Two first-time Paralympians have won gold medals in their respective grades at the London 2012 Paralmypic Games, with one causing quite an upset.
Australia’s Joann Formosa and the hanoverian stallion Worldwide PB won gold in Grade Ib ahead of Lee Pearson, Paralympic champion since 2000, and Grade II British rider Natasha Baker won gold with Cabral.
Formosa’s Worldwide PB is a truly international horse who was bred in Germany – [the ‘PB’ denotes the fact that he is privately and not state bred]. The licenced and approved hanoverian stallion was imported from Germany to New Zealand as a young horse by Wanganui studmaster Berny Maubach, of Vollrath Stud. By the Weltmeyer stallion Weltbuerger and from the Brentano II mare Bella, Worldwide was bred by Werner Heitgress. He was used extensively as a stallion at Vollrath, and had an impressive ridden career with Maubach’s wife, Jutta Rosenblatt. The pair won the NZ National Novice Championship and Medium Horse of the Year title, and competed to the level of Prix St George, before being sold Australian rider Claire Seidl-Wickens in 2006.
Of Worldwide, Formosa said: “He’s a stallion which is very unusual for Para-Equestrian sport, but he doesn’t behave like one – even around mares. He’s a real sweetie.”
She bought Worldwide just seven months ago, was competing not only at her first Games, but in her first international with this horse.
The combination dethroned the most decorated Para-Equestrian of all time, Lee Pearson, with an elegant and harmonious performance. Their third place on Thursday had alerted some to her medal potential, but it hadn’t really crossed anyone’s mind that she would be able to take on the big guns – Lee Pearson and Pepo Puch – on only her second international appearance.
The last time Formosa, 51, competed internationally was in 2006 at Hartpury where she first met Lee Pearson and set her sights on one day winning gold at a Paralympic Games.
“It’s been the goal of my life,” she said emotionally after the prize-giving ceremony, “when I’m out there I feel great. I may not have great legs, I may be a bit sluggish on some days, but put me on a horse and I am different person. I am free”.
From Victoria, she suffered a spinal cord injury in a riding mishap 25 years ago.
It wasn’t an easy task getting there with lots of training alongside constant medical attention and fundraising but thanks to the formidable Australian team, which she wished could come on the podium to receive the medal with her, she has achieved what she set out to do.
“I wanted to be in the top ten, but really I wanted the gold. I knew what I wanted – I may not be good at walking, but I’m good at getting what I want,” Formosa said.
Lee Pearson was very humble in defeat and genuinely proud of what he had done in winning silver. “I am just as proud of this silver medal as I am of my gold medals,” he said after the prize giving ceremony. “It’s a numbers game. There are sports where you can only win one medal, whereas I have three chances. I hope to come out and redeem myself in the freestyle.”
He said he was the most nervous he’d ever been, “mostly because Gentleman is so insecure. I thought Blue Circle Boy had an odd personality until I met Gentleman. But I was really pleased with the way I rode today and with Gentleman – whether that’s enough I don’t know but if someone rides better and their horse goes better, I will be really pleased for them.
“It’s been a tough competition, a tough year, and Gentleman is a tough horse to keep on top of his game. I’m genuinely delighted with silver.”
After a shaky start in the team test on Thursday when Pearson described his ride as though Gentlemen’s “engine dropped out of his backside”, this time he was a lot happier: “He was much more on side and we had the engine running. He stayed in perfect balance. I rode the best test I could have done.
“Joann made no mistakes, rode every single step and had no tension. Gent broke slightly into a jog in the walk and that may have lost me the medal.”
Now known as “Mr Come Dine With Me”, he is keeping his music for the freestyle on Monday a closely guarded secret: “I enjoy the freestyle as we can show off a little bit.”
Third place went to former event rider Pepo Puch from Austria riding Fine Feeling. Puch was top of the FEI Rankings for Grade Ib coming to the Paralympics, so there were also a lot of expectations on his shoulders as well, but as he said “there are many riders in this Grade who are of a very high standard. This class was all about good horsemanship – it was very tight”.
He said of Feeling Fine: “She is really my coach. I used to be a horse trainer, but now she trains me. If I’m not balanced in the saddle, she will straighten me out. I’ve had her for three and a half years and she’s a very spoilt ballerina.”
Puch’s wife and daughter (and many Austrians in the crowds it seemed) have been following him every step of the way since he was forced to give up eventing following his accident, producing an impressive cheer for him during the prize-giving ceremony and a warm welcome when he crossed over into the public area of the arena.
Canada’s Ashley Gowanlock finished sixth on Maile, the horse whom team-mate Lauren Barwick rode to individual gold and silver at the 2008 Games.
“Considering I have been only riding Maile since June, today’s test went according to plan,” said Gowanlock, who was also a member of the Canadian Team at the 2008 Paralympics. “She is so smart, so kind and so willing to be my partner. It is just fun to ride her.”
“During this test, we had our engine underneath us, so it felt like we were going somewhere,” she continued. “I can’t wait until the Freestyle test. Turn on the music and let’s dance!”
While there was disappointment for Great Britain with Pearson’s unexpected defeat, the host nation did have plenty to celebrate after Natasha Baker‘s 12-year dream came true.
The Paralympic débutant, riding Christian Llandolt’s former event horse, the handsome Cabral, achieved her childhood dream, gold at the Paralympics on a Grade II record score of 76.857%.
