Sophie secures second silver for the paras in Rotterdam
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Day two of the para Individual competition in Rotterdam produced as second silver for Team GBR and a place for all four riders in Sunday’s Freestyle finale. Under cloudless skies throughout the day, Grades IV and V battled it out for the medals, with Britain fielding a rider in each.
The Grade IV was up first and it was Nicki Greenhill’s debut and a place in history as Britain’s first visually impaired team member. Nicky hasn’t had the smoothest build up since her arrival on Dutch soil…travel issues for guide dog Sparky, a wasp sting, which she’s allergic to, resulting in a trip to the local hospital and husband Gary who’s a vital part of her riding as her guide and caller losing his voice! But this is a lady made of strong stuff and is the ace of coping with what’s thrown at her with great calmness and stoicism.
Riding Gary and her own King Edward I, Nicki was given a last minute confidence boost when her trainer Charlotte Dujardin arrived to help with the final preparations and as ‘Eddie’ was very on his toes, her advice was much welcome.
As Nicky was completing her pre-test trot around the arena, the audio device that calls ‘C’ to help her orientate failed so Angela Weiss had to quickly step in, further distraction for Nicky. Plus the young Eddie was getting more and more agitated, not the calm, placid ride Nicky was hoping for. But she did an excellent job under testing conditions. She has a system of three callers; one at ‘C’ who also moves to ‘B’ as mentioned, one who moves between ‘K’ and ‘F’ and then husband Gary at X. They all call the letters as she approaches and hits the markers for her to work out where to start and finish the movements – it a real case of trust.
There was a heart stopping moment when Eddie spooked at Ange at C as it was highly irregular for her to be there and then a slight miscommunication with Gary which gave a wobble in a cross diagonal movement. There was plenty of quality throughout and Nicky, who must have had her own nerves, gave her young charge a great, confidence giving ride to score 69.53% for fourth place and a spot to dance on Sunday.
The class was won by Sanne Voets for the Netherlands on a whopping 76.65%.
Nicky said afterwards; “It's been a challenging week and not getting less challenging yet. I had my sting on Tuesday, ended up in hospital and that wasn't ideal, then Gary lost his voice up until today so that was a bit worrying. I had a great day on Eddie yesterday so felt quite confident coming in but then he was really tricky in the warm up. He was really nervous, to be honest I’m very grateful to have got in and got round. I just felt I couldn't really let him go as I thought he would never stop. It was a bit of safe riding and just had to ride horse I had on day but he'll learn from it and come out more confident next time. The venue been challenging as it’s so huge, really hard for me to orientate, a million paths in the forest. The longer we’re here the more I’m getting used to it.”
It was then the turn of the team ‘veteran’…at the age of 29! Grade V is renowned for the rivalry between Britain, the Netherlands and Belgium in the form of Wells, Hosmar and George and today’s battle promised to be a good one.
Frank Hosmar set the early pace with 75.81% so Sophie knew what she had to achieve and looked in determined mood with Charlotte Hogg’s C Fatal Attraction, or Jorge. A conservative extended trot to start was followed by some bright, energetic work with Jorge clearly buoyed by a good sized crowd, who had of course come to watch him in particular. Tight half pirouettes, excellent fluidity in the half passes and skilled simple changes flowed. The walk wasn’t the best it could be today with Jorge on a mission rather than taking his time. As they halted, the score was trending very near Frank’s – it was going to be a nail biter…scores between 74 and 76 fluttered up as the marks came in and it felt an eternity before the final score of 75.59% flashed up…it was just 0.21% short of gold.
Belgian Michele George finished in bronze with her new ride Best for 8 on 72.57%.
Sophie said afterwards; “He was a little tense today and really picked up when he spotted all the people watching. He’s never at his best on day one but there were no big mistakes. If I can get that sort of mark with the tension then when the quality comes we’ll be happy. Today was about dealing with the horse, not disturbing things…but that’s Jorge for you! As we’re in the Netherlands, I thought I’d give Frank [Hosmar] a little present to start with!”
When asked if there was more or less pressure after losing their unbeaten team record last year: “It happened and the world kept turning! There’s less but we know the Dutch will be strong and there’s a number of nations coming up. We have three inexperienced riders and we’ll just do the best we can, the results will look after themselves. Over the last two days, it’s great to see so many nations in the medals – so exciting! We’re here for the team medal, anything after that is a bonus.”
It was medal day so Sophie didn’t have long to wait for her silver and her protégé Georgia Wilson got her first taste of a Championship podium having won silver with Midnight in the Grade II.
On to the Team test tomorrow and it’s Grades I, II and III in action. Mari and Sky are on at 08:08 and then Georgia and Midnight at 15.32 (times BST).
Photos: c Team GBR/Jon Stroud