Three of the four members of the U.S. Equestrian Team have a lot to prove this week at the Washington International Horse Show at Capital Centre.

Alice Debany, Tony Font and David Raposa have little international experience, whereas Hap Hansen, a veteran of several U.S. teams, has a long list of winning credits on the international circuit.

With a controversial new selection process based on prize money won this season, instead of performance in selected trial events, many insiders are skeptical that the lesser-known members deserve a spot on the prestigious national team.

Font, 31, a Silver Spring native living in Houston, didn't expect to ride with the national team so soon. Last year he didn't qualify for this show, missing the prize money cutoff by $1,500.

Raposa, 26, of Clinton, N.Y., sees an opportunity to become recognized as a serious competitor with an eye for judging potential in young horses, such as Seven Wonder, who won the $100,000 American Invitational in Tampa last March, and Shady Lady, who competed in the World Cup in Germany. He makes his living buying young horses and developing them into winners before selling them.

Debany, a student at New York University, has a strong horse in The Natural. The newly paired duo won a $50,000 American Grandprix Association event in Detroit and was second at a smaller show this summer.

Hansen has had the season of his career with three grandprix victories on Juniperus and one on Zulu. Hansen and his mounts have placed in seven other events this year.

The previous selection process, in which the goal was to select the best team at the time with the best chance of winning, according to U.S. Coach Frank Chapot, is now being questioned in a legal battle between the selection committee and rider Debbie Dolan.

Dolan, a top grandprix rider from Oyster Bay, N.Y., brought a lawsuit against Chapot and other committee members when she did not make the team for the World Championships last summer. Dolan was one of the top competitors in four of six trial events, and expected to make the team based on those performances, according to a team representative.

New teams are chosen for all major events and shows, including the Olympics and World Championships.

Chapot disagrees with picking a national team based on winnings earned over a period of months without considering who would best represent the United States at the time of the event.

"There is a lot of bad to {the new process}. We would like to have the people who are the best at the moment," said Chapot, a team member in six Olympics and coach for gold- and silver-medal-winning teams in the Los Angeles and Seoul Olympics, respectively.

"There could be people who did well in the spring but are {not at their best} now." It would be better to choose someone who is currently doing well, he said.

With his horse, Lego, Font has been winning and placing in mid-sized grand prix events for over a year. And an appearance in the World Cup in Germany last summer marked a fast climb into top show jumping events.

"I had always hope to get a chance to ride on the team. This horse {Lego} came along last year. I knew he was a good horse, but I didn't know how good," Font said. "Then earlier this year we went to the World Cup finals and he did very good there for a horse I consider to be very green at this level of competition."

For Font, the new system rewards riders and horses who have consistently done well throughout the year. "I don't think {the system} lies. Maybe it shouldn't be totally objective but I think that a good horse is going to win enough money without competing in every competition. People like myself who have tried and worked at it should be able to get a chance {like this}. For whatever reason, I'm just glad to get that chance."

Raposa agrees, competitors should be recognized for their successes. "You go all year to get here, why not give someone who's won a lot of money a chance. They went out and did their work and deserve a shot. If I didn't think I belonged here I wouldn't want to be here."

The current selection process is the fair way to pick the team, according to Hansen, but he disagrees that it is the right way.

"It is cut and dried, honest. . . . there can't be any favoritism. My gut feeling is that the U.S. has had a lot of success in the last 10 years. We have a lot of knowledgeable people who have always done a good job of selecting the best teams," he said.

The U.S. team will compete against teams from Canada, Great Britain and France Thursday night in the Bank of Montreal Nations Cup.