“London girl” Baker, who had a nail-biting wait as she was fifth into the arena of 25, said: “We stepped it up a gear today. We had the best warm-up ever; he was the softest he’s ever been and has never felt so settled. There are still things we can improve on; I know there’s more in the tank. He really listens to me when we are under pressure; he is a super, genuine horse.
“From the age of 10 when I watched the Sydney Paralympics on television I said I would come to a Paralympic Games and win a gold medal,” recalled the 22-year-old.
“I had always wanted to be a rider, and to be here and do what we’ve done today is just incredible. The horses make it what it is – they are just amazing animals. If I have inspired one person to go out there and do any sport, then I will be over the moon. It was Lee Pearson and the other riders who inspired me when I was 10 years old.
“I never expected to win gold at my first Games; I will get a postbox now!”
She will have another chance to win gold on Monday, when she competes in the freestyle test: “I have a great floor plan and have gone for simple. They say less is more.”
Second and third place were close on her heels, with defending Paralympic champion Britta Napel taking silver on a score of 76.048% with Aquilina 3, and German compatriot Angelika Trabert and Ariva-Avanti in bronze medal position on 76%.
Napel, who runs her own yard for disabled riders, scored a personal best with 76.857.
Napel and Trabert, whose score will provide Germany with some very valuable points towards the overall mark, have participated in several Paralympics – Angelika is one of just three Para-Equestrians to have attended all of the Paralympic Games since equestrian sport joined the programme in 1996, while Napel joined the squad for the 2005 and 2008 editions.
Her teammate Angelica Trabert was only a fraction behind on 76%. She said: “This is our fifth Paralympics and our first Paralympic individual medal since Atlanta in 1996. This is what we’ve been working towards; it is nice when the master plan comes together.”
Dutch rider Petra van der Sande rode Valencia Z to fourth, while Ireland’s Eilish Byrne finished fifth with her chestnut gelding Youri.
Speaking after the competition, Byrne said: “I’m just over the moon, I can hardly believe it. We are all delighted.”
Byrne’s individual mark will be added to the team test score from Thursday to help decide Ireland’s overall team placing when the remaining three riders – Helen Kearney, Geraldine Savage and James Dwyer – complete their individual championships tests on Sunday. Ireland currently lies in sixth place as a team.
Like the other riders, Armagh-based Byrne will have a further chance to qualify for a medal when the Freestyle competitions take place on Monday and Tuesday, when all competitors begin on a zero score.
Canada’s Lauren Barwick rode Off To Paris to sixth place with a score of 71.857%.
“There were some really great things about my test today,” Barwick said. “It is a challenging test for my horse and I, but overall I was really pleased with how she went in the ring. Our musical freestyle is on September 3, and I am really looking forward to that test.”
Canada’s National Coach Andrea Taylor was pleased with the rides of both Barwick and Gowanlock in the Grade Ib.
“Watching Ashley go today was honestly one of my proudest coaching moments,” she said. “I have been working with Ashley for a few years and just to see her tell Maile to walk forward and take a risk was great. She came out of the ring feeling confident and happy with her test, which was fantastic to see.
“Lauren did a very good job riding a mare that is athletic and who can be a technical horse to ride. Lauren did a fantastic job helping the mare today. With thousands of spectators, the atmosphere is very electric, and she gave the mare confidence in the ring.”
• The crowd greeted the medallists with a Mexican wave that toured the arena at least four times and made for an exceptionally moving prize-giving ceremony.
And at the end of each test, and at the request of certain riders, the crowds are told to refrain from clapping until the horse is with the handler – so instead of clapping, the public have taken to waving their hands and flags in the air, producing a silent but very visual clap and as soon as the handlers are within reach, the crowds let loose.
Results – Grade Ib
|1||101||FORMOSA J||WORLDWIDE PB||75.826||+|
|3||102||PUCH P||FINE FEELING||75.043||+|
|4||115||WENTZ J||RICHTER SCALE||70.348||+|
|8||108||SALLES V||MENZANA D’HULM||68.087||+|
|9||112||DUARTE S||NEAPOLITANO MORELLA||66.261||+|
|11||104||SALAZAR PESSOA D||DAUERBRENNER||65.261||+|
|14||103||FERNANDES ALVES M||LUTHENAY DE VERNAY||62.609||+|
Results – Grade II
|2||208||NAPEL B||AQUILINA 3||76.048||+|
|4||218||VAN DE SANDE P||VALENCIA Z||74.476||+|
|6||205||BARWICK L||OFF TO PARIS||71.857||+|
|11||223||HART R||LORD LUDGER||68.286||+|
|12||214||BAITENMANN HAAKH E||CASABLANCA||68.095||+|
|13||212||SALVADE F||COME ON||67.381||+|
|15||221||MOLLER W||FIRST LADY VAN PRINS||66.000||+|
|16||202||HALLER T||HALLERS DESSINO||65.143||+|
|19||219||GUNNER A||HUNTINGDALE INCOGNITO||63.762||+|
|20||216||OTHEGUY GONZALEZ M||WELTON ADONIS||61.667||+|
|21||215||FIGUEROA ROMERO F||UWANNABEMINE||58.810||+|
|–||201||BOWMAN G||KIRBY PARK JOY||EL||+|