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Britain triumphs in Paralympic dressage

Britain takes the top spot at the first Open European Championships with a medal haul of five golds and four silvers

Britain’s Paralympic dressage squad scaled new heights to add the open European Championship in Anadia, Portugal to its haul of international and Olympic medals.

With an improving German team snapping at their heels, the British team were given little breathing space but brought home four individual golds and four individual silver medals plus the overall championship gold.

By the close of the individual championship tests on day one, the team of Lee Pearson (Blue Circle Boy), Anne Dunham (Hotstuff), Debbie Criddle (Figaro) and Nicola Tustain (Hotstuff), with individuals Kay Gebbie (Irving) and Wayne Lightbown (Ojay), appeared to have an almost unassailable 13% lead.

Two good section wins with gold medals for Lee Pearson (grade I) on 75.61% and Debbie Criddle (grade III) on 72% were backed up by strong silver medal performances from Nicola Tustain (grade II) and Anne Dunham (grade I), who had borrowed Hotstuff from Nicola after injury to her regular ride, Hilary Hughes’s Rony.

Wayne and Kay are both on a learning curve with relatively new but promising horses. Wayne with his own Ojay, Adam Kemp’s former medium horse, and Kay with Daniel Shorthouse’s Irving, faced stiff opposition in a competitive grade IV section, which is currently dominated by riders from Denmark and Germany.

Former event rider Wayne, who trains with John Lassetter, scored 58.17% after an uncharacteristic error and Kay a solid 62.90% on the first day. Both notched up improved performances on day two’s dressage to music contest, Wayne riding to a characterful Western theme that really suited this big horse.

Buoyed up but aware of the strength of German horsepower, the pressure grew on day two during a nail-biting freestyle dressage to music contest. Pathfinder, Nicola Tustain, who trains with Pammy Hutton, collect her second silver medal behind Germany’s Hannelore Brenner, who made a giant step forward for her team, scoring 81.48%.

Next up, Debbie Criddle, finding a growing harmony with Nina Venables’s medium horse Figaro, produced an impeccable test to keep Britain just ahead. The test showed balance and lightness with some high quality canter work.

In a combined grade I A and B section, competition was almost as intense between Anne Dunham and Lee Pearson as their international rivals.

Anne threw down the gauntlet, producing a lovely, expressive walk test and a personal best of 80.83%.

This flamboyant duo of Lee and Blue Circle Boy, known as “Gus”, lived up to expectations, despite Gus managing to unseat Lee prior to entering the arena. Fortunately, the bell had not rung and the incident only increased Lee’s determination. The result was yet another personal best with a stunning 82.81% – the performance of the competition.

The win for Britain in the overall team competition with 693.39 points, ahead of Germany (669.30) and Denmark (630.96), was a fitting farewell to chef d’equipe Ann Cutcliffe, who retires at the end of this season after several years in the role. She hands over to David Hunter, current clerk of the course at Fakenham, who takes up the reins in October.

Read the full report in this week’s Horse & Hound (26 September), or click here to subscribe and enjoy Horse & Hound delivered to your door every week.

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