Wilson secures gold for Team GBR
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It was hot day in Rotterdam for the final action of the 2019 Longines FEI European Championships and the heat was as intense as the competition.
First up for Team GBR was 23 year old Georgia Wilson from Conwy and she really upset the form book by claiming a debut European gold medal in the Grade II Freestyle Championship. A personal best 78.18% with Midnight, by Hilkens Black Delight, was enough to beat two time Paralympian Pepo Puch from Austria who was one of the first to congratulate her when her score was announced. Riding to music from Tarzan by David Newman, it was picture of pure joy and harmony from the duo on debut – in fact it’s their first international competition outside the UK! A clever floorplan devised after her mentor Sophie Wells had a dream while sleeping was perfect for the British bred mare, who Georgia owns with her parents Geoff and Julie Wilson.
“I was awake at 4am this morning so I’m quite glad I could actually ride today! My legs were more shaky than normal this morning so in a way I was just happy to get her round. I was a bit ahead of my music so had to think hard on how to use the arena. I was really pleased with my medium trot and free walk…and I think I got all my halts! It’s been an amazing week, Midnight has never even been abroad before and she’s coped so well and been really easy,” she said after the test.
“Secretly all week I’ve been dreaming about winning a watch but I didn’t dare tell anyone! I’m not sure if I’ll cry when I get on the podium, we’ll see.” Well, we can report that she kept her cool and the only tears of the day were those after the test, from everyone not just Georgia.
Trainer and mentor Sophie Wells added; “I honestly had a dream in the middle of the night about the floorplan and we put it together the next morning about a year ago. Sometimes you just come up with a floorplan that fits like a glove. It’s Jorge’s trot music [C Fatal Attraction] so if I was going to give it to anyone, it had to be Georgia. During the test, my heart was going mental – it’s so much harder watching. She’s amazing, she has such a great feel and mindset, she just gets on with it. I know this is just the beginning.”
Buckinghmashire’s Mari Durward-Akhurst (25) ended her championship debut with a hat-trick of personal best scores in each test with a 75.4% to finish just off the podium in fourth in the Grade I riding Glensi Owen’s Sky O’Hara in temperatures approaching 30 degrees. Riding to music from the Disney epic Beauty and the Beast, it was an inspiring performance, the only worrying moment came when Sky kicked out during the three loop serpentine with a bothersome fly but much of the walk work was of the highest calibre. A huge smile proved that Mari was pleased with her final performance of the Championships and an equally big grin from trainer and groom for the week Rob Waine showed he was proud of his pupils.
“Well it’s certainly good practice for Tokyo in there!” exclaimed Mari. “My score really reflect our performance and I think that’s the best the test has ever gone – I was spot on with my music. Sky kicked out in the serpentine movement at a fly but that was the only thing. He was back to the Sky I know today and certainly proved he doesn’t act his age . This is actually the test which stresses me out the most as getting it spot on isn’t easy!”
When Mari was asked for her reflection on her Championship, she said; “It was incredible to get silver with the team. I’ve always dreamt of winning a medal and I can’t wait to get the chance to do it again; I know the Paralympics is a massive step up. The team have been so supportive of each other – Sky and I have loved every minute!”
Lincolnshire 29 year old Sophie Wells ended her 2019 Longines FEI European Championship campaign with third silver medal, the 32nd of her career, in the Grade V individual Freestyle competition riding Charlotte Hogg’s C Fatal Attraction. Their score of 78.37% was only bettered by rival Frank Hosmar from the host nation, the Netherlands, on 79.90%. The test oozed quality…huge reach in the half pass, brave extended canter with strides as long as a horse two or three hands bigger than ‘Jorge’ actually is and light extended trot diagonals with great ground cover all set to beautiful, emotive music in a floorplan which must be near maximum difficutly.
“I’m really pleased with him but I’m not sure what more I could have done for the judges. I love this music which Tom [Hunt] did with me for the World Equestrian Games last year and today the simple changes were good; the extended canter, the half passes, all cool, there was no tension today. You’ve got to perform in there and everything has to come together and whatever the result, I know I’m taking the best horse home,” reflected Sophie.
“We came here feeling a team medal was going to be a challenge and gold was most definitely out of reach so the silver is amazing. People expect top performances out of me but Georgia was an unknown and I know that what we’ve seen this week isn’t her best week which makes it even more exciting,” she concluded.
Britain’s first ever visually impaired para team rider Nicky Greenhill from Surrey finished her debut week at the Longines FEI European Championship on a high with 71.33% in the Grade IV Freestyle riding her own and husband Gary’s King Edward I. It was the first competitive freestyle they’ve ridden together and finished just off the podium in fourth. Nicky has made a huge impression on the competition as all watch in amazement at her horsemanship – it’s al – and her guide dog Sparky has won a legion of fans!
“I’m really pleased. Having not done a freestyle with him I had no idea how it would go. The music I had done for him specially as he’s so big and powerful and it really suits him. I was really pleased with all the canter work; his stride is so massive in the extended you get to the other side before you know it! He was a proper star, and so was my husband Gary. He can sense when I’m getting a bit lost and he knows how to call to get me on track,” Nicky said afterward.
As the final competitor of the day, and the Championship, what are Nicky’s thoughts on the week? “Now it’s all done, it feels weird. It was such a long time coming and now we’re done. I’m happy with how I’ve coped as you never know. Ed has got better and better too and it’s been the making of him. The team behind the scenes is amazing and the other disciplines have been so supportive which I wasn’t expecting. And of course Sparky now has her own fan club!” she concluded.
So it was just a single rendition of God Save the Queen in the main Rotterdam arena this week for Georgia’s stunning performance today but we have four riders who will have learned a great deal about themselves, their horses and what being part of a Championship team means which is priceless. Today marks one year until the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Paralympics which is the perfect day for a gold medal performance, what will the next 365 days bring for these riders? But for now, Georgia’s just happy to spend time admiring her watch…and gold medal!