There were five disciplines in action today, with Great Britain represented in all.
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.
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.
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.
Day three of the reining competition saw the second individual qualifier bringing forward riders placed 16th to 35th after the first individual qualifying round on Tuesday. Francesca Sternberg on The Propane Company’s six year old Ten Reasons took to the arena first for Britain, and a solid pattern throughout saw the experienced reiner score 212.5.
Francesca’s husband, Doug Allen, followed shortly after producing a smart and fluent round pulling in some big points on Christine Brazeau’s Hangten Shiner to score a total of 215.5.
Continuing the family trend Jessica Sternberg, niece of Doug and Francesca, started off strongly on her Aunt’s (Francesca Sternberg) Smart Like Valentino, with the judges scoring highly for their circles, there was unfortunately not quite the required technique in the sliding stops which lowered their marks, leaving them on a total of 210.0. With only the top five riders from the consolation round going forward to the individual final it was down to the last British rider, Josh Collins, to pull out the top marks for qualification.
An accurate, smooth and well ridden pattern from Josh on Harry, Jadie and Zoe Collins’ Spook A Little was rewarded by the judges to give them a third position finish on a high score of 218.0, winning a place in the individual reining final on Friday.
Josh commented after his round; “He was fantastic, this WEG has been all I ever wanted it to be and more. He felt quite tired so I didn’t warm up for very long, I trusted him and he came good. Hearing the GB fans has been very special, it doesn’t get any better. To run in the final means everything.
Ironically it was Josh’s score that bumped team mate Doug out of the final five. “I need to go and buy him a beer” he laughed.
Across in Sartilly, five British athletes were battling it out through the challenging conditions at the endurance competition, in a day that was to see both triumph and disappointment in the British camp. A beaming smile said it all as British rider Beth Langley with Mrs Cate Langley’s HS Ametista finished in 28th place out of 166 starters in a time of 10:44:13.
Commenting after finishing, Beth said; “It’s amazing to have got round our first WEG together. That was the toughest 100 miles I’ve ever done. She led the Brits the whole way, this is her 15th FEI competition back to back. She’s a horse of a lifetime. It’s taken dedication and I’ve sacrificed my social life to get here but it’s so worth it. We knew at one point we were in the bronze medal position, we tried to bring Annie [Joppe] with us but if we’d stayed we wouldn’t have made the cut off. Mentally it’s tough to ride out on your own.”
Crossing the line alongside her team-mate was Anna Williams with Mrs Jane William’s Crystal Wissum. Unfortunately in the final vetting, Crystal Wissum was spun on heart-rate.
“This has been the hardest ride of my life,” said Anna, “but I’m so proud of my horse! He’s young, this was only his second 160km and that was flat and sandy, we’ve never trained on mud like this. He just kept plugging away through all the mud and absolutely gave his heart. Beth and I rode the whole way together which gave him a real boost. His day will come, he was awesome. When we presented his heart rate was well under at 56b/m but that’s endurance for you.”
Annie Joppe made the difficult decision to pull up on Loop four after Dilmun began to tire. Two British riders were among those hampered by lost shoes on the second loop of the course. The delay caused Annette Masterson, who was otherwise going well with Millenium Chorus, to miss the cut off at vet gate thereby just under five minutes. Catriona Moon also made the decision to retire here with Leila.
Chef d’Equipe Andrea Baker commented on her squads performance, “They’ve done well over a tough course; we would have loved to see a team home – to briefly be in bronze medal position was amazing - but there was so much attrition due to the conditions that our performance has definitely been in line with other nations. After the rain the course was very different from the one we saw earlier in the week and didn’t ride as well as they promised.
“Anna’s horse looked fantastic coming into the finish so we were all shocked by the outcome. It was disappointing in the end but I’m not sure there are any specific lessons to be learned, we have to move on and take the positives. The team have ridden together and supported each other really well through all of this which hasn’t happened for a good few years.”
William Fox-Pitt put in a stellar performance aboard Christopher Stone’s Chilli Morning to finish the first day of dressage in Haras du Pin in pole position with an impressive 37.5 penalties.
Commenting afterwards, a pleased William said; “I’m very pleased with him and the test. I think it was certainly definitely the best test he’s ever done, it was as good, if not better than the one he did in Kentucky. He was in a very good frame of mind – very ride-able and is a lovely and very impressive horse.
I think the course is serious, it’s a good track, it’s quite hilly and certainly undulating. Add the soft ground to it and I think you’ve got a serious track. We’ve [the team] really got to put our cross-country to the fore; we’ve ridden in these conditions before, it’s going to be tough and a real test.”
Zara Phillips was first into the arena earlier in the morning with the Gleadhill House Stud Ltd’s thirteen year old High Kingdom. Producing a strong test, despite the driving rain, saw Britain’s pathfinder post 54.5 penalties, for twenty first place.
Following her test Zara commented; “I’m a little bit annoyed but I was really happy with him, he did some really good work and everything I asked of him; now I’m looking forward to Saturday. I think it [the cross country course] is tough and it’s raining; the course is soft, so hopefully it’ll dry out. I think it will suit him; he’s good on the hills and makes those kind of distances.
“You’ve got to look at the whole event, it’s not just about the dressage phase, everyone’s seen the track and it’s a tough track – I felt like I’d walked Burghley yesterday, it’s hilly and really tough fences. You need something that will gallop up those hills and make those distances; we’ve just got to go out there and ride to the conditions.”
Last to go for GBR was Nicola Wilson with new ride, and championship debutant Annie Clover. A lovely test, which saw only a couple of tiny errors creeping in, sees a delighted Nicola in eighth place overnight, with 46 penalties.
“She was really good; her little bit of lack of experience just came out in the changes and a couple of other little areas, but she did a lot of really super work and hopefully she’s just at the start of her career. The way she coped with the clapping and cheering when she went in, I was just delighted at how focused and on the job she was, and professional really. I think that’s how she conducted her test, in a very professional manor and remembered everything she’s been taught over the years.
“She does have a really level head, and has done some super tests in her career to date; that was obviously her first championship test and her first four star so it is a big step up for any horse but I have a lot of confidence in her and she’s been super today. It’s great to be here with another horse to hopefully follow Opposition Buzz’s footsteps. It’s a serious course out there and would suit Opposition Buzz down to the ground so hopefully he’s sending good vibes through to Annie Clover. It’s lovely to have her here and gain that experience.”
WILL’S BLOG: WHERE’S MY HELICOPTER
A new instalment of Chef de Mission Will Connell’s blog is now available online. Catch-up on the latest news behind the scenes in the GB camp, how the athletes are getting on and why Will feels he really needs his Land Rover to have wings….
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.
08.24 Para-Dressage: Natasha Baker
08.30 Eventing: Oliver Townend
10.07 Para-Dressage: Sophie Christiansen
10.35 Para-Dressage: Ricky Balshaw
11.10 Eventing: Tina Cook
11.39 Para-Dressage: Lee Pearson
12.55 Dressage: Carl Hester
13.15 Dressage: Michael Eilberg
15.15 Dressage: Charlotte Dujardin
15.40 Eventing: Harry Meade
15.54 Para-Dressage: Sophie Wells
Please note that all timings are provided in UK time (France is one hour ahead of UK time).