2012 London Paralympic Games: Four British Equestrian Medals Including Team Gold


Britain's record of winning every Paralympic, World and European gold medal since the sport became part of the Games in 1996 remained in tact at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. In addition, all the British riders competing on Sunday in Grade IV, III and Ia won an individual medal: Sophie Christiansen took individual gold in Ia, Sophie Wells silver in Grade IV and Deb Criddle silver in Grade III. Lee Pearson's team gold will be his 10th Paralympic gold, but he will have to wait until Tuesday's medal ceremony to receive it. He will have the opportunity to equal the British record of 11, held by wheelchair racer Baroness Grey-Thompson and swimmer David Roberts, when he competes in the freestyle tomorrow. Lee said: "I think this has been our strongest team, but it has been the toughest gold to gain."

David Hunter, team manager at his third Paralympic Games, said: "Our priority was to win team gold and as many individual medals as possible. It's fantastic!" Team trainer Michel Assouline added: "This is history for us. Very rarely does a country have a rider in each grade and this is the first time a country has ever won a medal in each grade as well! When you think that the British drop scores were above 70%, that is also more than amazing."

Even before Sophie Christiansen and Janeiro 6 entered the arena for their Grade 1a Individual Championship Test being the last individual grade on stage, it was highly unlikely that Britain would be beaten. Sophie's score of 82.75% just confirmed Britain's reputation as the powerhouse of para-equestrian dressage. Norwegian judge Kjell Myhre explained why Sophie and 'Rio' gain the exceptional marks they do: "The quality of the walk is exceptional. It's the activity and consistency of the contact."

Sophie Wells silver, Michele George gold and Frank Hosmar bronze
Sophie Wells silver, Michele George gold and Frank Hosmar bronze

Sophie Christiansen now is the most successful Paralympic rider having two gold medals in her pocket: one for the team and one for individual gold! Sophie's long-time trainer Clive Milkins said; "This gold is in memory of Jane Goldsmith, who pioneered para-dressage in Britain. She found the horse Rio for us from the Eilberg family and without her influence, we wouldn't be where we are today."

A beaming Sophie added; "It was a hard task waiting for two hours, but I couldn't be happier. All I could do was my best – by going first I just had to focus on my own performance and set the bar really high. I couldn't have asked for anymore."

Riding at her first Paralympics, Ireland's Helen Kearney rode the 13-year-old grey Irish Sport horse Mister Cool into silver medal position and will be receiving a bronze team medal on Tuesday too. Helen, who is trained by Heike Holstein, said: "This is unreal. I know I had been working really hard. We were sixth after the team test and didn't think we had a hope in hell; to get bronze is out of this world. We have come such a long way as a nation since 2009 when we struggled to finish in the top 10."

Kearney, who had previously taken an individual Bronze at the 2011 European Para Equestrian Championships, has been competing in para equestrian dressage for the last eight years.

Horse Sport Ireland Chairman Joe Walsh said: "I'd like to congratulate Helen Kearney for her fantastic success at Greenwich Park today, which was well deserved, and to the whole team who helped us to a Bronze medal. Today has been a remarkable achievement, especially as this was the first year that Ireland had qualified a dressage team for the Paralympics. My congratulations go to everyone involved. It's another great day for Irish equestrian sport!" British-based Singaporean Laurentia Tan and Ruben James 2 won the individual bronze. Kearney's silver medal triumph helped lift Ireland to a team bronze medal, with the merest of a margin above The Netherlands who were unlucky in the team tests grade II. Germany was taking the silver behind invincible Britain for the gold.

After Lee Pearson's shock defeat yesterday, it was favourite Sophie Wells' turn today to be denied the individual Grade IV gold, despite scoring another international personal best of 76.323% with Pinocchio. "I followed Michele George and heard her score outside the arena. I knew that it would be possible to win as long as I didn't have any mistakes, but the mistake was there. You can't change that," said Sophie, referring to a simple change, which wasn't clean. "Noki' was a little apprehensive of the crowd when he went in today. I just tried to nail every movement, but had that one small mistake. His power and size perhaps are against me with my disability, but he's phenomenal and has the potential to win gold in the future. I knew I had blown it. I am disappointed, but know I did my best. That's horses for you."

Looking forward to her next chance to win a gold medal on Tuesday in the freestyle, Sophie Wells said: "I want my gold medal back!"

