The individual competitions got underway at the JYSK FEI European Para-Dressage Championships in Herning (DEN) today, with dominant winning performances from Austria’s Pepo Puch in the Grade Ib contest and from Great Britain’s Sophie Wells in Grade IV. On his way to successfully defending his 2011 European title, current world number one and London 2012 gold, silver and bronze medallist Pepo Puch, riding Fine Feeling S, scored an impressive 76.138%. Great Britain’s Beijing 2008 silver medallist in Hong Kong, Ricky Balshaw, continued his strong return to international competition following serious injury by taking the silver medal on LJT Enggaards Solitaire with 73.586%. There was medal joy too for Denmark’s Stinna Tange Kaastrup. She took bronze on her new horse, Steffi Graf, with a score of 71.862%. In the Grade IV competition, reigning World and European Champion, and double London 2012 silver medallist (along with team gold) Sophie Wells retained her European title with an impressive 75.643% on Valerius.
In second place was London 2012 double bronze medallist Frank Hosmar (NED) riding Alphaville to 71.810%. The main surprise of the day was another bronze medal for Denmark with European Championships debutante Line Kongensgaard and Laponio scoring 70.024% to make it a double medal day for the host nation.
Speaking after his win, Pepo Puch said: “Wow! It’s amazing to defend my title. The other one (from Moorsele 2011) was on Good Boys Feeling and now it’s Fine Feeling S, my second horse, and I’m really pleased.”
Puch, who is earning increasingly high scores, added: “I was really happy, especially as it was quite noisy, but the horse was really settled and stayed concentrated. He was super, really super. I’ve worked over the summer and made progress especially in my body. My body is more smooth and I can breathe better in my riding.”
Herning marks Great Britain’s Ricky Balshaw’s return to top flight international competition after breaking his back in an accident. On receiving confirmation that he had won silver, he said: “It’s not bad at all. I’m quite pleased really. I think everyone comes here and wants to win but when I actually think about it, second at his (LJT Enggaards Solitaire) first majors, when I’ve only had him seven months, I’m really pleased.
“Pepo is so established that maybe it was a little bit premature to think that I could do it today, but fair play to Pepo and congratulations to him. I’m really over the moon to beat everyone else and get the silver.”
One of the widest smiles belonged to Denmark’s Stinna Tange Kaastrup after being presented with her bronze medal. Stinna had been adamant in the run-up to the competition that she was here mainly to expose her new horse, Steffi Graf, to a major competition environment. But it was clearly a delight for her to have won a medal. “I’m so happy and I’m so, so pleased and overwhelmed,” she said. “I knew that if she [Steffi Graf] did her best we would maybe be in the top three. It was something I dreamed of but didn’t really allow myself to believe. But today I’m just so happy and so proud of my girl.”
After her Grade IV triumph, Sophie Wells said: “I’m very happy. I’ve waited a year to try and get back on top to be honest. 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 it.”
Talking about her performance she added: “He felt much more on form today. He was with me and was listening. Obviously I was quite cautious with all the people in the audience. I made sure I warmed up down there [at the end of the warm-up arena where more people are sitting] and exposed him to them as much as I could. He felt really on form and when I went in I asked for more power and I only had to ask a tiny little bit and he was right there.”
Frank Hosmar was equally happy with his performance, especially after a quieter showing in the team competition earlier in the week. “I’m really, really happy,” he said. “I was two times bronze in London so I’m very happy with today. I have to do a little bit more now for the freestyle. On Wednesday I did the warm-up wrong so I changed it. I was thinking why was it not coming out in the arena so we talked about it and I changed it.” It’s a tactic that has clearly worked.
Bronze medallist Line Kongensgaard was, quite literally, speechless about her success. She did, however, manage to say simply: “I’m surprised and happy. I’m so speechless. It’s so amazing.”
With the JYSK FEI European Para-Dressage Championships now more than half-way through, President of the Grand Jury, Kjell Myhre, passed his verdict on the competition so far. “If you compare with some of the other championships maybe in some of the grades it’s been a bit lower, in some others it’s been a bit better,” he said. “What we do see though is that there are more and more countries at the top. If you go back a couple of years you had Britain as normal and Germany and Holland, but now we see some other countries coming up. We had Italy in the Grade Ia, so it’s really good.”
For Denmark’s Chef D’Equipe, Lis Lihme, today’s successes were a special gift, coming as they did on her birthday. “It’s my best birthday ever,” she said. “Two medals. I couldn’t have had any better. Stinna with a new horse and the first championship for Line. I’m just so happy.”
Tomorrow (24 August), the individual competitions conclude with Grades Ia, II and III. The results from those tests and today’s will then be combined with Wednesday and Thursday’s team test results to determine the overall team champions.
Follow the action: http://european-herning.dk/GB.aspx
Live results: http://results.scgvisual.com/2013/herning