Team gold number seven for Britain and still unbeaten in Paralympic team competition
- Written By:
With two fantastic scores produced by Sir Lee Pearson and Natasha Baker yesterday to put ParalympicsGB in the medal mix, today promise to be a tight affair with anyone of six teams vying for a coveted place on the podium. Sophie Wells had a tricky ride on Don Cara M but they delivered a new personal best which was enough to give Britain gold and maintain their unbeaten Paralympic team record.
Grades five and four brought the team competition to an exciting climax today in the stunning surroundings of the Bajikoen Equestrian Park. Sophie Wells was our final rider to go for the team with Rowland Kinch’s Don Cara M, indeed they were the final pairing down the centerline in the class.
It wasn’t the perfect start when ‘Donnie’ took exception to something in the arena and span round but Sophie was quick to reassure him and after a good trot round the outside, they were on their way. He’s a very expressive horse and in Sophie’s care that flair was presented well, hiding any anxiousness that she may have been feeling on top. She really showed his gears in the paces well as required at this level with clear transitions up and down.
There one notable error was an unintended flying change instead of the required simple change, sadly a double co-efficient, but where previously this may have marked disaster, Donnie had the confidence to carry on and Sophie quickly but calmly established the desired canter lead. The final extended trot across the diagonal, a long way in a 60m x 20m arena, was stunning, no loss of rhythm and they simply floated. A lovely turn down the centreline and bang, four square to end the test at X.
The mission was easy, score as highly as you can but on a horse very much on his toes, this wasn’t easy. How much to push, how much to hold back. But Sophie is vastly experienced and pressure just drives her more. Their previous best in the team test was just under 74% and today we needed something around that to be in the mix. They answered in style, 75.651% was the confirmed score to give Great Britain a total of 229.905%.
Sophie said after her test; “I’m so relieved to have survived! He warmed up amazing and felt awesome but when he came in here, I think it was the shadows and he just span round. He’s just not that sort of horse! From there the team score just went out of my head and I thought ‘I just need to complete the test so we have a score’! That was stressful. It was hard to decide what to do around the outside…I had to trust in him.
“When I had my mistake with the change, I just thought ‘don’t panic, pick him up, move on’. The simple changes have double co-efficient and I was riding on eggshells, on a bomb! An awesome bomb don’t get me wrong! He was amazing but I don’t want that again!
“I feel it was a miracle we did the test and he came back to me. I went in and he calmed down and settled but I wasn’t going to ask for anymore. I got more the other day but I’m so pleased what I got today, I’m thrilled. Something really scared him in there and the pressure was on without a drop score.
“I set out to do my job but when that happened I just wasn’t sure what to do but that’s what it’s all about. To get that score with what I felt I had just shows what a horse he is. It gives me faith that as a rider I can ask for less and still get plenty which is amazing. I’m thrilled for the team we knew we what was needed. We came with no expectation, just hope.”
We were the first of the medal contenders to post three scores so our job was done, the total was set and it was down to the others to try and better us. The challenge was to come from the States, the Dutch, Denmark and Belgium as all were close and all with riders to come in the final contest, the Grade IV.
Para dressage in the United States has really forged on in recent years and they headed to Tokyo with real medal hopes but could it be a first ever team medal for the nation who hosted para-dressage for the first time at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics. Kate Shoemaker was first in the class with Solitaer 40 and 71.825% was enough to keep them in the team mix.
The final Dutch combination was team stalwarts Sanne Voets and Demantur who needed to score 78.856% to equal the Brits. It was a beautiful test – relaxed and flowing – so the pressure was on. A provisional 78.200% was announced – not enough by just 0.656%. After a wait which felt like hours, not minutes, it was confirmed, and we were still in pole position.
The final rider for Denmark needed a near 73% to shake the podium places but Susanne Jensby Sunesen fell short with 72.250% so it was only Belgium who could make an impact. A score of 75% or better was the target, but the final score of 73.775% from Manon Claeys put them fifth behind the Danes.
Gold belonged to Britain, to the three riders on horses who were largely unproven, to a support team which had moved hell and earth to get fit athletes to Tokyo, to owners who’d placed their faith in a dream, to grooms who’d cared tirelessly for their charges in challenging conditions. Silver went to the Netherlands by less than 0.7% and a historic first medal in Bronze for the USA.
Three relieved riders said after the medal ceremony:
Natasha Baker; “I don’t think any of us expected that in a million years. We’re just so exceptionally proud of everything that our horses have done over the last few days. The way they’ve dealt with it so well and been such professionals. We were hoping to come and challenge for a bronze medal at that’s all. It’s unbelievable when you think what we’ve been through these last few weeks – one of our horses is a reserve! It’s actually been quite nice, previously, we’ve had that expectation at every Paralympics and having that pressure. This has been more relaxed and we’ve been able to enjoy it. It’s been the most incredible experience and we’ve all cried so much!”
Sophie Wells; “We had no expectations but knew anything was possible. In the most realistic way, we all have horses that have never been and done it, not competed against anyone else. The Dutch are so strong, so established, so secure with those horses and we’re not! Not having so much pressure gives things a different dynamic, it’s more relaxed and we just went in and did our jobs which is what we always do. But this time we didn’t go in fighting for it because we didn’t think we were in the mix. It just shows that maybe a different approach is good, especially for me on this horse. I’ve had to use every bit of my experience and it’s taken great resilience to even get here but we have such believe in each other.
Lee Pearson; “We don’t have a horse on the team who’s done a championship before and two have never even been abroad. We didn’t think we would and weren’t expected to win gold. The team behind the scenes have been incredible, we couldn’t have done it without them. To even get us here is amazing, and to keep me under control too! To be here, to compete and do as well as we have is a fairy tale. The Selectors have put great faith in us riders to send these young horses which shows they do believe in us as riders to get the best score, and we’re grateful for that.
Georgina Sharples, Performance Manager summed up the team effort; “These guys are undefeated Paralympic champions but in a whole new context. It’s been a whole recalibrate and you’ve heard about our inexperienced horsepower but I just think never underestimate these guys. The job they did out on the field of play used every ounce of their experience gained over years and years. You will not find a more dedicated bunch of riders, of grooms and support team.
“We’ve had a brilliant vibe coming into the Games and came in without the expectation but with massive belief. That was real talent out there, and it’s amazing the at the sport has taken off in the way it has. It’s fantastic to have such nail biting sport but it takes nothing away from what these guys have just achieved on inexperienced, up and coming horses. I’m truly delighted for them all and, most of the time, it’s a privilege and pleasure to deal with them! We have an open and honest approach and they’re an amazing group of individuals but even more incredible team.”
Focus changes back to individual competition tomorrow when all four riders are in Freestyle action – keep an eye out on our social feeds for start times or follow via our:
Photo: c British Equestrian / Jon Stroud Media