Lee Pearson and Joann Formosa
Lee Pearson and Joann Formosa

So Belgium won its first gold Paralympic medal when 38-year-old professional rider and trainer Michèle George, competing at her first Paralympics, rode Rainman to score a personal best of 77.065%. Michele had an accident while lungeing a horse in 2008, which left her wheelchair-bound for two years after the operation to fix her knee went wrong.

She has had the 10-year-old German-bred gelding by Rubicell, known as "Fuchs", since a three-year-old and he was turned out for two years while she was incapacitated.

An ecstatic Michele, who trains with Jean Bemelmans and competed at small tour level before her accident, said: "I came second to Sophie at the Worlds in Kentucky in 2010, so I knew I had to put on a bit of pressure and it was now or never. Sometimes you have to take some risks. He was genius. It was like a puzzle and all the pieces fitted together."

Also at his first Paralympics, Holland's Frank Hosmar and Alphaville won bronze with 73.097%. Trainer Adelinde Cornelissen made the journey from Holland this morning to support him and watched him receive his medal. A professional rider and trainer, Frank has been a para-equestrian competitor since 2009 after he fell on glass and cut all muscles, nerves and tendons in his hand in 1997. Hosmar felt amazingly happy with the bronze medal. "I am too proud on my only seven year old horse Alphaville and also on my supporting team and on Adelinde Cornelissen to help me!"

In the Grade III class, defending Paralympic champion Hannelore Brenner posted 73.467 per cent with Women of the World for Germany to retain her title. Brenner looked as though she may struggle to cope with the pressure and she had two errors early in her test. One more would have meant disqualification! But she did enough to secure gold.

Joann Formosa partnered Worldwide PB
Joann Formosa partnered Worldwide PB

Having the experience of competing at three previous Paralympics meant that Deb Criddle was able to refocus despite making a mistake while riding LJT Akilles in the Grade III Individual Championship Test and still achieve 71% to win silver. The 46-year-old rider said: "The marks are a little bit lower than I'd hoped. Yes, there was a mistake. I had too much bend and couldn't contain what I'd created, so we had an abrupt stop. He's a sensitive chappie and there was more atmosphere today, but he grew into it in a good way. We had lots of super movements and, overall, it felt fantastic. When you go first, it's always difficult. You have to go out and push for everything. You have no option and know you have better riders coming behind you. There's always another day, but not, unfortunately, another London 2012. I've only had him for just over a year and performing in front of 10,000 people is a lot to ask of a horse. I thought he coped brilliantly well," she said.

Germany's Hannelore Brenner and Women Of The World retained their Paralympic title, winning gold with 75.741%. Hanne, who sustained a spinal injury while eventing in 1986, was riding a 17-year-old Hannovarian mare by Walt Disney, whom she has partnered for seven years. She has now won a total of 28 individual championship medals, 16 with her current partner. "Since I watched the London Olympics on TV a few weeks ago, I have been permanently excited about coming. Britain is a horse nation, so I knew it would be fantastic here. My mare was genius, even better than two days ago, and was completely with me," she said. Bronze went to Denmark's Annika Dalskov and the six-year-old De Niro gelding Aros A Fenris.

The silver for Criddle also meant that Britain took an unassailable lead in the Team competition with the team of Criddle, Wells, Lee Pearson and Sophie Christiansen preserving an unbeaten Paralympic record that began in Atlanta 16 years ago.

Yesterday as day three of the Paralympic Games turned into a day of high and mixed emotions for the home nation. The British camp was euphoric at lunchtime after Natasha Baker and Cabral won individual gold in Grade II, but it turned to shock when Lee Pearson's score of 75.391% turned out not to be enough to win him his tenth gold.
 
Unbeaten at the last three Paralympics, Lee Pearson's total domination of the Grade Ib competition and chance to make it 12 gold medals in 2012 finally came to an end when a relatively unknown Australian won her first Paralympic equestrian gold medal.

It was an incredibly close fought battle with less than 0.8% separating the medallists. Joann Formosa partnered Worldwide PB to victory on a score of 75.826%. The 16-year-old stallion has been competed up to Intermediate I by a British rider who lives in Australia, Claire Wickens-Seidel.

Joann, who bought Worldwide just seven months ago, was competing not only at her first Games, but also it was only her second international competition, her first international with this horse. She said: "I met Lee at the 2006 World Games in Hartpury and said to him then I would be back."

