British dressage riders have become accustomed to being at the top of the table when it comes to the Olympics and today was no exception on the opening day of Paralympic action at Greenwich Park.
Olympic veteran Lee Pearson led the grade Ib team test, despite an error of course. His provisional plus-75% was downgraded to 74.682% for the error, when he turned left instead of right at X to begin his two eight-metre circles.
“I’ve been reading the test for a week,” said Lee. “But I usually do something stupid at Olympics — with Blue Circle Boy I went the wrong way at C; you’ve got a 50/50 chance — but I’m not invincible.”
He was only 1% clear of his nearest rival, ex-eventer Pepo Puch, who performed a fluent test with his “spoilt ballerina” Fine Feeling.
“For me it’s not about high scores,” said Pepo, for whom a performance of this calibre was visibly emotional four years on from the accident that left him partially paralysed. “Horses are my life and I know you can’t just say I want a higher score — it doesn’t work like that.”
A commanding lead
The day’s highest score was posted by British individual rider Natasha Baker (pictured, on Cabral), who took the morning’s grade II class by a commanding margin with an international personal best. Her 76.095% was 3.5% clear of Germany’s Britta Napel (Aquilina 3).
Canadian Lauren Barwick, hotly-tipped to trouble Natasha at the top of the leaderboard, had tension and spooking issues when Off To Paris took exception to the sandbags used to peg down the arena boards in the blustery conditions and finished third.
Natasha said: “This is the most amazing experience of my entire life. The crowd were great and when I put my hand up [at the end of the test] they all went mental – it was amazing. I’m going to be bouncing off the walls now.”
Ever the perfectionist, Natasha added: “The test could have been better, but there were spooky moments and I didn’t actually expect him to be that well behaved.”
The rider has had help from a sports psychologist: “I now go with the Charlotte [Dujardin] take of same s**t, different arena,” she said.
Tomorrow sees the remaining three grades contest the team test before the weekend, where the individual championship tests will decide the first set of individual medals and the team medals.