First para-dressage medals for Britain
It was smiles all round as the first day of the Para-Equestrian Dressage Individual Championship test, for Grades Ib and IV, took place at the ECCO FEI European Championships in Herning, Denmark (23 August 2013) and saw two medals for Great Britain.
Earlier in the day the grade Ib class produced the first delight as Ricky Balshaw, who makes his European Championship debut for GB, took silver with the Lady Joseph Trust’s LJT Enggaards Solitaire.
Riding ‘Sid’, a horse he’s had since the start of December, Ricky produced a well-executed test to finish on a superb score of 73.586%, just behind the Paralympic Freestyle Grade Ib champion, Pepo Puch from Austria, with Denmark’s Stinna Kaastrup taking the bronze.
Ricky commented on the result: “He couldn’t have done any more today. It’s the first major Championships I’ve competed at since I broke my back in 2011 and I’m absolutely buzzing; I really want to get straight back in and do my freestyle now!
“Sid is gorgeous and absolutely fantastic and I’m so lucky that the Lady Joseph Trust bought him for me to ride. I’m just really, really pleased and I just couldn’t have asked for any more.”
The second session of the day brought even more delight for the British contingent as Sophie Wells produced a stunning performance to take the Gold medal on a score of 75.643%, nearly 4% ahead of The Netherlands’ Frank Hosmar, whilst the host nation’s Line Kongensgaard finished third.
Sophie said after her test: “I’m so happy with that performance; he was so on-form and was really with me and listened all the way. I exposed him as much as possible to the audience in the warm-up to get him used to the environment and he was such a good boy, when I asked for more, it was there. To go into the Championships as the current reigning European Champion does bring with it some pressure but I had absolute confidence in him; I’m just so pleased.
“London didn’t go my way and I’ve been hungry for this so I’m very happy. The way my horse went today I couldn’t have asked any more of him so whatever the result I was going to be pleased, but obviously I’m ecstatic about that."
GB win team silver and bronze in drama-filled individual jumping final
Drama was available in bucketfuls at the finale of the Individual Jumping competition at the ECCO FEI European Championships on 24 August 2013. As the excitement played out, the tense final produced a further two medals to add to the British tally with a Silver and Bronze for Ben Maher and Scott Brash.
Having already clinched team gold on Thursday evening (22 August), team members Michael Whitaker, Scott Brash and Ben Maher were back in action in the glorious sunshine to compete in the two round Individual final to decide the medal placings.
Michael with his own Viking V were first of the Brits into the arena, sitting in 18th place in the Individual rankings as they entered. The 53-year-old from Nottinghamshire produced a masterful performance with the chestnut gelding, to finish with a single time fault.
Michael commented: “I couldn’t have gone any faster, it’s very big in there he’s gone really, really well. I couldn’t have asked for more, he’s given me a great round.”
Sitting in 10th position overnight, Scott was next in for the Brits. Riding Lady Kirkham and Lord and Lady Harris’s Hello Sanctos, Scott produced magic in the arena, riding a supreme clear fast round, which saw him move up the rankings with an overall score of 6.72.
Overnight leader Ben Maher was the last of the Brits to go with Cella, owned by Jane Clark. Ben, who has jumped faultlessly throughout the competition, was unfortunate to lower a pole half-way through the round, meaning he finished on a total of 4.00.
With all to play for in the second and final round of competition, you could have cut the atmosphere with a knife. Jumping in reverse order, Michael was the first of the Brits to go and he was unlucky to have a pole down and a time penalty, to finish the round on five, bringing his overall total score to 16.46, for ninth place.
Scott, who is known for his cool approach, kept everyone on the edge of their seats and produced another supreme quick clear round that was enough to gain him the lead and a final total score of 6.72.
With four riders to go it was a tense wait, but when Sweden’s Rolf-Göran Bengtsson had a pole down and Switzerland’s Steve Guerdat recorded a refusal, Scott knew he had done enough to put himself on the podium. Only the final two riders could decide the colour. Next into the arena was final British combination, Ben with the eyecatching Cella, who produced a fantastic clear round, their fourth of the competition, to better teammate Scott, finishing on a total score of 4.00. French rider Roger Yves Bost proved unassailable to take the gold after posting a clear round with Castle Forbes Myrtille Paulois, the silver and bronze medals confirmed for Great Britain.
Silver medal winner Ben Maher said: “Cella was amazing today. It was a silly fence to have down; she just got a little too careful but she jumped a great second round for me. She’s more of a machine than a horse. For her first Championships I couldn’t be more happy. She jumped so well and thanks to Jane Clark for giving me the ride and the whole team for their support. Roger Yves Bost was just too good today; he rode the round of a lifetime – congratulations to him.”
Bronze medallist Scott Brash added: “My horse has been fantastic all week, just been getting better and better each day, which shows how good he is – he’s just a joy to ride. Sanctos has jumped fantastic all week, and today he was just amazing.”
Chef d’Equipe Rob Hoekstra summed up the occasion: “It has been a fantastic Championships for GB and in particular for Scott and Ben, and shows that we are going in the right direction. The backing from the UK Sport Lottery funding allows us to put the riders in the ring and for them to concentrate on the job in hand. The team performances in the ring have been exceptional and I think it looks very bright for the future”.
