Great Britain, The Netherlands and Germany booked the first three team spots on offer for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games after taking the medals at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
The British team, maintaining its unbeaten run in the team competition, scored 456.024, The Netherlands 436.941, and Germany 432.510.
Chef D’Equipe for Great Britain, David Hunter said: “We came here with the intention of securing first, second or third to qualify for Rio, and got the gold with a large percentage to spare. The whole team and their back-up have worked hard, and everything has gone very smoothly with a great spirit. I’m over the moon. I couldn’t be prouder of the team. This is a good position to move on from, and start concentrating on Rio.”
The second placed Dutch team fielded some younger and less experienced combinations and although the team score collectively was far behind the Brits, The Netherlands scored 436.941, and some of the individual performances were admirable. British Chef D’Equipe David Hunter believes that in two years time at Rio the competition could be stiffer for Great Britain. “Some of the Dutch team are absolutely there on our heels, and the Germans as well, you can rest assured that they will want to improve upon things. I think it makes for some really exciting sport and competition in the future.”
Some of the German squad had a tough time in the arena this week, noticeably Paralympian Britta Napel, the grade II rider could only manage fifth place and is usually on top of the podium come medal day. But the margin between the bronze and securing the silver was small so the team will feel encouraged to work on improvements before the European Championships in Aachen next year and will likely come back fighting.
Germany’s Chef D’Equipe Britta Bando said: “I have a lot of young riders and new horses in my team, and we’ll get the second place next time! Now we can plan for Rio.”
1 Great Britain – 456.024
2 The Netherlands – 436.941
3 Germany – 432.510
4 Italy – 428.449
5 Denmark – 424.122
Dutch para-equestrian Rixt van der Horst has won gold in the Grade II test in her first major international competition.
Riding Uniek to a score of 72.457% , Van der Horst defeated Great Britain’s Natasha Baker on Cabral, who posted 71.429%. Canada’s Lauren Barwick took the bronze, riding Off to Paris to score 70.914%.
A tearful Van Der Horst said afterwards: “I’m very happy that we did it all. I hoped to get a medal because that was possible, but I never expected gold. I can’t believe it. Now I have individual gold I’m going to really enjoy the freestyle.”
Equally emotional was Baker, Britain’s double London 2012 gold medallist and current European champion and favourite for the world title. “Cabral did some of his best ever work. We had a plan to have a little bit more energy and he felt just incredible. We had some unfortunate spooks, but they’re horses and it’s just one of those things. For the freestyle I’m going to whack the music up so loud and just go for it. I’m even more driven to get it now.”
Beijing 2008 gold and silver Paralympic medallist Barwick was thrilled with her bronze: “We’ve been working really hard. She’s a very sensitive, challenging mare and we’ve just stuck in there with her and had a good time. A lot of people don’t know that Off to Paris is named in recognition of Own the Podium, the organisation set up to support Canadian athletes. Off to Paris – O.T.P. – Own the Podium!
“It was fabulous today because my mare has been feeling so consistent recently, and we feel like we have finally found the magic equation that gets her in the ring and gets her going really well.
“We can now add to that equation and just make it better and better,” added Barwick, who received top marks for her medium trot work and eight metre circles throughout her test. “I’m so excited for the freestyle tomorrow.”
Canada’s Para-Equestria directory Amie O’Shaughnessy, was ecstatic about Barwick winning the country’s first medal of the Games. “It is incredibly rewarding for the entire team, and she is absolutely deserving of this recognition and honour. It is such a privilege to be competing at these Games against the world’s best para-dressage riders here in Normandy.”
Grade II result
1 Rixt van der Horst (GER) – 72.457%
2 Natasha Baker (GBR) – 71.429%
3 Lauren Barwick (CAN) – 70.914%
Double London 2012 gold medallist, Belgium’s Michèle George, won the Grade IV individual competition with FBW Rainman on 74.881%, just over half of one per cent ahead of Great Britain’s defending World Champion Sophie Wells, on Valerius with 74.333%. The Netherlands’ Frank Hosmar took bronze on Alphaville N.O.P., with 73.500%.
