‘Best-ever’ Paralympic Equestrian Games wrap up

Grade IV freestyle gold medalist Michele George (Belgium).
Grade IV freestyle gold medalist Michele George (Belgium).

Para-Equestrian Dressage events finished at the London 2012 Paralympic Games on Tuesday, with Grades IV, III and Ia competing for Freestyle medals.

It was an exact replica of the Individual Championship podiums on Saturday in Grades IV and III with Belgium’s Michele George and Rainman picking up their second gold medal at the Games followed by Sophie Wells (GBR) and Frank Hosmar (NED), whilst in Grade III Hannelore Brenner from Germany secured her fourth Paralympic gold (2 in 2008, 2 in 2012) ahead of Deborah Criddle (GBR) and Annika Dalskov (DEN).

Grade III Freestyle medalists: silver - Deborah Criddle (GBR), gold – Hannelore Brenner (GER), bronze – Annika Dalskov (DEN).
Grade III Freestyle medalists: silver – Deborah Criddle (GBR), gold – Hannelore Brenner (GER), bronze – Annika Dalskov (DEN). © FEI/Liz Gregg

Grade Ia

Another foot-perfect performance from Sophie Christiansen and Janeiro 6 to the tune of Pink Floyd’s ‘We don’t need no education’ put her ahead of Laurentia Tan from Singapore, with Helen Kearney from Ireland third.

Christiansen is Great Britain’s first triple gold medallist of London 2012.

The 24-year-old also secured a personal best, and a Paralympic record of 11 medals in one Games for Britain’s Equestrian team.

After scoring 84.75% in her ride, Christiansen said: “I was always going to enjoy that. Sometimes I can get a bit carried away, but today I relaxed and gave it everything I could. Knowing my friends and family were in the audience was really special. Some of them had never seen me on a horse, let alone winning a medal.”

The expectations were high after two record-breaking team and individual test scores and Christiansen had something a bit special lined up: “I know the composer Owen Gurry really well and he knows my test. It’s a bit ground-breaking as I’ve got a bit of Shakespeare as well as the Big Ben bells.”

Laurentia Tan’s silver on  Ruben James 2 adds to her collection of three Paralmypic bronze medals – two from 2008 and the third won in London in the individual Championship test. Her ability to master the Freestyle is even more remarkable as she not only suffers from cerebral palsy but is also deaf so relies on her horse, instinct and natural rhythm.

She is still the only Asian Para-Equestrian athlete to have won medals at the Paralympic Games. “I’m over the moon, I didn’t expect another medal,” said Tan after the prize-giving ceremony, “so many people come up to me and say wow and how much I’ve inspired them”.

Ireland’s Helen Kearney was rapt with her bronze on Mister Cool. “It’s absolutely phenomenal. I didn’t have any idea that I would end up with two medals and a team medal. I didn’t see it coming and I’m so grateful.”

The County Wicklow rider and her Irish Sport Horse Mister Cool overtook fellow Irish competitor Geraldine Savage and Blues Tip Top Too to score 78.450.

Dubliner Savage, who held the Gold medal spot halfway through the event, finished in fifth  on a score of 72.300.

After the competition, Horse Sport Ireland Chairman Joe Walsh said: “To win a team bronze and two individual medals is simply outstanding. I want to send the congratulations and gratitude of the entire Irish equestrian community to Helen and her team mates Eilish, James and Geraldine. Their performances have capped what has been a phenomenal six weeks for Irish equestrian sport. ”

Sophie Wells of Great Britain rides Pinocchio to silver in the Grade IV Individual Freestyle Test.
Sophie Wells of Great Britain rides Pinocchio to silver in the Grade IV Individual Freestyle Test.

Grade IV

Belgium’s Michele George was superb aboard Rainman to seal the title in style at Greenwich Park, finishing with a personal best and Paralympic record score of 82.100 per cent.

That was enough to hold off the challenge of Great Britain’s Sophie Wells aboard Pinocchio (81.150 per cent), who rode a personal best.

Netherlands’ Frank Hosmar and Alphaville claimed bronze to complete an exact repeat of the placings in the Championship Test – Grade IV competition on Day 4.

George was overwhelmed by her victory, saying: “I am lost for words. To achieve this in a country like [Great Britain] with such a strong tradition. I really felt the pressure. I really enjoyed it but it was hard to keep him calm.

It was really important to me. An achievement coming here to this venue – I just can’t find the right words to tell you how important it is,” she said.

George had to work hard to contain the 10-year-old gelding by Rubicell, a gift from her husband as a three-year-old, as the atmosphere got to him.

“He was a little bit hot and tense today. I could feel his heart beating, so it was not as easy as it was two days ago. The freestyle is not our favourite,” she said, before declaring Greenwich Park “the best venue ever”.

