A demolition derby -- the equine version -- came to the Washington International Horse Show last night at Capital Centre.

Officially, Canadians Mark Laskin and Ian Miller won the International Open Jumping pair relay, one of the wildest events in the show. Horses frequently look as if they are on a collision course.

"The confusion factor was our biggest problem," said Millar, 33, of Perth, Ontario. "When you look at the chart it looks easy, but when you get in the ring and do it it's much different."

Rules of the competition state that the entire course must be jumped twice in the correct order by one or the other members of the pair. Riders may change over as often as they wish but a change is obligatory whenever the horse makes a fault. Four seconds are added for each knockdown, and the fastest time wins.

Millar and Laskin, 23, of Edmonton, Alberta, were the second pair to enter the ring on their horses Arnika and No Penalty.They finished with a time of 68.68 and had no knockdowns.

"It's really hard to go early," Millar said. "We had to set the pace. The best thing anyone can do after that is try to cut a couple of seconds off our time."

Midway through the competition two popular women equestrians -- Leslie Burr and Melanie Smith of the U.S. Equestrian team -- came into the ring with exactly that intention. They had the crowd of 5,871 cheering even before they started over the first of 20 jumps.

Their time of 66.83 was the fastest of the 12 pairs entered. But Smith picked up a penalty of four seconds when her mount, Vivaldi, knocked down the next to the last jump. Their final time of 70.83 put them in third place. Burr -- winner of last year's President's Cup here -- rode Friar Tuck, the half-thoroughbred, half-Clydesdale she guided to victory on opening night. t

"They had us worried. We were sitting there trying to jinx them. They had the advantage of knowing what to shoot for," Laskin said.

The French team of Gilles Bertran de Balanda on Croquette and Frederic Cottier on Eusebe, the last pair in the competition, once again had the crowd on the edge of its seats.

Not quite fast enough over the course, they finished right behind the Canadians in 69.26. It was the best individual finish for the French team, which placed second in Tuesday night's Nation's Cup.