It was another successful day in the office for Britain’s para-equestrian dressage riders, as four more medals were added to Great Britain’s tally out at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, including Team gold, and with it, Paralympic qualification for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
After Lee’s superb score yesterday, the remaining team members took to the arena today. First to go was Grade IV’s Sophie Wells with Valerius. Scoring highly for her changes and trot work, a final score of 74.333% saw Sophie clinch the silver medal, with gold going to Belgium’s Michele George and the bronze to The Netherland’s Frank Hosmar.
Commenting after her test, Sophie said; “I’m really proud of how he was today. He reacted to the crowds’ cheering and he’s the sort of horse that would have been really upset a year ago. He felt amazing in the test and I couldn’t be more proud of how he went. On another day, it might have been different. I’m not going to let it make me think any worse of him [Valerius]. Frank and Michele have been so close for five years now and we push each other; it’s sport at the end of the day. I wouldn’t go in and ride it any differently if I went in again; it just wasn’t quite good enough today.”
The Grade II’s were the next to face the music, with Natasha Baker and Cabral (owned by Mr and Mrs Baker, Mrs Alder and Christian Landolt) the last to go in the class. Knowing they would need to beat Dutch newcomer Rixt van der Horst to take the gold, Natasha gave it everything with a somewhat spooky Cabral to post 70.914%, just shy of the gold but claiming the silver.
A disappointed Natasha said; “He did some of his best ever work in there. He warmed up beautifully and we had a plan after Tuesday as I wanted a higher percentage and he went in there and felt just incredible. Then some incredibly unfortunate spooks spoilt it. His free walk was stunning; worth a ten but then the camera swung round and he went ‘whoa, what’s that’! They’re horses and I’m just really disappointed. I still got 71% with the spooks.
“I’m really pleased with him but it’s testament to my riding that I managed to get through that and get what I got. I have a new colour medal – haven’t got a silver one! I should not be disappointed with a silver; it means I’m still the second best in the world which is a great achievement but obviously I came here for gold. I wanted it so, so bad; to be Paralympic, European and World champion would be a dream come true.”
In the Grade Ia it was normal service resumed as Sophie Christiansen and her own Janeiro 6 topped the leader board in a close fought battle. Singapore’s Laurentia Yen-Yi Tan threw down the gauntlet with a strong early score of 75.087% for the rest to chase. Sophie went a few horses later and it was amazingly close but some determined riding edged the final marks above the London medallist at the finish of the test and the final collectives sealed the lead with a final score of 77.565%. The Italian partnership of Sara Morganti and Royal Delight had everyone on the edge of their seats but the finally tally came out at 76.478% and gold was Sophie’s to retain her title won in Lexington 2010.
Afterwards, a relieved Sophie said; “The other day I wasn’t as ‘on it’ as I normally am; I didn’t ride anything like I know I can. I needed it to happen on Tuesday; I needed that kick to pull my game up like I know I can. I knew that today I’d go better as I just though the pressure is off now which made me more relaxed. It’s how I felt in London but it’s hard to get that state of mind. At the end of the day it’s about horses and having fun…I think I lost that on Tuesday but being beaten defined what it’s all about. I’m hoping for the same state of mind tomorrow!”
Britain’s foursome of Natasha Baker, Sophie Christiansen, Lee Pearson and Sophie Wells put up a combined total of 456.024 from the team and individual tests which gave them a near 20% victory over silver medallists The Netherlands (432.941); Germany was fractionally behind on 432.510 for bronze. Today’s result has also ensured that the GB teams unbeaten team championship record, since 1996, remains intact.
Chef d’Equipe David Hunter commented after the team medal ceremony on what the result means for GBR; “It was public knowledge that our first aim was to secure team qualification for Rio. To do that we had to finish in the top three in the team competition and they [the GBR athletes] have really nailed that with a resounding and solid gold medal win. I couldn’t be happier; I’m thrilled for all the team members and support staff and for GB equestrianism that they’ve pulled out another very solid performance, which is good for where we are, being two years out from Rio.”