The FEI Para-Equestrian Dressage European Championships awards

After last week’s event in France, gives out some of its own prizes. 28 Sep 2015
Michele George and her parrot Ernie.

Michele George and her parrot Ernie.

ⒸLiz Gregg/FEI
By Rob Howell | For the IPC

Every major international competition throws up a few unexpected pleasures for riders and spectators alike and this year’s FEI Para-Equestrian Dressage European Champions were no different. So, with no science behind them at all, here are Paralympic.Org’s awards for this year.

Team of the Championship.

While no one could ever take away from the success of The Netherlands, who took home four golds, one silver and four bronze medals to top the overall medal table, team of the championships goes to the more than 50 volunteers who helped make the whole event run so smoothly. Smiles were never off their faces, and pretty much all of the riders said how professionally the event ran.

“Forget calm, this is how I relax” of the Championship

For some, relaxing between competitions may take the form of finding peace and quiet, listening to music, or generally seeking calmness. But that’s not Sophie Christiansen of Great Britain. The only rider to take home three gold medals from the Europeans (team and both individual titles), admitted that she was filling her time by watching a box set of TV spy thriller 24.

“Was that a parrot?” of the Championships

The award goes to Belgium’s Michele George, double London 2012 and World individual and freestyle champion. She was spotted strolling around the Deauville competition site with her parrot, Ernie (named after the Sesame Street character) on her shoulder. George describes him as her “Personal coach”.

She bought Ernie after falling in love with the parrots she saw at a market when competing earlier this year in Doha, Qatar. “I came home and started looking for a good parrot breeder,” she said.

“I took him home and found a new challenge - training a parrot. As I don't like to see animals in cages I trained him to go with me everywhere. He is always free with me and rides with me and my horses, eats apples and carrots with them and sits on my shoulder while I teach my riders. Sometimes, in the morning, he hangs out in trees but when I call him at noon he comes to me and we have dinner together. He travels easily, loves driving the lorry with me and adores Coca-Cola and Camembert. He says his name and whistles to nice people.”

Furthest travelled fan of the Championships

Up and coming rider Marcella Maria Martin travelled all the way from her home in Guatemala to watch the top riders at Deauville. She said: “I’m looking at how to ride and pick up some tips. I have a warm blood cross called Carmella and we compete at FEI introductory level and I’d love to compete in Tokyo in 2020. I know I have to develop my horse and work hard for that.”

Meeting their heroes of the Championships

Many fans took the opportunity to say hello to and grab pictures of their favourite riders, but this award goes, once again, to Guatemala’s Marcella Martin. She said that her heroes were Lee Pearson and Sophie Christiansen of Great Britain, and Austria’s Pepo Puch. Needless to say, introductions were arranged and a very happy Marcella got to say hello to, and get advice from, all three.

“I wasn’t expecting a medal” of the Championships

There’s often a rider who will turn up at a competition and win, even if it’s his or her first experience at a major international level. More often than not, they’re Dutch. This year that honour went to Lotte Krijnsen who took bronze in both the individual and freestyle grade III competition. And she wasn’t even expecting to ride. Krijnsen was taken to Deauville as the first reserve rider of the Dutch team, and was only given a slot to ride after team mate Sabine Peters sadly had to withdraw.

“I wasn’t expecting to ride” of the Championships.

This award goes to Ireland’s Kathryn Gallagher. She, like Krijnsen of The Netherlands, was taken to Deauville as a reserve but after two Irish horses sadly didn’t pass the vet inspection which takes place at the start of every FEI championships (nothing serious, but the fallout from a long and delayed journey to France) was given the chance to ride. “It was a good experience” she said.

“I think I’ve learnt to relax and learnt more about my horse. But more than that I’ve learnt that it is possible and that this is what I want.”

Young ones/not so young ones of the Championships

The youngest riders in the championships were Finland’s Kaisla Osara (18, just) and Jessica Kertutunen (18 next week). After riding in their first championships they were fortunate to meet Great Britain’s Anne Dunham, who is now 67. Dunham’s history in the sport goes back to its earliest days, and she rode at the first ever Para-Equestrian Dressage competition at a Paralympic Games in Atlanta in 1996. The three chatted easily about their sport with Dunham reiterating the importance of enjoyment. “You have to enjoy it and you have to enjoy your horse” she said.