As the freestyle competition rounded off three days of thrilling competition, the first gold of the day went to World Freestyle champion, and the new European Individual champion, Rixt Van Der Horst of The Netherlands on Uniek N.O.P. Van Der Horst scored an impressive 79.000% to take her first European Freestyle title ahead of defending title-holder and reigning Paralympic champion Natasha Baker of Great Britain, and Germany’s Steffen Zeibig.
A delighted Van Der Horst said: “I feel fantastic. It was a fantastic ride. It was freezing cold outside and I couldn’t move my legs so my horse was really doing it for me. I had a little more confidence and it was good and I wasn’t nervous. The pressure was off after yesterday and I tried to enjoy my Freestyle. I’m very proud of my whole team and my horse and we’ve improved so much in the last year. Now we’re preparing for Rio!”
Van Der Horst’s teammate Frank Hosmar continued his excellent weekend by taking his first major championship Freestyle gold in the Grade IV competition. Riding Alphaville N.O.P. he scored 79.950 to take the honours, just ahead of Great Britain’s defending champion Sophie Wells and Germany’s Carolin Schnarre.
After only his second major championship gold medal Hosmar said: “It’s really wonderful with that amazing horse that he is. He didn’t make any mistakes and I’m so pleased with him. In the warm-up he was good so I was confident that it was possible. Yesterday was my first gold medal and this is the second. I feel good about Rio but it’s a year away and we have to keep the horses healthy.”
And there was another great victory for Austria’s Pepo Puch in the Grade Ib competition. On Fine Feeling S, he scored 77.750% to take his second title of the championships ahead of Great Britain’s Lee Pearson and The Netherlands Nicole Den Dulk.
Speaking after his medal ceremony Puch said: “I didn’t expect a second gold medal so it’s amazing for me, it’s fantastic. Especially today my reins got longer and longer and I had no chance to catch them in trot so I was really without steering but my mare knew the way.
“This weekend was really hard mentally. On one side I felt my horse was good and everyone is really friendly and I know this place, but after the vet inspection on Thursday (when Puch’s horse was held over for re-inspection on Friday morning) I think it’s time for a holiday.”
In the Grade III competition Germany’s superstar rider Hannelore Brenner regained her European Freestyle title after six years riding Women of The World to score 77.950%. In doing so she beat Susanne Sunesen of Denmark into second place and The Netherlands Lotte Krijnsen into third, Krijnsen’s second podium finish on her major international event debut.
Brenner said: “I am very happy and she was really wonderful to ride. It is an honour to have that horse and ride her. I have the feeling that every year she is a little bit better, I don’t know why and I don’t know how, but we work every day and she has to work and then has time to relax and I think she is a happy horse.”
The final medal of the day went to multi European, World and Paralympic champion Sophie Christiansen of Great Britain in the Grade Ia Freestyle finale. Riding Athene Lindejberg to a score of 80.700% – the highest score of the event and the only 80+ score – she saw off her closest competitor and teammate Anne Dunham, who ended in the silver medal position, with Italy’s World Freestyle champion Sara Morganti taking the bronze, a relief for her after just missing out on a medal in the Individual.
“I came out of the arena thinking I could not ask Athene for any more”, Christiansen said. “She was absolutely fab and she doesn’t really like noise and music so I was a bit wary of today and I think my music got turned up from the sound check. She’s amazing and even if I hadn’t won I couldn’t have done any more. That makes it 21 gold medals now at World, European and Paralympic level. I’ve still yet to beat Lee Pearson though.
“The whole competition has given me so much confidence in my mare and the new team. My trainer Linsay Coleridge-Smith is amazing, and we work perfectly together and she also knows when to give me a telling off. This was meant to be a rehearsal for next year and Rio, so it’s quite a good one.”
The weekend though belongs to the Dutch team who top the medal table with four gold medals, ahead of Great Britain’s three. It’s the first time at a major championships that the British team has failed to top the medal table and Dutch Chef D’Equipe Joyce Heuitink was clearly delighted with that result.
“I am thrilled,” she said. “It has been an amazing championships. After the World championships last year where we won 10 medals out of 11, this year we said that was impossible to do again, but throughout the year every show proved we were on the right track and we did a little bit better at every show. The feeling was good but you never know at a championship. Frank and Rixt have been amazing and Lotte was my reserve and she did an amazing job winning two bronze medals.”
The riders will now head home eager to see how all the results from these championships affect the world rankings ahead of qualification for next year’s Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. On the strength of these championships, it’s clear that it’s going to be a spectacular event.