Great Britain’s Sophie Christiansen made a stunning return to Para equestrian, at the season-opening “Pole International du Cheval” that concluded on Sunday (8 April) in Deauville, France.
The multi-European, world and Paralympic champion won all three of her grade I classes in her first major international competition since she swept the board at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Christiansen was competing at the first major international competition of the Para equestrian season on her new horse, Amazing Romance (known as Harry), and with a brand new training and support team behind her.
Writing on her Facebook page after her freestyle win, she said: “I’ll take that for our first international. I just went in there and had fun as I had nothing else left to prove and I wanted Harry to relax. He felt amazing.”
Christiansen was part of a strong British team which also included Rio 2016 champions Sophie Wells and Lee Pearson, as well as new European champion Suzanna Hext. Wells took all three of her classes (two of them with personal bests) in the grade V competition on C Fatal Attraction (known as Jorge). Hext won the grade II team test on LJT Engaards Solitaire, and Pearson took two second places in the grade’s individual and freestyle competition on his Rio 2016 gold medal winning ride, Zion. Pearson was also making a return to competition after a year out.
Wells added: “Finishing with 80.500% in the freestyle was brilliant. Jorge was a little on edge but held it together even if a few of the changes were his and not mine!
“To have two personal bests this week, I had to pinch myself as it still doesn’t feel real and I couldn’t be more proud of Jorge. To feel him in the arena as a baby to now is so special.”
Further British success came from Heather Bennett in the grade IV freestyle, and the team of Pearson, Christiansen, Wells and Hext also won the Nations Cup team competition.
But Britain did not have its own way throughout the whole weekend.
The Netherlands’ Nicole Den Dulk on Wallace NOP, and Demi Vermeulen on Ciska II won the individual and freestyles in their grades (II and III respectively). There was also an individual title win for home favourite Jose Letarte in grade IV.
As competition for places at this year’s Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) World Equestrian Games in Tryon, USA, heats up, riders hoping to gain those all-important qualification points will now turn their attention to Belgium, and the annual Quadrille competition held in Waregem on 19-22 April. Around 16 countries will be represented including Brazil, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, and Hong Kong, among the usual European nations.
Complete results can be found on the event website.