Medals galore for Britain's para-dressage riders
Britain’s para-equestrian dressage riders rounded off their trip to the ECCO FEI European Championships with a top drawer performance to claim five medals – three gold and two silver. Sunday 25 August 2013 was ‘dancing’ day when the riders perform their own floorplan to music and it was great to see a supportive crowd come to watch.
Britain’s first rider was early in the day, when the showground was just waking, which suited Grade II combination Natasha Baker and Cabral after they were unsettled by a buzzing arena on Thursday. Just second to go, Natasha had decided to stay with her music score which she used in London, as it’s a popular choice for the judges and spectators.
A brave entry in walk, a square halt and straight into canter left the judges in no doubt of her determination for that gold. A final score of 77.65% placed them higher than rival Angelika Trabert of Germany (who had gone in first). It was then a painful wait to see if Natasha could stay on top. Her second German challenger, Britta Napel, looked in fine fettle with her long-standing partner Aquilina 3 but they fell short with 73.250% and a third European Championship gold was Natasha’s.
On realising her victory, Natasha commented: “I can’t believe it, I really can’t. I thought on Thursday that I’d be stone last. I really did not expect it at all. He’s just got better each day but he’s still not got as good as I know he can be, which is a little bit frustrating for me. He’s just an amazing horse and I know that there’s so much in there but I haven’t been able to show it off, but hopefully I’ll get the opportunity next year in WEG [World Equestrian Games] to do that. It’s been a happy end to a very tricky week!”
The Grade Ib riders then stepped into the limelight and Ricky Balshaw was determined to go home with another medal around his neck. The favourite, Pepo Puch of Austria, had an early draw and scored 79.2% so Ricky knew exactly what he needed to do. Riding The Lady Joseph Trust’s LJT Enggaard’s Solitaire, Ricky attacked his test from the onset, riding every movement for every mark possible. A score of 76.8% wasn’t enough to secure gold but one judge did award them 80% which bodes well for the future. Denmark’s Stinna Tange Kaastrup continued her good run with a third bronze with new ride Steffi Graf.
A happy Ricky said: “He [LJT Enggaards Solitaire] felt great today. He had more trot today than previously so I got ahead of my music but threw in a circle or else I’d have ended up in the judge’s box at C!
“It’s a personal best score so I’m over the moon with that and the fact that one of the five judges had me to win is awesome; I’ll take that! To come here and beat Pepo (Puch) was always a big ask but give it another year, and who knows?”
It’s been a great battle between compatriots Sophie Christiansen and Anne Dunham all week and both are music maestros when it comes to freestyle day, so it was going to be close.
Sophie made a conscious decision to put together new music as she wanted to keep her London masterpiece sacred: “I had it specially done for London and I want to preserve that memory, it would be wrong to use it again,” she explained. So it was an upbeat piece for her own Janeiro 6, or Rio to his friends, to suit his clockwork walk.
Sophie rode with her normal pinpoint accuracy which she puts down to her ‘mathematical brain’ and a final score of 78.1%, which included three 80%+ artistic scores, flashed up on the board.
It was then down to team stalwart Anne, who has competed in 11 out of 13 British teams since the Athens Paralympics in 1996, to see what she could do with spotted LJT Lucas Normark, owned by The Lady Joseph Trust. ‘Lucas’ has really impressed this Championship and the Genesis medley that Anne had put together suited him perfectly. It was nip and tuck but Anne’s final score was 77.35%, just a fraction behind Sophie.
Sophie commented: “I would have liked to have broken 80! My trainer said it was the best test I’ve rode to date so I’m really pleased. I love being with the other disciplines; it’s created a bit of an atmosphere. I thought it was really good for Rio – as a competitor I always need to challenge myself. It was a bigger crowd than normal here at these Championships, which was great, and I’ve managed to watch some of the dressage and jumping, which has been great. It was a great ride. I thought Anne might just do it; she rode a lovely test. I did the best I could – I’ve got a great horse and I was so glad I could show him off here to the crowd.”
Anne said: “I was really pleased with him, he was just fantastic. I was really happy with my test; he just gets better every time we come out. The team morale is really good, all very happy and everyone’s very supportive of each other, which extends across the nations, not just within the British camp.”
The Grade IV freestyle proved the showdown of the day with some expert riding and beautifully presented tests. Dutch rider Frank Hosmar set the bar with a 76.9% and it was for the others to follow.
No one came close until Sophie Wells stepped up with her towering gelding, Valerius. The duo are in great form having won at Inter I level a few weeks ago and they wowed everyone throughout the Championships. The petite rider, having been inspired by her teammates’ performances throughout the morning, threw caution to the wind and went for it, making use of Valerius’ extravagant paces and willing nature. All around knew it was a special performance but not many expected the 80.25% that flashed up on the board. Gold was Sophie’s.
She commented afterwards: “It feels amazing – I’m just so proud of him. It was a big event but I was able to take risks today which paid off and I could go for the bigger marks. I’m so proud of my boy.”
After five fantastic days of competition where, for the first time, para-equestrian dressage featured alongside their able-bodied equivalents and show jumping to much praise from competitors, officials and spectators, Britain tops the para-medal table with 11 medals, seven gold and four silver.
Chef d’Equipe David Hunter summed the successful week up in saying: “I couldn’t have asked for better results; they were a dream. The new horse and rider combinations have excelled and the established combinations were outstanding. I’m hugely grateful to everyone who puts in so much effort – riders, grooms, the support team and particularly the owners.”
The British equestrian teams are supported at their respective Championships by the UK Sport Lottery funded World Class Programme.