An exhausted and slightly disappointed Sophie Wells said: “I had to take some risks to have the chance of beating Michele today. She’s been on good form at this competition. Some of the risks paid off, some maybe didn’t. I had a small mistake in the tempi changes down the centre line that affected the last halt.

“I don’t think I could have done any more preparation wise. I’m absolutely thrilled with my horse. He coped like a star in this atmosphere. It’s been an absolute dream to compete in this competition and represent the country. I don’t know how I will be able to top this.”

Bronze went to Adelinde Cornelissen’s pupil, Holland’s Frank Hosmar and the seven-year-old Dutch-bred gelding Alphaville, by Sandreo.

He said: “It was only Alphaville’s third competition this season and his first time competing in the freestyle, so he did well.”

Ireland’s James Dwyer added a sixth place in the Freestyle final to his team Bronze medal, riding his 16 year-old gelding Orlando.

Hannelore Brenner of Germany rides Women of the World to gold in the Grade III Individual Freestyle Test.
Hannelore Brenner of Germany rides Women of the World to gold in the Grade III Individual Freestyle Test.

Grade III

It was another familiar story in Grade III, where Hannelore Brenner dominated again by winning gold on Women of the World after scoring 81.700 per cent.

The German followed up her victory in the Individual Championship Test competition by triumphing once more, with Deb Criddle of Great Britain on LJT Akilles (78.550) winning her second silver ahead of Denmark’s Annika Dalskov on Aros A Fenris (76.950) in bronze again.

Brenner’s score of 81.7% was a personal best and Paralympic record. Brenner, who sustained a spinal injury while eventing in 1986, was riding the 17-year-old Hannovarian mare by Walt Disney, Women Of The World, whom she has partnered for seven years. She has now won a total of 30 championship medals.

She rode to music from Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s American Classic. “She loves the music too; we just had fun. The pressure was two days ago. Today it was really fun to ride in this great arena.”

Criddle described her freestyle – to the Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations – as “truly freestyle”.

“I had a slight momentary hesitation, which meant that I went into a movement I shouldn’t have done at the time. I ad-libbed and picked it up from there. That’s where I did good today, because I did not let it throw me. He was really with me. My medium trot had a little loss of rhythm, which would have been a little bit costly, but other than that I am over the moon with how he was. We did the best shoulder-ins I’ve ever done in a test,” said Criddle, who is trained by Nina Venables.

“I feel so honoured to have the ride on him because 18 months ago I didn’t have a horse for these Games. Eighteen months of hard work has really paid off. He was bought specifically for me by The Lady Joseph Trust, whose aim is to provide top horses for top para riders and I think for them to have fulfilled what they set out to do with their first competing horse is just brilliant.”

Commenting on her fourth Games, Criddle said: “It’s just been fabulous, the best Games I have ever done. I think Sophie said it earlier, we do feel so honoured to be here, that the crowd is supporting us just so much. Words can’t describe the feeling they have created for us; we will never forget these Games.”

Bronze went to Denmark’s Annika Dalskov and the six-year-old De Niro gelding Aros A Fenris.

The medal table

Great Britain achieve a record haul of 11 medals (five gold, five silver and 1 bronze) taking their overall tally since 1996 to an impressive 44 medals (23 gold, 13 silver and 8 bronze).

Second on the overall medals table, Germany have also beaten all their previous Paralympic Games medal records winning seven at London 2012 with two gold, three silver and two bronze taking their tally up to 21 medals in total since 1996 (six gold, ten silver and five bronze).

Michele George in Grade IV gave Belgium its second gold medal. Before London 2012, Belgium had won a silver medal in 2000 and a bronze in 2004

Singapore moved up the medals table as Laurentia Tan added silver to her three bronze medals (two in 2008 and the third in 2012).

Finland added a London 2012 silver medal to two bronze medals won in Sydney 2000.

Australia adds gold to their overall tally taking them to nine medals (three gold, one silver and five bronze).

Austria’s Pepo Puch won their first medals – a gold and a bronze in Grade Ib.

Ireland make a great start on the table, from no medals to three – a team and Helen Kearney’s Individual Championships silver and Freestyle bronze.

New Zealand's Rachel Stock and Rimini Park Emmerich in the Grade III Individual Freestyle.
New Zealand’s Rachel Stock and Rimini Park Emmerich in the Grade III Individual Freestyle.

And afterwards

The athletes, their stories and their sporting ability and ambition as well as the many individuals and volunteers working behind the scenes have made it an incredible Games and without a doubt the best Para-Equestrian Dressage has ever seen. The quality of the horses and the strong partnerships they form with their riders has been impressive across all the Grades, has produced lots of Paralympic records and seen new nations come to the fore in a sport that has been dominated for years by a select few.

Ask any athlete as they are leaving the arena what memory they will take home with them, and it’s invariably the atmosphere. They may have won gold, silver, bronze or even come last – their biggest memory is that indescribable feeling of entering a packed arena and performing to a generous audience having had all the right conditions in place to help them give their best.

