Dancing horses lead their riders to gold

Five freestyle gold medals were handed out at Deodoro as the Rio 2016 Para dressage competition comes to a close. 16 Sep 2016
Sanne Voets (NED) reacts to confirmation that she has won her first paralympic gold medal.

Sanne Voets is the Paralympic freestyle grade IV champion

ⒸFEI/Liz Gregg
By by Robert Howell | for the IPC

“At one moment I was laughing because I knew it was my last ride with him in this big arena, in Rio, in Brazil. It was really a dream come true.”

Three London 2012 freestyle titles were successfully defended in the Para dressage competition of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games on Friday (16 September).

Belgium’s Michèle George retained hers in the grade IV competition on what was her last championship ride on FBW Rainman, the horse that has taken her to two FEI World Equestrian Games titles and three Paralympic gold medals.

George beat individual Championship test winner Sophie Wells (GBR) into second place with a score of 76.300% to Well’s 76.350%. The Netherlands’ Frank Hosmar took the bronze.

“I'm overwhelmed at the moment because I really wanted to have that medal,” George said. “I owe this to my horse. He picked me up out of my wheelchair and said, ‘come on, we going to make this work together’. I thought he should stop in beauty.

“At one moment I was laughing because I knew it was my last ride with him in this big arena, in Rio, in Brazil. It was really a dream come true.”

Great Britain’s Sophie Christiansen became her country’s first triple gold medallist of these Games when she won the grade Ia freestyle. Christiansen scored 79.700% on Athene Lindebjerg with team mate Anne Dunham taking the silver and Brazil’s Sergio Oliva winning another hugely popular bronze.

Speaking afterwards Christiansen said: “It’s amazing. This year has been so up and down so to even get here was a feat in itself. Athene is just a young horse. I didn’t know how she would react, but she felt so relaxed with me today I knew we could do it.”

The third successful defence belonged to grade II rider Natasha Baker (GBR). She took her third gold of the Games on Cabral with a score of 77.850%.

“I can't believe it,” she said. “I actually can't believe it. It is just a dream come true. For our last test together, I just think it was magical. It's amazing. He deserves to go out with a bang.”

The Netherlands Rixt Van der Horst was second while a clearly delighted Steffen Zeibig (GER) took the bronze medal, the first individual Paralympic medal of his career.

A new champion was crowned in the morning when The Netherlands’ Sanne Voets produced a brilliant ride to win the grade III title on Demantur. Riding to music by top dance DJ Armin van Buuren she scored 73.850 to finish just 0.05 of a point ahead of Norway’s grade III individual Championship test winner, Ann Cathrin Lübbe. Sweden’s Louise Etzner Jakobbson was third.

“This is what it feels like,” she said, quoting the title of one of van Buuren’s biggest hits. “This is a feeling I can’t describe. There are no words for this.

“It felt really good and I believed when we got here that if I do everything right there is no one that can beat me. And everything went right.”

And finally, Lee Pearson (GBR) regained his grade Ib freestyle title, the 11th Paralympic gold medal of his career, which stretches back to Sydney 2000. Riding his world championship horse Zion, Pearson scored 77.400% ahead of Austria’s grade Ib champion Pepo Puch. Denmark’s Stinna Tange Kaastrup came third, collecting her second bronze of these Games.

“It's a dream come true, honestly,” said an emotional Pearson after his ride. “I love that horse.

“I’m riding for me today and my horse. He wants to show his power and expression and he did that. I'm just grateful to him and grateful to everybody who has helped me since 1998 when I chose this path. I wanted to go in there powerful. I wanted to go down that centre line like we own it. I wanted to say to the judges, ‘we are here’.”

The end of a brilliant six days of Para dressage saw Great Britain top the medal table with seven golds and four silvers. The Netherlands were second with one gold, two silvers and four bronzes, followed by Austria, Belgium, and Norway, each with one gold and one silver.