Paralympic Games
24 August - 5 September 2021

Animal connection leads to Para equestrian double gold for Belgium's Michele George

Final gold medals of dressage go to Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Great Britain and USA 30 Aug 2021
Michele George smiles and waves on her horse Best of 8
Michele George won gold with horse Best of 8 in the dressage individual freestyle test grade V
ⒸOIS/Thomas Lovelock
By Ruth Faulkner I For the IPC

Pride in the performance, gratitude to four-legged performers and some surprises at the Equestrian Park as the Para equestrian event at Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games drew to a close on Monday (August 30) with the final set of gold medals in the individual freestyle dressage test won by Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Great Britain and USA.

Making the Best of it

Michele George of Belgium won gold in the Grade V individual freestyle test with her new horse Best of 8. It was her second  title at Tokyo 2020 and matched the double on her debut at London 2012.

"I'm blown away. The mare is just fantastic. What can I say?" she said. "She has an incredible confidence in me. And I must say, I'm living with all of my animals. If she would have the stable next to my kitchen, she would enter into my kitchen. She's like my daughter. I'm not kidding."

George has dogs, a parrot called Ernie (from Sesame Street) and horses, so they all live together, even sometimes travelling to competitions together.

"The parrot knows the horses... But it's just a little nasty when the parrot picks the carrots from the horse. But for the rest of the time, he's sitting on the mane, on the tail. He's riding with me, he's on my shoulder and he walks with me, because he's always free. So they get along together," George explained.

George finished ahead of Frank Hosmar of Netherlands taking silver while bronze went to Regine Mispelkamp of Germany.

Music drives calm for Voets 

Meanwhile, Sanne Voets of Netherlands took the gold in the Grade IV test with everything coming together for a personal best score of 82.085.

"It's like one big puzzle with 5,000 pieces and today everything fitted together and it shared a beautiful picture of what I think dressage should be like. Today it was just me and my horse and the music. It was like I wasn't completely here... this flow or hypnosis. It felt powerful but soft and relaxed, and felt really confident."

Voets is taking home two gold medals from Tokyo 2020

This focus and confidence seems perfectly matched by Voets' choice of music. "The opening song is called 'Where the heart is' and it's a song about taking the leap of faith and daring to trust in your own feeling, to dare to choose for the things that set your soul on fire. The last five years we made a lot of decisions in our aim for the gold freestyle here that were not very conventional... and that message in the song really moves me."

There were shocks with the other Grade IV medals, as both Sweden's Louise Etzner Jakobsson, who took silver, and Belgium's Manon Claeys with bronze expressed surprise at their results.

"I had my horse for a year, and this is his third international show, and two months ago I broke my leg, so I never expected this," said Jakobsson.

While Claeys jumped and screamed when talking to the media. "Can somebody pinch me or something because I don't believe this. That was not my best test but it's not over until it's over and that's the proof of it," she said.

Two golds for Jorgensen's debut

In the Grade III competition, Tobias Thorning Jorgensen of Denmark became Paralympic champion to add to his gold from the dressage individual test. "I always had the dream about double gold, but I knew it was gonna be hard. I would have been happy if it was a silver or bronze, but to get two medals at my first Paralympics - two golds - that's amazing."

Jorgensen had tough competition with Natasha Baker, who rode after him. "I knew Natasha could definitely beat pretty much every score I had, at her best. I was thinking, 'maybe she can do it, maybe she can do it', so when I saw the score, I was very happy. It's my best score ever," he said.

For Baker though, the silver left her incredibly proud of her horse Keystone Dawn Chorus. "The other two days, she was really firing on all four cylinders, and really going, whereas today she genuinely felt exhausted. So just the way that mentally she's handled this whole situation, she's never been out of the country, this is her first ever championship. She's just been an absolute star."

Ann Cathrin Lubbe followed with the bronze medal.

Pearson makes it 14 golds

Lee Pearson of Great Britain won his second gold of the Tokyo 2020 Games with a score 82.447 in grade II,  to take his overall tally to 14 gold medals. 

"Number 14, it's good to remind me. I'm twice over the moon. I actually didn't care where I ended up. I actually didn't care if I medalled. That horse gave me his heart in there," Pearson said.

"He was so much braver than the team test, he was greater even than the individual test a few days ago. He still was nervous in there and had a tiny little spook, before I entered. And I just said, 'Daddy's here', and kind of just said, 'Come on, we can do this'." 

Austria's Pepo Puch was close behind Pearson with 81.007 for his second silver of the Games. Despite missing out on a gold at Tokyo after having taken home gold medals from the last two games, he remained content. "The thing for a rider is to get the best harmony with your partner. And in this test, I came out and I can say that I cannot do it better." 

Georgia Wilson, also of Great Britain, took the bronze medal with horse Sakura.

Trunnell sets Paralympic record

Roxanne Trunnell of the USA won the Grade I test with a score of 86.927, setting a Paralympic record. This was her third medal of the Games with a gold in the dressage individual test and bronze from the team test.

"I just wanted a nice test, haven't tried the ending of the test with judges before. It felt really good with the music the whole time. It's been really nice, everyone so happy and friendly. It's just fun."

There' is hope that with Trunnell's high-profile medals, coupled with the Paralympic record, the profile of Para equestrian in the US will rise. "I think the better we start to do, people notice and that makes people more aware," she said.

Trunnell came ahead of Latvia's Rihards Snikus who took silver, and Italy's Sara Morganti with bronze.