By Shadia Nasralla
TOKYO (Reuters) - The Netherlands and Denmark got off to a strong start in the first equestrian dressage qualifiers on Saturday along with heavyweight contenders Germany who have Isabell Werth still to ride on Sunday along with Britain's Charlotte Dujardin.
Germany's Jessica von Bredow-Werndl snatched the highest individual score on Saturday, cementing her country as a powerhouse of equestrian sports.
Denmark's Cathrine Dufour, wearing a glittery helmet on her gelding Bohemian, scored the second-highest single score in the first round of qualifiers on Saturday, putting Denmark within grasping distance of a medal at the group final.
Eight teams of three horse-and-rider combinations will go through after Sunday's qualifiers to have a chance at winning a team medal on Tuesday.
"My feeling today was bloody amazing," a beaming Dufour told reporters after her performance, describing Bohemian as "really cool" and one of the best horses in the world.
"This year feels more secure, without making us lazy, but it's nice to feel (we) three girls, we're totally in control," she said of her team mates Carina Cassoe Kruth and Nanna Skodborg Merrald.
The scores for Von Bredow-Werndl, Dufour and the Netherland's Edward Gal have already secured them a place in the individuals final on Wednesday.
Britain's Charlotte Fry topped her qualifying group, helping put her team in third place in the qualifiers so far.
Sweden were in fourth place on Saturday, although Antonia Ramel, whose sister Juliette will ride on Sunday, said she was not happy with her score.
"I really hope (Juliette) does a very good test, without putting pressure on her, but really we need her to go and do a good test," Ramel told reporters.
Group rankings might change on Sunday when Werth, the world's most decorated Olympian in her sport, team mate Dorothee Schneider and world record holder Dujardin ride.
Saturday's qualifiers also saw the oldest Olympian at the Tokyo Games ride - Australia's 66-year-old Mary Hanna, a grandmother of four.
Donna Anna, the mare of Estonian rider Dina Ellermann who was the first equestrian ever sent to the Olympics by her country, relieved herself on the pitch while performing.
Tokyo is the first Olympics since dressage riders were forced to swap traditional top hats for helmets, despite calls from top riders to allow a choice between the two headgears.
(Reporting by Shadia Nasralla; Editing by Ken Ferris)