Grade II rider Natasha Baker and Christian Llandolt's former event horse Cabral set a new Paralympic record
Grade II rider Natasha Baker and Christian Llandolt's former event horse Cabral set a new Paralympic record

Suffering with the "worst nerves ever of my entire life" did not stop Lee Pearson producing a stonking test for 75.391% - just 0.435 adrift. After a shaky start in the team test on Thursday when Lee described his ride as though Gentlemen's "engine dropped out of his backside", this time Lee was a lot happier: "He was much more on side and we had the engine running. He stayed in perfect balance. I rode the best test I could have done. Joann made no mistakes, rode every single step and had no tension. Gent broke slightly into a jog in the walk and that may have lost me the medal."

Now known as "Mr Come Dine With Me", he is keeping his music for the freestyle on Monday a closely guarded secret: "I enjoy the freestyle as we can show off a little bit."

Bronze went to the popular former eventer, Austria's Pepo Puch and Fine Feeling.
Puch was top of the FEI Rankings for Grade Ib coming to the Paralympics, so there were also a lot of expectations on his shoulders as well, but as he said "there are many riders in this Grade who are of a very high standard. This class was all about good horsemanship – it was very tight". His wife and daughter (and many Austrians in the crowds it seemed) have been following him every step of the way since he was forced to give up Eventing following his accident, producing an impressive cheer for him during the prize-giving ceremony and a warm welcome when he crossed over into the public area of the arena.

On her Paralympic debut, Grade II rider Natasha Baker and Christian Llandolt's former event horse Cabral set a new Paralympic record in the Individual Championship Grade II Test of 76.857% to win Britain's first equestrian gold of the Games.

"London girl" Natasha, who had a nail-biting wait as she was fifth into the arena of 25, said: "We stepped it up a gear today. We had the best warm-up ever; he was the softest he's ever been and has never felt so settled. There are still things we can improve on; I know there's more in the tank. He really listens to me when we are under pressure; he is a super, genuine horse. I have dreamt of this for 12 years, having watched the Sydney Paralympics on telly when I was 10. My ambition was a) to compete at a Paralympics and b) to win a medal. I never expected to win gold at my first Games; I will get a golden postbox now! If I have inspired one person to go out there and do any sport, then I will be over the moon. It was Lee Pearson and the other riders who inspired me when I was 10 years old."
 
Second and third place were close on her heels, with defending Paralympic champion Britta Napel taking silver on a score of 76.048% with Aquilina 3, and German compatriot Angelika Trabert and Ariva-Avanti in bronze medal position on 76%. Napel and Trabert whose score provided Germany with some very valuable points towards the overall mark, have participated in several Paralympics – Angelika is one of just three Para-Equestrians to have attended all of the Paralympic Games since equestrian sport joined the programme in 1996, while Napel joined the squad for the 2004 and 2008 editions. Britta, who runs her own yard for disabled riders, scored a personal best. Britta's bronze teammate Angelica Trabert said: "This is our fifth Paralympics and our first Paralympic individual medal since Atlanta in 1996. This is what we've been working towards; it is nice when the master plan now comes together."

Natasha Baker now has set her mind on another chance to win gold on Monday, when she competes in the freestyle test: "I have a great floor plan and have gone for simple. They say less is more."

RESULTS
Team Results
GOLD Great Britain 468.817
SILVER Germany 440.970
BRONZE Ireland 428.313
4. The Netherlands 428,253

Results Grade 1a
GOLD Sophie Christiansen (Janeiro 6) GBR 82.75%
SILVER Helen Kearney (Mister Cool) IRL 76.7%
BRONZE Laurentia Tan (Ruben James 2) SIN 73.65%

Results Grade III
GOLD Hannelore Brenner (Women Of The World) GER 75.741%
SILVER, Deb Criddle (LJT Akilles) GBR 72.926%
BRONZE, Annika Dalskov (Aros A Fenris) 72.889%

Results Grade IV
GOLD Michele George (Rainman) BEL 77.065%
SILVER Sophie Wells (Pinocchio) GBR 76.323%
BRONZE Frank Hosmar (Alphaville) NED 73.097%

Results Grade II
GOLD Natasha Baker (Cabral) GBR 76.857%
SILVER Britta T Napel (Aquilina 3) GER 76.048%
BRONZE Angelika Trabert (Ariva-Avanti) GER 76,0%

Results Grade Ib
GOLD Joann Formosa (Worldwide PB) AUS 75.826%
SILVER Lee Pearson (Gentleman) GBR 75.391%
BRONZE Pepo Puch (Fine Feeling) AUT 75.043%

The British quartet of Lee Pearson, Sophie Wells, Deb Criddle and Sophie Christiansen successfully chased their fifth successive Team gold medal to be presented next Tuesday.




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