for the year is definitely WEG – they have wonderful long-standing US-based owners in Carol and Tom Henry, and the Ryans would love to be able to give the Henrys a chance to see their horses compete in a championship on home soil.

Michelle Kenney and Carlchen

#4. That another Irish eventer, Michelle Kenny, has an exciting new ride. The 10-year-old started life in Australia, and competed up to CCI3* level with Stuart Tinney before coming to the UK for Francis Whittington to ride. Francis finished third at Chatsworth and sixth at Blenheim on him, and then Spencer Golding (River Lodge Equestrian) bought him for Michelle to ride. They were second in the CCI2* and will aim for spring CIC3*s and then a CCI3*.

#5. That Qalao Des Mers, winner of Pau CCI4* in 2016 and second at Kentucky CCI4* in 2017 but who suffered a small injury in his build-up to Burghley last year, is fit and well. Frenchman Maxime Livio’s superb 14-year-old was expected to run in the CIC3* at Barroca but was withdrawn at the last minute because of the conditions. It was considered that the organisers did an outstanding job to run the competitions, but the going was wet enough for the time on the CCI3* to be reduced to nine and a half minutes and special dispensation was obtained from the FEI for it to be counted as a qualifying result.

Ph. Equus Pix