Denmark’s Stinna Tange Kaastrup returned to the top of the Para equestrian podium for the first time since 2011, taking a gold, silver and bronze at the Longines Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) Para Equestrian European Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden.
The grade II rider has been a crowd favourite, and her win in August – off the back of two Rio 2016 bronze medals - puts to rest a six year period which could have ended her career entirely.
Her emotional achievement marks No. 41 on the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) Top 50 Moments of 2017.
“Early in 2016 I had lost almost all of my confidence as a rider. I had a bad European Championships in 2015, and I just didn’t feel I was good enough. After a terrible competition in Belgium at the start of the 2016 season, I told the Danish team coach not to select me for Rio,” Kaastrup said.
Her crisis of confidence was years in the making. In 2011 Kaastrup was heading into the London 2012 Paralympics as a good bet for a medal. She was a reigning European champion and a Worlds silver medallist. But then tragically her horse Snoevs died.
“I was devastated,” she said. “I loved my pony.”
She obtained a new ride on Steffi Graf, and secured bronze medals at her home European Championships in Herning in 2013.
But the spark was gone.
“Steffi was a great horse but, as our sport developed, her trot just wasn’t big enough for grade II,” she said.
Steffi and Kaastrup parted ways after the 2015 Europeans.
“I had grown really insecure about my riding through 2014,” she said. “And after the Euros I knew I had to do something different, and something for me.”
Cue the arrivals of Horsebo Smarties, Kaastrup’s current ride.
“When you get a new horse you are basically starting from fresh,” she said. “And with Smarties it was a tough start. We went to the competition at Waregem in Belgium early in 2016 and it was a disaster. It was terrible. And that’s when I said I didn’t want to go to Rio, as I was sure we just weren’t ready.
“But shortly after, at Mannheim in Germany, everything clicked, we won, and it was the start of something amazing. I changed my mind about Rio and we went there and won two medals. I enjoyed every minute of it – in every picture of me there I’m smiling like a fool!”
Those smiles came thick and fast again in Gothenburg.
She picked up a bronze in the grade II individual, team silver, and gold in the individual freestyle. “They were amazing rides,” she said. “We were all so happy – it was like a big party.
“Being back on top feels right and it’s where I want to be. Grade II is a competitive grade and three years ago I was so focused on beating my competitors it all got too much for me. Now though it’s about me and Smarties being better than yesterday, and improving all the time. I want to be the best version of me.”
Next year Kaastrup and her competitors’ focus turns to the Longines FEI World Equestrian Games, being held in the USA in September.
“I’m looking forward to it,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do before then though.”
The full rundown of the Top 50 Moments will continue until 31 December.