The ‘god father’ of dressage put together a heavenly performance today to claim his hat-trick of Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games gold medals in the Grade Ib. It’s a title Lee Pearson has reluctantly accepted this week but with 22 championship gold medals over a 15 year career, it’s an appropriate one.
Britain’s Ricky Balshaw kicked the Grade Ib off with the Lady Joseph Trust’s LJT Enggaards Solitaire and they had a great ride to score 71.6% to a lively music set.
A happy Ricky said; “It was better than the others days. I really enjoy the freestyle, I love the music and with the results I’ve had over the last couple of days there was everything to gain. It was a lot, lot better today and I really enjoyed the ride. The championship day I really had to chase for every step; today he offered it a lot more and the reaction was a lot more what I wanted than backward and tired.”
As the competition end neared, the two main rivals remained. London 2012 Paralympic Grade 1a Freestyle champion Pepo Puch from Austria was first and he once again was stunning with his Fabriano-sired mare Fine Feeling S to score 78%.
Then it was Lee’s turn. Riding his own Zion, he proved that he’s back on top with a masterful freestyle display to music including Superman, Mission Impossible, We are the Champions and Fame which he had done for the 2007 World Championships. Lee upped the technicality to match his music choice and wowed the crowds (which included a 25-strong contingent of family and friends all sporting matching ‘Go Lee’ shirts) and the judges to be the first, and only, competitor to break the magic barrier with 80.05% and take the gold. This gave him the hat-trick of golds, the first time he’s done that since the last World Equestrian Games in 2010.
Earlier in the day, Natasha Baker got our day of dancing underway at La Prairie in the Grade II Freestyle with Phil & Lorraine Baker and Christian Landolt’s Cabral. They were hoping to bounce back from yesterday’s defeat but ‘JP’ hadn’t forgotten the dragons at the C end of the arena which completely put him off his stride. From the first halt it was clear that he wasn’t going to settle and Natasha did her best to keep things on track, cleverly managing to weave her compulsory movements in. Some of the walk was great, boosted by a perfect choice of music but the damage had been done. 66.55% was the final mark which left them out of the medals. Gold went to the rising star of Grade II, Rixt van der Horse of the Netherlands who has won many new fans this week with her Gribaldi-sired Uniek.
Far from the tearful Natasha yesterday who was clearly frustrated by the disappointment, today she saw the funny side; “To be honest I just don’t know what to say; it’s just not been my competition really but that’s horses for you! I knew as soon as I got into the first halt he saw people walking past, I was in trouble as much of the test goes towards that corner where he was scared. One of those things but happy I managed to get in my compulsories (movements); it really was freestyle! Inside, I just had to laugh as I knew that was my lot. I’ll live to fight another day – bring on Canada!”
In the Grade Ia, Sophie Christiansen had a clear mission to the day…complete her hat trick of Paralympic, European and World titles and in doing so retain her triple World Champion status. The day was made even more poignant in that it was the final championship under the watchful eye of trainer and mentor Clive Milkins. With her own Janeiro 6, she elected to ride to her London music which was a popular choice. Italy’s Sara Morganti set the standard with 78.80% and Sophie entered the arena full of purpose. She and ‘Rio’ executed her well known programme with great expertise for a fabulous 77.550% to leave her just short of her mission aim but gave her a great silver medal.
Sophie commented; “I went in there wanting to enjoy it; I just love that music. I did start crying afterwards because it’s my last test with Clive (Milkins). I think it’s just all coming out now! I’m fine but I’d obviously liked to have got gold for him but I couldn’t have done anymore. I’m really happy that there are others coming through in (grade) Ia as it’s good for the sport. I’m just a bit emotional; I’m actually content with silver. Reflection is my worst and best trait!”
The final class of the day was the Grade IV and Sophie Wells was hungry for revenge with her own Flemmingh sired- Valerius. Her rival Michele George set the level at 78.65% and Sophie, last to go, entered the arena as if she owned it, determined to put on a show for the final day. A technical programme to music she had made for ‘Reece’ if he was called up for London which suited him to tee. Many in the crowd felt that she had done enough but a mark of 78.05% left her agonisingly short for silver.
A deflated Sophie commented; “I’m really pleased with how the test went to be honest. I rode every step and couldn’t do anymore. When there is seven or eight percent difference in the scores the judges are maybe looking at different things and it’s difficult to come away with anything. I’m pleased with his performance; there was a mistake at the end of my medium canter but I really thought the rest was good enough.”
So Britain’s five para riders end their Caen journey with a total medal tally of eight; four gold and four silver. The main objective was to qualify for Rio which was achieved convincingly and there were mixed emotions in the individual performances and many lessons learnt. We have a triple gold medallist in Lee Pearson and each and every rider performed well.
GBR WEG PARA-EQUESTRIAN DRESSAGE MEDAL TABLE:
8 medals; 4 gold, 4 silver
Team Gold (Natasha Baker, Sophie Christiansen, Lee Pearson, Sophie Wells)
Individual Gold (1b) (Lee Pearson)~
Individual Freestyle Gold (1b) (Lee Pearson)
Individual Silver (IV) (Sophie Wells)
Individual Freestyle Silver (IV) (Sophie Wells)
Individual Silver (II) (Natasha Baker)
Individual Gold (Ia) (Sophie Christiansen)
Individual Silver (1a) (Sophie Christiansen)
For full results visit: www.normandy2014.com
Equestrian Team GBR is supported by the UK Sport Lottery funded World Class Programme; the British teams are very grateful to the support they receive from official Team GBR suppliers Dodson and Horrell, Land Rover, Mears Country Jackets, NAF, NuuMed, Point Two Equine, Tagg Equestrian and Toggi.