8 heartwarming moments from the Rio Paralympics

  • 1. Pepo Puch

    Pepo and family

    As soon as Pepo Puch’s individual gold medal winning score been announced, cries of “Papa, Papa” could be heard in the mixed zone. Pepo’s nine-year-old daughter Lou came running towards her father, weaving through the pack of journalists and trailing an Austrian flag, before throwing herself into his arms. She was closely followed by Pepo’s wife and trainer, Michele, and seeing the family embrace and celebrate together was one of the most touching moments of the Games.

    2. Lee Pearson

    Lee Pearson GBR Gold Medalist Photo Liz Gregg/FEI

    Lee Pearson may have already had 10 gold medals to his name, but it was winning his 11th, in the grade Ib freestyle, that the tears came in their floods.

    “I’m thinking of all the hard work this gold has taken, especially when some people don’t believe in your horse,” said Lee, who is the most decorated Paralympic rider of all time.

    “I’m in love with my team. I’m in love with the lottery. I’m in love with my family, my parents, my brothers, my groom, my partner — everybody that has kept me in the game, kept me here.”

    3. Sanne Voets

    Sanne Voets NL and "Demantur" Gold Medalists Grade III Photo Liz Gregg

    The Dutch team may have won the bronze medal, but on the Thursday night Sanne Voets was empty-handed as she had been competing as an individual and not on the team. After finishing an agonising fourth in the grade III individual, she and her Vivaldi gelding Demantur gave the freestyle their all and were rewarded with gold.

    “I think I collapsed when I heard I had won the gold!” said Sanne.

    4. Stinna Kaastrup


    One of the most moving stories of the Games was that of Denmark’s Stinna Kaastrup. The 22-year-old, who was born without legs, was due to compete at the London Paralympics when her pony Labbenhus Snoevs died suddenly just weeks beforehand. In the interim years she has struggled to find the right horse until Smarties was offered to her, but it took the gelding months to understand her aids and earlier this year she said it would not be possible to be ready for Rio. Then, Stinna experienced “the worst night of my life” after Smarties failed the trot-up. Having made it to Rio against the odds, finally passed the trot-up on reinspection, and produced the grade Ib performances of her life to secure two bronze medals, there is no one who deserved a place on the podium more.

    5. Medals


    Discovering that the Rio 2016 Paralympic medals make different noises, as a much-appreciated gesture to blind athletes, came as a surprise to winners. Each colour medal contains a different number of tiny balls, so the bronze makes a deep rattle, the silver a higher-pitched noise, and the gold the highest of all.

    6. Natasha Baker

    Natasha Baker GBR Gold Medalist Grade II Photo Liz Gregg

    Britain’s Natasha Baker began crying at the salute in her gold medal-winning individual test, and never stopped. This was her London partner Cabral’s final championship and the 15-year-old had proved tricky in the first class of the week, after suffering stage fright in the huge Olympic stadium. But he was a different horse in the second test, and Natasha couldn’t thank her horse enough, “for allowing me to show the world what he can do”.

    7. Sergio Oliva

    Bronze Medalist Sergio Oliva celebrates with his supporters. Photo Liz Gregg

    Brazil haven’t won a Paralympic dressage medal since Beijing 2008, but Sergio Oliva delivered what the hoards of fans were hoping for here. The grade Ia rider almost disappeared under a crowd of Brazilian friends, family, media and other supporters after receiving the first of his two gold medals, for the individual championship, and the noisy celebrations continued into the evening.

    8. Sophie Wells

    Sophie Wells GBR and Valerius Photo Liz Gregg

    For four years, Sophie Wells has been haunted by the memory of losing out on the grade IV individual gold medal in London. Here she achieved her dream with her own Valerius, a 14-year-old gelding she has trained herself for a decade. Seeing her wipe away the tears on the top of the podium, gazing down at the horse with whom she has shared such a journey, was enough to make everybody glad they were wearing sunglasses.

    To read the full report from the Rio Paralympic dressage competition, don’t miss the next issue of Horse & Hound magazine, out tomorrow (22 September)

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