Medal magic for Wilson and Blake on opening day of FEI Para Dressage European Championships
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A British squad combining familiar team faces and FEI Championship first-timers began its Riesenbeck campaign this morning at Riesenbeck International, the German host venue for the FEI Dressage and Para Dressage European Championships 2023. Georgia Wilson quickly began the medal haul, adding to her collection with a silver medal in the Grade II Individual competition, while Gabby Blake took Grade I Individual bronze with an outstanding performance on her European Championship debut.
Grade II: Georgia Wilson secures first British medal at Riesenbeck 2023
On day one under sunny German skies, it was the Grade II Individual competition to start the British campaign, with young Brit Georgia Wilson forward for a shot at the first set of medals on offer. The early competition saw the second competitor to ride down the centreline in the para dressage arena, Norway’s Ann Cathrin Lübbe, set the standard riding La Costa Majland to a score of 72.724%. Austrian star, Pepo Puch followed with his 2022 World Championship Individual silver medal partner, Sailor’s Blue - though his 71.862% wouldn’t be enough to catch the lead.
Fourth to go, Germany’s Heidemarie Dresing and the 14-year-old Oldenburg gelding Horse24 Dooloop made an expensive error of course entering the arena in trot, rather than at walk as required with the new Grand Prix A Grade II test. Putting the mistake behind her, Heidemarie produced a test of great quality, showing soft and scopey trot work in a lovely, uphill frame, to make up lost ground and leap into the provisional gold medal position on 74.776%.
Drawn as the final combination to go, Great Britain’s Georgia Wilson and Sakura, pictured above, were undoubtedly up for the challenge. The cool-headed 27-year-old from North Wales, with considerable championship experience having medalled at European (2019), Paralympic (2020) and World Championships (2022), looks very at home in the arena. Calmly piloting her delightful chestnut mare, who was bred by Geri Eilberg and is owned by Georgia along with her parents Geoff and Julie Wilson, Georgia produced a test showing super focus and balance, along with an elegant, uphill frame, that looked likely to place them within the medal zone.
A big smile from Georgia at the end of her test and heaps of praise for ‘Suki’ was followed by the announcement of the British duo’s score at 72.966% - a strong result and enough to firmly secure the silver medal behind the German victor and add to their already impressive collection.
“I really enjoyed the test, plus it was nice and hot!” enthused Georgia, referring to not only their medal-winning performance but also the scorching, summery conditions that have bathed the Championships so far. “We’ve had a ‘winter’ in Great Britain so it’s very nice!
“I’ve been trying to get more of an uphill trot, so I was happy I kept that. There were parts of the test I could have improved on, but I was happy with the majority of it, and it was a really nice arena to ride in. There was quite a good crowd, though I want more clapping!” smiled Georgia. “It helps me with the trot!”
Sporting her silver medal following the medal ceremony, Georgia added; “It’s very nice as I’ve always got a bronze on Suki, so it’s nice to finally get a silver with her. Hopefully I can carry this on for the rest of the week. The Grand Prix B is a test I like riding, so I just want to try and get the percentage I got today but maybe a bit higher, and hopefully have a good score for the team.”
Grade I: Glorious Gabby takes bronze on FEI Championship debut
Team newcomer Gabby Blake (30) blossomed under the pressure of competing at her first-ever FEI Championships with an outstanding ride aboard her 14-year-old Connemara cross Irish Sports Horse gelding, Strong Beau (by Blackthorn). Amongst Europe’s elite Grade I competitors, Gabby rode with composure and skill to claim third place and etch her name onto the European Championships roll of honour.
Austria’s Julia Sciancalepore and Heinrich IV held the lead going into the halfway break, their score of 72.208% setting the early benchmark. The competition heated up further when the first combination in the second and final group, Martina Benzinger for Germany with the grey Lipizzaner mare Nautika, posted an impressive 74.833% to leap into the provisional lead.
Ireland’s Michael Murphy and Cleverboy, a combination that won double bronze at the World Championships in Herning last summer, put up a strong challenge – their consistent, fluent test earning 74.042% from judges Elke Ebert (GER), Eva Andersson (SWE), Sarah Leitch (GBR), Anne Prain (FRA) and Ineke Jansen (NED) to put them into provisional silver.
Then came Latvia’s Rihards Snikus - a DJ in his spare time – and his Herning Grade I Individual gold medal-winning partner, King of the Dance. Looking on track for a spot towards the top of the leaderboard, a confident and fluent start attracted a plethora of the higher marks, and then, and expensive error of course. Some anxious moments ensued, yet Rihards and his wonderful 15-year-old gelding regrouped and got back on track, swiftly returning to the flow of their performance. A final score of 75.250% propelled them into provisional gold.
Drawn as the penultimate combination to go, Great Britain’s Gabby Blake and Strong Beau, pictured above, showed consistent, quality work throughout their ride. Super, rhythmical steps that could have been set by a metronome, and a harmonious picture with the horse in a lovely frame, raked in plenty of the good marks. A visibly emotional Gabby rewarded her lovely horse before the final score was announced at 74.583%, putting them into provisional bronze. Holding their place after the final combination had ridden, it soon became evident that the duo's dream debut had sealed the first medal of their career together so far.
“I’m in shock, I just can’t believe it – it’s the best test I’ve ever ridden, and he went absolutely beautifully,” said Gabby, overcome with emotion. “He (Strong Beau) loved it, and I’m so shocked – it’s all I can say. Yes, I would have liked to have won a medal, but I had no expectations. I just wanted to come here and have a confident ride.”
British Dressage congratulates Georgia and Gabby on getting their Riesenbeck campaign off to a tremendous start, as well as the team behind the scenes, including the dedicated group of grooms, owners and the wider support network.
Charlotte Cundall and Sophie Wells begin their European Championships campaign tomorrow when they ride the Grade V Grand Prix A test in the Grade V Individual competition.
FEI Para Dressage European Championship – Individual Grade II
Grand Prix A Grade II
1. Heidemarie Dresing and Horse24 Dooloop, 74.776% (GER)
2. Georgia Wilson and Sakura, 72.966% (GBR)
3. Ann Cathrin Lübbe and La Costa Majlund, 72.724% (NOR)
4. Pepo Puch and Sailor's Blue, 71.862% (AUT)
FEI Para Dressage European Championship – Individual Grade I
Grand Prix A Grade I
1. Rihards Snikus and King of the Dance, 75.250% (LAT)
2. Martina Benzinger and Nautika, 74.833% (GER)
3. Gabby Blake and Strong Beau, 74.583% (GBR)
4. Michael Murphy and Cleverboy, 74.042% (IRL)
5. Carola Semperboni and Paul, 72.583% (ITA)
6. Julia Sciancalepore and Heinrich IV, 72.208% (AUT)
7. Anne Frederique Royon and Quaterboy LH, 72.042% (FRA)
8. Anita Johnsson and Currant LA, 70.583% (SWE)
9. Michail Kalarakis and Eros CS, 69.125% (GRE)
10. Anastasja Vistalova and First Love, 68.083% (CZE)
Photo © Kevin Sparrow Photography