The athletes are the first to thank the volunteers, their team mates, coaches, support networks, sponsors and the sporting British nation that has encouraged and cheered for each and every one of them every step of the way. It may not have always gone the way they had hoped – horses can be unpredictable, nerves and pressure can get the better of you – but that is the nature of the sport. In order to develop as a rider and a partnership they are acutely aware of the need to accept the mistakes and move forward. The ability of the athletes competing at the Para-Equestrian Dressage events this week to do just that has been phenomenal and indicative of the perseverance and determination they have applied to their lives and the physical challenges they have to work with on a daily basis.

The Australian and New Zealand horses will have a long journey home with 21 days quarantine in Newmarket, followed by a long flight and back into quarantine for another 21 days when they touch down. Throughout this time they are looked after by quarantine grooms and are hand walked.

It has been a week of top sport in an iconic location with great facilities, passionate volunteers and fantastic crowds (20,000 tickets sold for each of the competition days as well as additional tickets at the Gates). Rio 2016 will have a lot to live up to.

Over the coming weeks, Greenwich Park will be returned to its faithful owners and by the 31st of October that transfer should be complete. By the spring of next year, new grass will be growing where Olympic and Paralympic horses lived, competed and were crowned champions.

British team manager David Hunter said the atmosphere at Greenwich had “been a huge bonus. There has been great feeling. The spectators have been so caring, some knowledgeable, some not, but so enthused. It is the biggest audience (11,000) any para-equestrian competitor of any nation has ever ridden in front of.”

It is the first time many have experienced a feature unique to the sport dubbed “butterfly waving”. This is when the audience are asked not to clap until horse and handler are reunited after the test, particularly in Grade Ia, and show their appreciation by waving, either hands or flags.

The silence is incredibly powerful and moving as Hunter explains: “It is so special and poignant.”


Freestyle Test – Grade III

Rk Bib Rider Horse Result +
1 307 Germany BRENNER H WOMEN OF THE WORLD 81.700 +
2 306 Great Britain CRIDDLE D LJT AKILLES 78.550 +
3 302 Denmark DALSKOV A AROS A FENRIS 76.950 +
4 310 Netherlands VOETS S VEDET PB 75.400 +
5 303 Denmark SUNESEN S THY’S QUE FAIRE 73.550 +
6 304 France LETARTRE J WARINA 72.600 +
7 305 France VINCHON V FLIPPER D’OR 68.300 +
8 308 Germany ZEIBIG S WALDEMAR 67.150 +
9 312 New Zealand STOCK R RIMINI PARK EMMERICH 66.850 +
11 309 Israel DRESLER Y UBELISK 60.250 +

Freestyle Test – Grade IV

Rk Bib Rider Horse Result +
1 403 Belgium GEORGE M RAINMAN 82.100 +
2 408 Great Britain WELLS S PINOCCHIO 81.150 +
3 412 Netherlands HOSMAR F ALPHAVILLE 78.600 +
4 406 Denmark JORGENSEN L DI CAPRIO 76.800 +
5 404 Belgium VERMEULEN C WHOONEY TUNES 75.000 +
6 410 Ireland DWYER J ORLANDO 74.400 +
7 407 France BIZET N RUBICA III 73.500 +
8 409 Germany WEIFEN L DON TURNER 72.100 +
9 402 Belgium DEKEYZER U CLEVERBOY VAN D’ABEL 69.550 +
10 405 Canada ELSTONE E ZARENO 68.750 +
11 401 Australia DODD H WAIKIWI 67.700 +
12 414 South Africa JOHNSON P LORD LOUIS 67.200 +
13 413 Norway MURI M FANTASTICO 67.000 +
14 411 Virgin Islands, US FRAWLEY L RHAPSODY 63.750 +

Freestyle Test – Grade Ia

Rk Bib Rider Horse Result +
1 005 Great Britain CHRISTIANSEN S JANEIRO 6 84.750 +
2 012 Singapore TAN L RUBEN JAMES 2 79.000 +
3 007 Ireland KEARNEY H MISTER COOL 78.450 +
4 009 Italy MORGANTI S ROYAL DELIGHT 73.900 +
5 008 Ireland SAVAGE G BLUES TIP TOP TOO 72.300 +
6 010 Latvia SNIKUS R CHARDONNAY 72.050 +
7 002 Brazil FROES RIBEIRO EMILY 71.150 +
8 014 United States of America PONESSA D WESTERN ROSE 70.750 +
9 001 Australia OAKLEY R STATFORD MANTOVANI 68.550 +
10 013 Sweden JOHNSSON A DONAR 66.800 +
11 003 Canada SCHLOSS J INSPECTOR REBUS 66.500 +
12 011 Singapore FOO G AVALON 65.800 +
13 004 Denmark ROSENHART L PRIORS LADY RAWAGE 65.100 +
14 006 Hong Kong, China TSE N UNDULETTE 64.050 +



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