British rider Ros Canter’s seemingly-unstoppable gallop towards the Paris Olympics continued after she made a commanding start to her Mars Badminton Horse Trials title defence.

The 38-year-old reigning European champion leads after dressage aboard Izilot DHI on a score of 25.3 penalties.

Canter won Badminton in 2023 with Lordships Graffalo, which is a combination widely expected to spearhead the British bid for eventing team and individual Olympic gold this summer.

World number two Canter, who won the 2023 Pau five-star event with Izilot, leads by two penalties heading into the pivotal cross-country phase.

No rider has claimed successive Badminton crowns since Pippa Funnell in 2003, while it has not been achieved on different horses for 40 years.

“I know that I am the favourite on statistics, but I also know that my horse is unproven on stamina and endurance on a (cross-country) course like this,” Canter said.

“I will set off meaning business, but the distance and the going will be a new experience for him.

“He won’t have seen a course like this one – or as long as this one – so while I will set out competitively, I will keep an open mind.”

First day leader Bubby Upton lies second overnight and New Zealander Tim Price is third, with Emily King, whose mother Mary won three Olympic team medals and two Badminton titles, is fifth and could mount a major cross-country challenge.

Upton broke several vertebrae, needed a seven-hour operation and effectively had to learn to walk again after a schooling fall, and she only began riding again in January.

“I kept pushing the markers forward, and here I am,” she said.

“It was a very uncertain period for all of us, and I certainly come to events with a different perspective. Every day I feel so lucky to be doing what I love.”