Great Britain’s Para equestrian riders did their best to leave lasting impressions for selectors ahead of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games at the Hartpury Festival of Dressage that concluded Friday (8 July) in Gloucestershire.
The annual competition was the final qualifying event for places on Britain’s team of five to compete at the Games, as the team will be announced on Thursday (14 July).
Staking her claim with the highest score of the competition was grade IV rider Sophie Wells, who had two horses entered in the competition, Valerius and C Fatal Attraction. Wells won both individual competitions on Valerius, including the competition’s highest overall score of 80.700% in the freestyle.
In the grade II competition, double London 2012 gold medallist Natasha Baker won both her events on Cabral, scoring 74.857% in the individual test and an impressive 79.150% in the freestyle. Great Britain’s Erin Orford and Susanna Hext were second and third respectively in both tests.
Speaking after the freestyle, performed to music from the film “Avatar,” Baker said: “I love [the music], it’s nice to ride to. It feels really magical and enchanting and I feel like, on my final salute, I can really halt and spread my wings and fly away. I feel like a butterfly.”
Anne Dunham, who competed at the very first Paralympic equestrian competition in Atlanta in 1996, scooped both titles in the grade Ia contest. Riding the striking LJT Lucas Normark, Dunham, who is aiming for her fifth Games, held off a strong challenge from her closest rival and multi-gold medallist Sophie Christiansen on Janeiro 6. Dunham scored 73.080%in the individual test and 77.400% in the freestyle, with Christiansen just behind in both classes. Brazil’s Sergio Oliva was third in both events too.
Lee Pearson, one of the most popular British names in the sport, looked poised for a fifth Games on Zio. Pearson came first in the team and individual tests (scoring 74.800%) and a close second in the freestyle. He was beaten in the latter event by up-and-comer Natasha Adkinson on Sweet Caledonia with 75.600%.
Adkinson said: “I could not ask for more of my horse. Callie went in there and coped with the atmosphere and she produced the most fantastic test. It was an incredible score, one of my best."
In the grade III competition, Nicky Greenhill produced two impressive tests on Gregorian Chant to win the team test and freestyle. She scored 76.350% in the freestyle test to finish ahead of teammates Izzy Palmer and Deb Criddle in second and third respectively. Palmer, however, had the edge in the individual test and took the win, on Pinocchio, with 71.097%.