Paras take team silver in WEG
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The record breaking unbeaten run of Britain’s para dressage team has finally come to an end in a nail-biting finish at the end of two amazing days of team tests at the FEI World Equestrian Games.
It was the quartet from the Netherlands who will go down in the history books as the team who finally toppled Britain but it was by the smallest of margins, just 0.65% and the team will be celebrating the silver with great pride in the knowledge they gave their all.
On day one of the team tests (Thursday), Nottinghamshire’s Sophie Wells threw the gauntlet down with a personal best of 77.233%when first to go in the Grade V. It was a beautifully executed test with not a mark wasted. A delighted Sophie said; “I am so happy with him; I love him to bits. I knew I needed to up my game from the other day for the team. I had a look at my test with my coaches and looked at different areas; I gave him a 20 minute stretch because I wanted to leave it all in the tank for today and luckily it worked.”
Going first for the team brings added stress and Sophie added; “You learn to deal with the pressure and I just focused on what I needed to do. We worked so hard over the winter and he’s come out a different horse this year. All the other nations are getting so much stronger and the horse power is incredible in the sport. We want to retain our title but we can only do the best that we can do.”
It was then Grade II Sir Lee Pearson, with his and Mr and Mrs D Pearson’s Styletta, who retired in the individual test after the nine year old was struggling with the heat and atmosphere. A check by the support team and a short schooling session proved she was fit and well to continue. Lee used every ounce of his vast Championship experience to nurse his young charge round for a very respectable confirmed score of 71.606% which gave Britain a second good score in the club house.
Afterwards Lee said; “I was not worried about the placing today, I rode calmly and passionately in there, and said thank you to her on every transition. I’m over the moon; it’s not the highest score in the world, and not the way I can ride, but the way I should have ridden today.
“She’s been brilliant here, with the environment, with the arenas – I thought she would be petrified, but she hasn’t and I do believe that she will be a fantastic championship horse for the future.”
Day two of the team competition dawned bright and sunny and it was down our Grade III riders to battle it out for a medal
First up was Natasha Baker MBE, with the Mount St John Stud’s nine year old Mount St John Diva Dannebrog and, despite their relative inexperience as a partnership – WEG is just their third international together, nailed a personal best of 74.118% to give Britain a fighting chance.
An ecstatic Natasha said; “I don’t even know what to say, I’m still shaking; she was absolutely amazing. I’m just so, so, proud of her. Everything was just so much better, she went in there with so much more confidence today. I was much more confident today; it hit me a little bit [the pressure], but she just felt so good that it didn’t matter. I just felt so much more prepared going in there today; we got the halts, and just so, so happy. If that’s what we can do after seven months then in another year’s time, she’s just going to grow even more in confidence. I absolutely adore that horse.”
Natasha’s score was enough to beat her main rival Rixt van der Horst which gave some breathing space from the Netherlands who we were neck and neck with going in to the final riders. The calculators were working overtime and it looked like our final combination, Erin Orford and Annabel Whittet’s Dior needed a PB score over 72.25% to clinch a gold. The duo gave it their all with Erin working hard to get the best from the Dimaggio mare and when the final score was posted…69.029%. Just short of the mark which gave us a hard fought silver.
Erin said; “I was so proud of her. I had hoped we’d done enough but unfortunately the scores weren’t on our side. She had a bit of stage-fright on Wednesday, but today I was really pleased, I couldn’t have asked any more of her, we went in there and gave it everything.”
So a 22 year run comes to an end but the standards, quality and professionalism in para dressage have ridden considerably in its history and Britain has been at the forefront with others chasing. We have many new names coming up, both equine and human, so the future is full of promise to get back where we were. The mission in Tryon was to secure Paralympic qualification and a team medal so both objectives achieved.
Para Director Julie Frizzell commented; “It’s been an inspiring two days to see our riders under microscopic scrutiny with the world’s eyes on them. I couldn’t be more proud of the dedication, teamwork and tenacity of our riders and the team involved to support the athletes, both human and equine. For decades we’ve worked relentlessly to constantly raise the standards so a silver medal is an outstanding achievement. After two exceptionally competitive days and four tests, to finish 0.6% behind a Dutch team who all rode to their maximum potential, is something to be proud of and paints and incredibly bright future for the next generation of our para riders and horses.”