In the tightest competition for a gold medal yet at the Games, the victory was Belgium’s. George rode her 2012 Olympic Games partner FBW Rainman to a score of 74.881% with an accurate test that pleased both the crowds and the judges to push herself into first place as British rival Sophie Wells was riding into the arena to commence her challenge for the gold.
“I can’t put into words how happy I am because it was so close at the end, Sophie and Frank were so good today,” George said as she spoke of the competition. Her 12 year old gelding was more alert going around the arena than during her team test on Tuesday but she managed to settle him before the bell. “For me it was really hard to get him where I wanted but I did it and I am very happy,” she said.
Wells rode her heart out on board the expressive Valerius, but the final score fell just short of clinching the top spot with a mark of 74.333%. “I couldn’t be prouder of him, he felt amazing in the test,” she said of her 12 year old KWPN gelding, “but it just wasn’t quite good enough on the day, maybe another day the same test would have got a different mark.”
Following the form book from Tuesday, The Netherlands’ Frank Hosmar claimed the bronze medal riding Alphaville N.O.P on a score of 73.500%. The Dutch rider was pleased with their performance, “I am satisfied, there are things that could have been better but at this moment I couldn’t do anything more,” he said, “the trot was better on Tuesday, he was carrying himself more so today I had to work a little harder but the canter was so nice.”
This is the first time that the two grade IV titans, Valerius and FBW Rainman, have competed against each other, and by no means are the results indicative of what could happen in the Freestyle, the small margin of just 1.5% between the top three leaves the door wide open for medal contentions tomorrow as the top seven from the two days of competition qualify.
Grade IV result
1 Michele George (BEL) – 74.881
2 Sophie Wells (GBR) – 74.333
3 Frank Hosmar (NED) – 73.500
It was two out of four for Great Britain: as well as picking up the team gold, Sophie Christiansen bounced back from her third place in the Grade Ia team test on Tuesday to take gold in the Individual test. Riding Janeiro 6 she scored 77.565% with Italy’s Sara Morganti, riding Royal Delight, on 76.478%. London 2012 silver and bronze medallist, Singapore’s Laurentia Tan, on Ruben James 2, took the bronze with 75.087%.
Christiansen said: “I feel amazing. I teared up a bit in the national anthem. Today meant a lot to me because I had to come back and fight for the gold medal in a way that I haven’t done recently at least. It made it all a bit more special.
“I needed that to happen on Tuesday to give me the kick I needed to pull my game up. Today I was not going to let anything distract me, I know I couldn’t have done any more in the test.”
Being drawn seventh to go out of 23 competitors left Christiansen waiting until the final riders to go before she could be confident in her winning score. She is now in the running to win the triple crown – three gold medals at the Paralympics, Europeans and World Equestrian Games consecutively in one current Olympic four year cycle.
Overnight leader Italian Sarah Morganti’s Royal Delight clearly did delight the judges once more. “The test was good but I must say that we could do better as I thought she was a little behind me,” she said of her test, “but tomorrow we will see what happens, I will enjoy myself for sure.” Morganti exceeded even her own medal expectations and was clearly delighted with the medal around her neck, “What can I say? It’s just incredible!” she said, “I will confess that I hoped for a bronze medal, that was my dream, I did more than that and it is just really wonderful.”
The bronze medal went to the rider first to go into the arena, Singapore’s Laurentia Tan riding Ruben James 2. Leading from the start, Tan had a short lived chance of the gold medal when she was overtaken by Christiansen six tests later and then, as the fourth last rider to go, Morganti overtook her for the silver. But Tan was still elated with her position. “It feels fantastic,” she said, “I did hope for better but the scores were very good, so I am very happy.”
Grade Ia result
1 Sophie Christiansen (GBR) – 77.565%
2 Sarah Morganti (ITA) – 76.478%
3 Laurentia Tan (SIN) – 75.087%