More gold for British para-dressage riders

October 7, 2010

Britain's Para dressage team has been dubbed "The Magnificent Seven" after putting up yet more medal winning performances at the World Equestrian Games.

Today's impressive tally included overall team gold and in the individual classes, a clean sweep of the medals on offer in Grade Ia and gold and silver in Grade 1b plus the gold medal won in the Grade IV yesterday.


The British team of Sophie Christiansen, Lee Pearson, Anne Dunham and Jo Pitt claimed team Para Dressage gold today. © FEI/Kit Houghton


Britain's Lee Pearson won gold individual and team medals with his horse Gentleman. © Dirk Caremans
Lee Pearson (GB, gold Ib, team)
Stinna Tange Kaastrup (Den, bronze Ib, team)

These medals follow yesterday's gold-medal performance by Sophie Wells, bringing to seven the total British medal count in para dressage at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

It was The Netherlands Petra Van de Sande who put a stop to their gallop when winning Grade 2 ahead of Germany's Britta Napel, while Denmark's Caroline Cecilie Nielsen took bronze.

Britain's Para Dressage record is outstanding - they have never been beaten in the battle for the World title since taking team gold on their home turf in Hartpury in 1991. But their shining star, the formidable Lee Pearson who predictably also took the Grade 1b gold in convincing fashion today, said tonight that the standard of the sport is improving rapidly and that he and his team-mates no longer have the advantage they have grown accustomed to - the margins are getting tighter all the time.

Leading the British charge was Sophie Christiansen, 22, who took individual gold in the grade Ia test with a score of 76.100 percent and provided a crucial score for her team. Christiansen was overcome when her score was announced.

"My trainer decided I should ride for longer today. I normally ride for 15 minutes, and today I rode for 30 minutes," she said. "I'm so happy with him because he just took care of me. That score is the highest I've ever gotten in the individual test. The feeling afterward is so wonderful. I was so nervous this morning!"

Joining Christiansen on the all-Britain individual medal podium were Anne Dunham with silver (73.200%) and Emma Sheardown (71.900%) with bronze.

"I was pleased," said Dunham, 61, after her ride. "It went very well. This one was better than the other day. He was freer and more forward. I try not to let the pressure affect me. I simply try to do the best I can, just do my best and let people catch up afterwards."

Sheardown, 25, was equally pleased with her performance. "I was really happy with it. I am even happy with the score," she said. "This is my first championship, and it feels absolutely amazing, and I so like all the disciplines being here."

Grade Ib rider Lee Pearson, 36, performed a nearly flawless ride on the handsome bay Gentleman to score 76.435 percent. British rider Ricky Balshaw, 23, joined him on the podium to accept the silver medal (72.870).

Pearson, a 12-year team veteran, found himself surprisingly anxious. "I was really nervous today. I had to tell myself to take a breath before I entered the arena for the first time. It was because of my expectations of myself and because I warmed up 10 minutes short. He felt ready, but my mind wasn't."

He added, "Every gold medal is special, but this one is different because it's our first time at the WEG. So we will go down in history, even though we weren't as comfortable as we like to be with the other teams breathing down our backs."

Balshaw survived a spooky moment with the flashy chestnut Academy Award to ride a strong, clean test. "I don't know quite what was with the spook. He was coughing," he said immediately after his ride. "I was quite pleased with the test. The pirouettes were good. I may have backed off a little bit in the extensions because of what happened."

Dunham, Pearson, Christiansen and grade II rider Jo Pitt, 31, contributed scores to the winning British team performance (395.456). Team silver went to Germany (390.277), and team bronze went to Denmark (418.389), which edged the Netherlands (417.480) late in the day.

With today's stunning performance from the Para dressage squad added to the success of dressage and eventing, Britain tops the medal table with a 13 medals (6 Gold, 6 Silver and 1 Bronze).


Canada's Sharon Buffitt placed 12th in Grade 2 with a score of 63.238%, riding Gitane d'Aubrac, an 11-year-old Canadian Warmblood mare. © Robin Duncan Photography
It was 16-year-old Stinna Tange Kaastrup who clinched team bronze for Denmark. She also shared individual bronze with Norway's Jens Lasse Dokkan. Kaastrup was under huge pressure going into the ring to do her Grade 1b test, but her mark of 70.174 with her 14 year old bay gelding Labbenhus Snoevs was greeted with roars of approval from the spectators in the Covered Arena because they knew they had seen something extraordinary. "I have no legs, but on a horse I feel equal to all the other riders and it's the coolest feeling in the world!" she said.

"I felt awesome out there," said Kaastrup. "My horse was a little turned on. He was very proud of himself to be out there, and I was very proud of him."

All of the athletes were in agreement about one thing - the integration of Para Dressage into the World Equestrian Games is an important, historic and special moment for this sport. And Lee Pearson was at pains to point out that one of the highlights of the athletes' experience has been the support and enthusiasm of the Kentucky volunteers. "They have been phenomenal - they've gone beyond their duties to help me personally and all the riders and on behalf of everyone I want to say a big 'thank you' to them," he said.

Canada's team, comprising Lauren Barwick, Eleonore Elstone, Ashley Gowanlock and Jennifer McKenzie, finished in eighth place overall, which is the country's highest team placing ever at a World Championships or Paralympics Games.

"I think that the complete Para-Dressage team of support group, coaches and grooms, have come together extremely well. It is has worked so well for all our riders. And without all these great people like our vet, coaches, personal grooms and personal coaches, I don't think we would be able to do as well as we have done," said Elizabeth Quigg-Robinson, chef d'equipe.

Para Dressage resumes tomorrow morning with the first of the Individual Freestyle tests.

Wednesday's total attendance was 28,439. Today's total attendance was 27,419, bringing total attendance for 13 days to 378,993.

The stats

18 competed in the Grade 1a Individual Test
22 competed in the Grade 2 Individual Test
Great Britain made a clean sweep of the medals in Grade 1a
17 competed in the Grade 1b Test
16 nations competed in the Team Championship