Britain wraps up games with para dressage gold

October 11, 2010

Para Dressage rider Sophie Wells claimed Grade 4 Freestyle gold to put Britain at the top of the medal table as the World Equestrian Games came to a close at the Horse Park in Kentucky, USA, today.


Grade 4 Para Dressage gold medalist Sophie Wells and Pinocchio on the podium.
Sophie Wells interview
Triple gold medalist Lee Pearson

The British Para squad has been in fantastic form, scooping six individuals gold medals along with the team title. And Wells steered her 13 year old gelding Pinocchio to victory today despite a glitch in her test.

Belgium's Michele George took silver with FBW Rainman ahead of The Netherlands' Frank Hosmar and Tiesto in bronze.

Wells's test began well. "I was quite happy with my trot but then when I picked up the walk he came against me and my first movement was a compulsory, which was a simple change, and he stopped!" she said. She then had to make a quick decision. "I knew I had to find somewhere else in my plan where I could put in another simple change, so all the time I was going through my next movements I was trying to think where I could put it in, and I didn't want to mess up my floor plan because it's good and they give you marks for that as well - times three," she said.

"I needed to do my compulsory again, so the only thing I thought was my last centerline. I usually do tempis down it and I thought - right - I can try and fit in two simple changes going from each rein, but then I came around and I was too far behind my music for it!" she said. For her all her concern however, her score of 78.500 was a winning one.

George was delighted with silver medal position with Rainman. "It was very good, I am flattered with that," she said. "I won the first day and the second day he got spooky from the flash of the cameras so I didn't have a chance that day. I said that today will be be my day, and fortunately it was," she said. And she had every reason to be especially pleased, as her gelding is only eight years old. "This is the first big competition for him and me, so I am very glad," she said.

Hosmar also knew he had done a good job. "I'm really satisfied," he said. "I think it came out just the way I liked it - just maybe the pirouette could have been a little rounder, but he was so relaxed and nice to ride. The whole canter part was nice."

Gold medal winners over the last few days include Germany's Hannelore Brenner on Women Of The World (79.20%) in grade III, Germany's Angelika Trabert on Ariva-Avanti (75.90%) in grade II, Britain's Lee Pearson on Gentleman (82.50%) in grade Ib, and Britain's Emma Sheardown on Purdy's Dream (78.55%) in grade Ia.

Pearson created his top-scoring freestyle just for this competition. "For me the trot work is a lot easier than the walk work, so I try to incorporate some lateral work and some extensions," he said.

"I try to have my contingency plan if my horse is not going quite how I'd like him to go in the arena. Then I send a video of that to my music man, and I tell him what country I am going to and he makes me some music that's pertinent for that country. So for these Games it was really quick, slap-your-thigh, cowboy-type music."

Sheardown said her warm-up prepared her and her horse well for their performance. "I am pleased with my horse," she said. "He had a good walk, and I managed to keep him relaxed. The rest felt really nice."

Britain completed a trifecta in Grade Ia, sweeping all the medals. Sophie Christiansen on Rivaldo Of Berkeley (77.85%) earned the silver medal, and Anne Dunham on Teddy (74.80%) took the bronze.

"It's able-bodied trainers who train us as if we're able-bodied people," said Dunham. "They put the responsibility on us to ride the horse and get the best out of it. Trainers are as important as anything else. We're lucky in Britain to have some marvellous trainers."

In grade Ib the silver medalist was Denmark's Stinna Tange Kaastrup on Labbenhus Snoevs (77.00%), while the bronze went to Finland's Katja Karjalainen on Rosie (72.85%).

Kaastrup rode one of the few non-warmbloods in the Para Dressage Championships. Labbenhus Snoevs is a New Forest Pony.

"Since I started, it probably took around a year to make him the way he is today," she said. "It's not easy. I have a problem with the half-passes. It's not easy to figure that out without any legs, but I did, and he's just the best."

The grade II silver medalist was The Netherlands' Gert Bolmer and Triumph (75.85%), and bronze went to Great Britain's Jo Pitt and Estralita (74.95%).

"My test was really great," said Bolmer. "The competition was really good in grade II. I feel like we had different medal winners in the freestyle than in the individual, so the competition was really good and really hard. It was a long competition but a great competition."

The grade III competition concluded on Friday and saw Denmark's Annika Lykke Dalskov on Preussen Wind (75.40) earn silver and Australia's Sharon Jarvis and Applewood Odorado (74.70%) take the bronze.

Pearson commented on how the United States and other countries have come a long way in this discipline and offered some insight in to how to keep that momentum going.

"I'll give you an example," he said. "I went down to the reining demonstration and asked if I could have a go at it, and they looked at me in my wheelchair and said, 'No, but we'd love to get some para-equestrians to do some reining. How do we go about doing that?' And I said, 'You have to let them on the horse first. That's a good start.'

"That's my not-so-sensible answer, and my sensible answer is in England we have an amazing riding for the disabled organisation, which is obviously therapy. Not all of the riders come from that, but quite a huge percentage come from riding for the disabled first.

"We also have a great support structure called World Class Performance, which is lottery funding to allow elite disabled and able-bodied athletes in England to apply to go on to a squad and receive funding. Then we have a great competition structure, because you've got to be able to compete and come here and feel confident. It's just about giving people the opportunity."

The standard of today's competition was exceptional, but the standard throughout the entire Para Dressage Championship has been little short of extraordinary. And the USA's Mary Jordan put it into perspective when she said: "this has been an incredible experience. As a member of the US team I crave more of this. I feel the more we get a chance to show in front of the these international judges we can make a name for ourselves and keep laying down solid performances that will get the judge's attention".

Like many of her fellow competitors this week she knows the sport is in good shape and she's looking forward to the future.

"I'm really hopeful that this will ignite a passion amongst people at all levels to get involved and support us as we move towards the London Olympic Games," she said.

The stats

Britain headed the Games' medal table and the Para Dressage athletes made a huge contribution. The British Para Dressage athletes took gold in the following competitions:
Individual tests - Lee Pearson (1b), Sophie Christiansen (1a), Sophie Wells (IV), Freestyle tests - Lee Pearson(Ib), Emma Sheardown (Ia), Sophie Wells (IV)
Team Gold - Lee Pearson, Sophie Christianse, Anne Dunham and Jo Pitt.
Team GB also took 3 silver and 3 bronze medals.
Team GBR as a whole topped the medal table with nine golds, 7 silver and 3 bronze - nineteen in total and 13 in Para Dressage.