Dreams fulfilled as sights set on Paris: Britain’s para riders show their potential at Europeans

  • Britain’s two grade V riders at the European Para Dressage Championships may not quite have brought home medals in the individual contest, but showed plenty of promise ahead of the Paris Olympics.

    Charlotte Cundall, riding in her first para championships, impressed to score 72.31% with FJ Veyron and finished fifth, with Sophie Wells just behind riding her very green seven-year-old LJT Egebjerggards Samoa. Belgium’s Michèle George (Best of 8) won gold on 76.31%, Frank Hosmar and the 18-year-old Alphaville NOP took silver for the Netherlands, with Germany’s Regine Mispelkamp and Highlander Delight’s collected the bronze.

    While the mark was just shy of Charlotte’s personal best with the 13-year-old Vivaldi gelding, she said she “absolutely smashed” her pre-test expectations.

    “I had a little private goal beforehand – we always long for 70%, but as it was a championships I wouldn’t have been disappointed with 69,” she said. “It is a dream to come true just to be in there.

    “I enjoyed the warm-up but I just wanted to get started, and as soon as I came in I felt him lift, and I knew he was ready,” said Charlotte, paying tribute to UK Sport, the Lottery, World Class – and her mother – for their support. “When I was eventing my mum and I used to have a phrase that once you’re in the startbox, you’re on the rollercoaster, and so once I came up the centre line, I settled down and thought ‘off we go’. His extensions are his party piece, so I tried to go for the maximum.

    “And it’s a dream to be here with Sophie Wells. She’s been an inspiration from the moment I started in paras, and we had a dream to get two grade Vs to a championships.”

    Para team vet Rob Oulton also played his part – 14 years ago he inseminated FJ Veyron’s dam, with Charlotte’s ride the resulting offspring.

    Sophie Wells’ newcomer catches the eye at European Para Dressage Championships

    Sophie Wells and Samoa at the European Para Dressage Championships

    Sophie Wells and seven-year-old LJT Egebjerggards Samoa finish sixth in the grade V class for Great Britain

    Charlotte’s mentor Sophie Wells might be used to being among the medals, yet she was ecstatic about LJT Egebjerggards Samoa’s sixth-placed performance. The dainty St Schufro mare is only seven, and Sophie grinned, “I love the bones of her!”

    “Diana” was Sophie’s reserve after her top horse Don Cara M was withdrawn due to injury, and produced a mixed test full of potential. There were threes, and there were eights, but the overall score of 71.85% was good enough for sixth. They started extremely well, but broke in the medium trot early on and took a few movements to get back the marks trending back above 70%.

    “She has such amazing ability, but she can be really hot – and she kept a lid on it,” Sophie said. “She made that mistake but then we got it back. She isn’t world-beating at the moment, but I love riding her and this was just about giving her the most positive experience so she could grow and be happy. It wasn’t her best test at all, but it is a massive step in the right direction – she is the type of horse who can lose the plot and I’ve had to retire her in some tests.

    “There is loads more to come. It’s not all about winning medals, and I had no intention of doing that this year without my top horse. But she is very, very talented and has enough motivation for the entire British team. She’s like, ‘I can’t wait, I’ve got stuff to do, come on, we’re busy!’ She’s never naughty just over-trying.

    “She’ll only be eight next year [for Paris] but I have complete faith in her; she’s already a different horse from last year and will be different again next year. And she will be amazing once she’s 10 and doing grand prix!”

    New mum enjoys her debut

    Ireland’s Sarah Slattery made an encouraging championship debut on Savona, just five months after giving birth to her second baby. They scored 66.39%, which while not enough to trouble the leaders, stamped the quality of this new partnership.

    “We’ve only been together three and a half months,” said Sarah. “We had a mistake in our counter canter, when she did a little flying change, but other than that I was super happy – she held it together and I held it together well.”

    “She’s a proper queen who wants it her way or no way, but she’s also forgiving of my mistakes and will move on.”

    Sarah has limited strength in her left arm due to having cancer as a child, which required her arm to be rebuilt, so she rides effectively one-handed with looped reins.

    European para golds go to Belgium and Netherlands

    Today’s European individual gold medallist in grade V, Michèle George, may already have medals in her cabinet as the reigning world champion, but she said “every championship is different”.

    “I try to get better every time and to have fun, because people often forget, horses should be fun,” she said. “I have a special relationship with my horse, it’s a moment of bonding together. She’s sensitive, very special and a princess – we make a perfect couple!”

    There was a new face at the top of the grade IV competition in the form of Dutch rider Demi Haerkens on EHL Daula NOP, who scored 77.56%.

    Her compatriot Sanne Voets and Demantur RS2 NOP had not been beaten at a championships since 2017, but were slightly below their best to take the silver on 75.92%. Conversely, Demi conjured a personal best from her 15-year-old Gribaldi mare, to take the win.

    “I was looking for the perfect horse for a year and a half,” said Demi. “She is very, very good on the aids and is very sensitive, which is ideal because I am not that strong.”

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