It was a dramatic day at the Para-Equestrian Dressage competition at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 in Normandy (FRA) today, as a début rider took Grade II gold, and Great Britain, The Netherlands and Germany booked the first three team spots on offer for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
The Netherlands’ Rixt van der Horst, at her first major international competition, defeated Great Britain’s Natasha Baker in the Grade II individual test. Riding Uniek, she scored 72.457% to Baker’s 71.429% on Cabral. Canada’s Lauren Barwick took the bronze, riding Off to Paris to score 70.914%.
A tearful Van Der Horst told reporters: “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!”
George triumphant again
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%.
Christiansen bounces back
It was two out of four for Great Britain today. 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.”
Rio 2016 bound
Great Britain maintained its unbeaten run in the team competition comfortably taking the gold ahead of The Netherlands and Germany. The British team 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 Netherlands set out their stall early in the week, saying that they had come for a place in Rio. Their Chef D’Equipe Joyce Heuitink said: “I cried because I was so proud of all the riders.”
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.”
Tomorrow is the final day of this enthralling competition, when Freestyle medals decided across all grades. The action kicks of at 9.00 in Normandy - follow the action here.