It was a Paralympic Games to remember for the British equestrian team, as they recorded their most successful Games to date, accruing seven Gold medals within their total medal haul of eleven. The final day of competition at Deodoro brought with it the Freestyle competition, with all five British athletes in action, and after some amazing competition all five brought home more Individual medals, with three Golds and two Silvers secured for ParalympicsGB. With team medal confirmed yesterday, the quartet also received their Golds this afternoon as the final action from the stadium drew to a close.
First up today was Grade IV’s Sophie Wells with Valerius, who secured the coveted Individual Championship title on Wednesday. Entering the arena to new music designed specifically for Rio by Tom Hunt, the new composition and a stunning first bold centre line by the duo had the crowd on the edge of their seats. Silver medallist in the Individual test, Belgium’s Michele George had thrown down an impressive 76.3% and it was a tense wait before the score was announced. With the scoreboard showing 76.150% it was yet a further medal for Great Britain, as a Silver was confirmed for Sophie.
Speaking afterwards Sophie said; “I’m incredibly proud, I’m so happy to come and get Individual Gold and now Silver, I went out there and really enjoyed it today. You dream of this stuff happening and when it does happen it’s amazing.
“I was thrilled to get the Gold on Wednesday as the individual was definitely the main one, you want to be the Paralympic champion, but with the team as well - we’re under a lot of pressure and it was a massive amount of teamwork and a massive score, so very proud.”
Next for Great Britain was the turn of thirteen-time Paralympic medallist Lee Pearson with David and Lydna Pearson, Gillian Chinn and his own Zion in the Grade Ib class. Entering the arena to the soundtrack from the Avengers, Lee produced a masterful round, with highlights coming through the working trot and superb halts, with the judges also scoring him highly for the choreography. Scoring 77.400%, the dynamic duo finished nearly a per cent ahead of Austria’s Pepo Puch, to secure the Gold – their eleventh.
Commenting after his test Lee said; “I love that horse, I just went for it today. I’m so grateful for him, everyone who’s helped me since 1998 who has helped me on my journey, my team at home and here. I have the best horse and the best team and it all came together today.”
The Grade Ib class was followed immediately by the Grade Ia’s, with Great Britain having two representatives coming forward to contest the competition, in yesterday’s medallists Sophie Christiansen and Anne Dunham. Anne Dunham was the first up for Great Britain with The Lady Joseph Trust’s and Henrietta Cheetham’s Lucas Normark. Riding to some beautifully uplifting music which showed Lucas off to the fore, the combination rocketed into the lead after a score of 76.050% was announced, putting them just ahead of the host’s Sergio Oliva.
Sophie Christiansen aboard Di Redfern’s Athene Lindebjerg were the final combination to go in the Grade Ia class. With a stunning start to their test, there were high scores awarded for their medium walk and transitions. As they planted their final halt, the crowd waved, before the cheers erupted after a score of 79.700% was given, meaning a British one-two for the second day running, with Sophie taking the Gold and Anne the Silver.
After receiving the news Sophie commented; “It’s amazing, I’m so proud of all my team, I’m just thrilled. We won the Gold medal by twenty per cent which is amazing; it’s down to grassroots sport in the UK, through Riding for the Disabled Association and also UK Sport and the Lottery funding which without that level of support, so thank you to everyone who buys their Lottery tickets.”
Speaking after the medal presentation, Anne commented; “I’m absolutely chuffed, flying high. It’s been a fantastic event, the scores have got better and better and he’s got stronger and stronger. We really enjoyed it today. We’re very lucky within our country to have great owners who support us.”
The final Freestyle competition of the day saw the Grade II class take to the arena, with Natasha Baker leading the charge for GB. Already with two Golds to her name at this Games, she rode her London double Gold medallist Cabral, owned by Christian Landolt and her parents Phil and Lorraine Baker, beautifully in the Deodoro arena to the sounds of music from the film Avatar.
Scoring highly throughout the test, the pair were awarded some great scores for horse/rider harmony and choreography to see a final score of 77.850% come through which put them into the Gold medal position ahead of The Netherland’s Rixt Van Der Horst.
“I can’t believe it, it’s just a dream come true,” said Natasha, “for our last championship test together I think it was just magical. He deserves to go out with a bang and after the five Paralympic Gold medals he’s won, three here and two in London, he’s a legend. It’s been an amazing competition and even more successful than London and to come here and do that, all that work has just paid off.”
Summing up today, Para-Equestrian Dressage Performance Manager Sarah Armstrong said; “Twenty years on from the introduction of para-dressage at the Paralympic Games, I’m beyond thrilled and delighted with the incredible performances the whole squad have been able to deliver on the Field of Play this week. Their dedication and commitment to delivering their best is humbling and both I and the rest of the support team behind them are very proud to have been on this journey with them. For them to come out here and redeliver beyond what they did in London is beyond amazing.”
Full results from today’s tests can be found on the Rio 2016 website