Stellar start for Paralympic team medal hopes
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Grade II rider Sir Lee Pearson and Natasha Baker in the Grade III gave ParalympicsGB hopes of a further medal on the first day of the team competition in Tokyo today. A new PB score from Lee and Breezer of 77.636% combined with Natasha’s 76.618% aboard Keystone Dawn Chorus to put Great Britain in gold position of the teams who’ve had two riders complete. However, there’s everything to play for tomorrow when the medals will be decided.
The Grade II was the first section of the evening, making Lee Pearson up first for Great Britain. His ride Breezer, bred by Lee using stallion Bacardi, certainly looked like his first test hadn’t taken up any of his energy reserves, he was certainly looking sprightly! Lee really worked to keep his anxiety contained while maintaining a great flow and positivity to the round. The duo finished with a lovely four-square halt, and a sigh of relief from Lee. The scoreboard delivered 77.363% from the five strong judging panel to great elation from the British camp. It was 2.4% above their previous best, testament to Lee’s skill of riding under pressure and having such a strong bond with his horse.
Lee said afterwards; “I am over the moon with that – a lovely score but he really doesn’t like that Paralympic arena! He was quite frightened in there, he’s a sensitive soul and a horse that tightens when he feels intimidated. Walking is about the worst thing! I’m so proud of him – I held his hand and he trusted me. It could have been a different story completely! I rode like we were on eggshells…he’s sensitive. That said, when he’s onside, that sensitivity is good.”
The over all lead swapped and changed as teams had second and even third rides as the next class, the Grade I came to its conclusion – with the added excitement of a flurry of sirens outside the venue as a nearby apartment block was being attended to by the fire service. We then moved to Grade III which again caused the leaderboard to change regularly.
The final combination of the day was our individual silver medallists from yesterday, Natasha Baker with Joanna Jensen, Christian Landolt, Phil Baker and her own Keystone Dawn Chorus. They entered the arena looking determined and ready to deliver something special. They appeared much more relaxed today, perhaps buoyed by the confidence of the medal, and the movements passed with a lovely flow and smoothness. This test is full of turns, testing the rider and horse’s communication but it was clear these two were on message. Good reach in the leg yields, clear transitions showing the gears and a stunning medium trot where the rhythm was unchanged. The only error was in Natasha’s nemesis, one of the walk half pirouettes.
A final score of 76.618% was just the boost Britain needed – anything under 75% would have left us playing catch up with the teams who’d had two riders go.
Natasha said; “She was on it tonight! Yesterday she went in and was like ‘whoa’ whereas tonight she went in there and knew her job. Ears pricked the whole time, she was really enjoying it in there today. I’m annoyed about that pirouette but it’s an impossible movement for somebody with no use of their legs. I’m just thrilled; she went in with so much more confidence and that was my ultimate goal for her and for her to be happy. She really let me rider her today and the trot felt so much better, and had a bit more relaxation in the walk. The final centre line was a bit wobbly but I’m really happy.
“She felt really ‘up’ and powerful, more like the feeling I’ve had at other competitions this year. It’s a great score for the team so I’m really happy with that – I can’t ask for more really. It’s all to play for tomorrow. It would mean the world to get on the podium for us, just incredible with horses with horses who haven’t been to a championship. It’s insane that we’re even talking about the podium. I rode my best and I know that Sophie [Wells] will give her best test tomorrow that she possibly can. We’ll see where that puts us.”
Our final rider tomorrow is Sophie Wells in the Grade V riding Rowland Kinch’s Don Cara M at 10.56am BST. It promises to be a thriller in Tokyo as the team competition heads toward the final battle for the medals and a place on that podium.
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