The British paralympic squad has high standards to live up to after dominating the sport in recent years. Britain has claimed an impressive clutch of medals at every championship, including the Sydney Olympics where we won team gold, plus four individual gold and two individual bronze medals.
Jane Goldsmith is the team’s trainer and is confident the squad can bring home team gold once again. This should be helped by the fact that the Paralympic competitors will be riding their own horses at the Games for the first time.
This fresh-faced young Grade Ia rider sprang to prominence when she won the RDA National Championships last year. Since then, Sophie has successfully represented Britain riding her fellow squad member Nicola Tustain’s Hotstuff at international level. Sophie claimed her place on the Olympic squad after a strong performance at IPEC International competition in Moorsele, Belgium. Athens will be her first Olympic Games, aged 16, making her one of the youngest “athletes” in the British Olympic squad. She will ride Hotstuff as an individual.
Grade Ia rider Anne Dunham is currently the only person in the world to have won gold medals at consecutive Paralympic Games. A veteran of the paralympic squad, Anne suffers from Multiple Sclerocis and has been wheelchair bound for 22 years. She runs her own yard near Swindon, Wilts where she teaches both able-bodied and disabled riders. Athens will be her third Paralympic Games and she will ride as a team member as well as an individual. Anne was due to ride the Paralympic Trust’s Lambrusco in Athens but the horse was unable to fly to Athens due to an outbreak of strangles at his yard. Instead she will ride Ali Mills’s Dutch-bred mare Orlet, who is trained to advanced level.
Three-times Olympic gold medal winning Grade Ib rider, Lee Pearson will be riding at his second Olympic Games in Athens. Lee made an incredible Olympic debut in Sydney to win two individual gold medals, in addition to team gold. He is the first disabled rider to win an able-bodied title at the BD national championships. Lee has an MBE for his services to the sport and was crowned BBC Midland’s Disabled Sports Person of the Year 2003. Lee will be riding the charismatic dun, Blue Circle Boy, as part of the British team and as an individual.
Grade II rider Jo Pitt will be making her Paralympic Games debut in Athens. Jo suffers from Right-sided Hemiplegic Cerebral Palsy and has ridden since she was a child. Based in Scotland, Jo works as a riding instructor. She was Scottish RDA Grade II Champion in 2002 and produced strong performances at IPEC International in Belgium earlier this year to gain a place on the squad. Jo will be riding as an individual in Athens.
An established member of the British Paralympic squad, 26-year-old Grade II rider Nicola Tustain was a member of the gold medal winning team in Sydney, where she took individual gold in the Grade II freestyle as well as an individual bronze. She also represented Britain in the 2003 World Championships where she added a further three gold medals to her collection. Currently in top form, Nicola won both her Grade II classes at the recent IPEC International in Belgium. Nicola will ride Tony and Sarah Pidgley’s German-bred 12-year-old Prinz Heinrich in Athens as a member of the team and as an individual. She is paralysed down her right side.
Grade III rider Debbie Criddle has successfully represented Britain at international level for the past three years. She has numerous wins to her credit including at the 2002 European Championships, the 2003 British International and the 2003 World Championships. Athens will be Debbie’s first Paralympic Games but this is unlikely to worry her as she has repeatedly shown that she can handle the pressure of competition at the highest level. Debbie will ride her trainer Nina Venables’s Figaro XI in the team and individual competition in Athens.
Michelle Crunkhorn, a 21-year-old Grade IV rider from Nottingham, is also making her paralympic games debut in Athens as an individual. Michelle was born without the lower part of her left arm, but apart from this she is able bodied. Michelle was a winner at this year’s BD northern winter medium and medium freestyle semi-finals and was a bronze medallist at last year’s World Championships. Michelle has previously competed in affiliated show jumping as well as dressage. She will ride Juliet Seal’s 13-year-old Painted Affair, who is by the Dutch-bred stallion Samber.