London, England - Seventy-eight Para-Equestrian Dressage riders entered the ring at Greenwich Park on August 30th and 31st for the Team Test competition. Seventy-eight horses trotted down center line moving one step closer to earning the 2012 London Paralympic Equestrian Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals.
Those seventy-eight horses engage, suspend, and perform technical requirements in front of international FEI judges President Kjell Myhre (NOR), Lillian Iannone (ARG), Freddy Leyman (BEL), Anne Prain (FRA), Gudrun Hofinga (GER), Sarah Rodger (GBR), Carlos Lopes (POR), and Kathy Amos-Jacob (FRA) as the reserve member. As the last United States Para-Equestrian to enter the venue, Donna Ponessa (USA) and Western Rose excelled in the Grade Ia Team Test earning the United States an increase to their overall percentage score.
Great Britain turned up the heat Friday and brought in three of their final riders for Grade Ia, III, and IV Team Test competition. Earning the Grade Ia win was Sophie Christiansen (GBR) and Janeiro 6. The pair earned an 83.765% overall and even had one judge's score at 93.824%. In Grade III, German Para-Dressage rider Hannelore Brenner brought home the win with a 75.741% as the overall percentage. In Grade IV Great Britain did it again capturing the highest percentage score in Grade IV with a 75.906%. These final scores cemented the Team Test scores that will combine with the individual Test scores for a final calculation.
Each country is judged under a random selection of five judges for their Grade test. If a country is competing for the Team competition, they will have three or four riders that they choose to contribute to the Team scores. The top three scores of each Team Test and Individual Test will combine to produce an overall Paralympic Medal winner. The Team Test competition for Grade Ia, Ib, II , III, IV was also a warm-up for individual countries that will be competing in the Individual Championship over the weekend. Saturday September 1st begins the Individual Test for Grade II and Ib followed by Sunday's Grade Ia, III, and IV championship tests.
The United States is looking to improve upon their scores so they may reach their top ranking for the Team Medal. Improving the United States team ranking was on the mind of Donna Ponessa during the entire morning before she showed.
Ponessa noted, "I had a little bit of an advantage being a spectator on the first day of competition. With that advantage I was able to settle in and convince myself it was just another show. I have to admit that the weight I was bearing was a little much. So when I started to feel the pressure of the Team depending on my scores I tried to find busy things to do."
She continued, "Riding for my country has been an amazing experience. At first I was a little overwhelmed and the mare was a little tense when I walked in the ring but, all of my teammates agree, it's another show with an Opening Ceremony and you can't be thinking about anything else. It's about each footfall and your job ahead. Once I got that centered, everything seemed to flow better."
Ponessa's horse Western Rose, owned by Wes Dunham, maintains two performance traits making her a superb Grade Ia horse. Her strong walk including the free walk across the diagonal scored a high mark pulling Ponessa's score up into 70 percent. During the working walk Western Rose began to increase her steps. Ponessa explained, "Rosie kept trying to stop and look. I am not noted for the subtlety of my aids so when I felt her go to stop all I could think was, 'Not here mare, no.' So I sat a little too hard and she let me know it is not going to fly when you sit on me that hard."
Ponessa earned the fifth position in the Grade I a Team Test where 25 year-old Sophie Christiansen (GBR) earned the highest score of the day aboard Janeiro 6. Christiansen commented, "I was quite nervous at the beginning of my test considering the fact that other members of the team have been posting very good scores. I couldn't have asked for a better score at the end of this test."
Results Grade Ia:
1. Sophie Christiansen (GBR) and Janeiro 6----83.765%
2. Laurentina Tan (SIN) and Ruben James 2----74.235%
3. Helen Kearney (IRL) and Mister Cool----72.235%
4. Sergio Froes Ribieriro de Olivia (BRZ) and Emily----71.353%
5. Donna Ponessa (USA) and Western Rose----70.235%
Grade III is a unique Grade due to the fact that the test includes walk, trot, and canter and yet the ring is smaller making each moment appear faster. Hannelore Brennar of Luneburg, Germany explained her exquisite performance, "When I entered the arena my mare was a little excited. She is a sensitive mare and can be hysterical at times but after two rounds in my warm-up she was perfect.."
Hannelore and Women of the World have been together for seven years. "Every year our partnership gets better and better and we come together more each time, she expressed."
Hannelore also competes in able-bodied Dressage and has competed through 'S' Dressage in Germany, the highest level of Dressage. In 1986 Hannelore was competing in Eventing and was injured in a riding accident on course. Although Hannelore did not compete at a high level of Dressage before her accident, she is now competing at the highest level of the sport.
Results Grade III:
1. Hannelore Brenner (GER) and Women of the World----75.741%
2. Deborah Criddle (GBR) and LJT Akilles----72.926%
3. Annika Dalskov (DEN) and Aros A Fenris----72.889%
4. Sanne Voets and Vedet PB (NED)----72.037%
5. Susanne Sunesen (DEN) and Thy's Que Faire----71.333%
The final Para-Dressage rider to achieve the top score in the Team Test competition was Sophie Wells of Great Britain aboard Pinocchio. When Wells qualified for the British Dressage Association Para-Equestrian Team in 2008 she was unable to travel due to her horse's laminitis. So for the 2012 year Sophie had one goal in mind, "Great Britain has never lost a Gold Medal and I don't want to be on the first team that fails to win gold," smiled Wells. "We're all doing our best to retain the record but a Gold would mean everything."
Results Grade IV:
1. Sophie Wells (GBR) and Pinocchio----75.906%
2. Michele George and Rainman (BEL)----72.906%
3. Frank Hosmar (NED) and Alphaville----71.781%
4. James Dwyer (IRL) and Orlando----69.719%
5. Line Jorgensen (DEN) and DiCaprio----69.406%
Preliminary Team Medal:
1. Great Britain
7. United States of America
On Saturday the Grade II Individual Championship Test will commence at 9:00 a.m. The Medal ceremony for the individual championship will occur at 12:30 p.m followed by the Grade Ib Championship Test at 2:30 p.m. The 2012 London Paralympics continues through Septtember 9th, 2012. The Paralympic Equestrian competition will finish on September 4, 2012.