Back in business: bronze for Britain in nail-biting conclusion to para Europeans teams

  • The British para team showed last year’s no-medal showing at the World Championships was just a temporary blip, landing the bronze in an exceptionally tight finish to the team competition at the European Para Dressage Championships.

    Following Gabriella Blake and Georgia Wilson’s heroic efforts yesterday in the grades I and II, where they both scored plus-74%, Britain found themselves in the mix for the medals, despite a new-look team.

    The Netherlands, as at the last world championships, won gold, while Germany exceeded expectations to take silver. On predicted scores, it looked to come down to a three-way battle between Denmark, Belgium and Britain for the final medal slot.

    How the final medals standings played out at European Para Dressage Championships

    The grade V riders rode first, and both Brits scored huge personal bests to strengthen the team’s assault on the podium. Charlotte Cundall started well and improved as the test went on, visibly growing in confidence on the 17.2hh FJ Veyron, who was foot-perfect to put 73.37%, a huge personal best for the pair.

    “What a horse, he gave me everything and more in there, I am the luckiest girl in the world to be riding him,” she said. “Today I felt a bit more like I belonged in the arena. For the first championship test you wonder if you should be there, while today I was more confident to go in and leave nothing in there.”

    And so it showed. She nailed the double-mark movements of the rein-back and simple changes on a centre line, which she has been focusing on. And her more extended work in all paces scored high marks, with the last medium canter a bold final flourish.

    “You’re two movements from the end and I just thought, ‘Go for it. Try to get as high a mark as possible’,” she said. “That’s one of his strengths, and I used to be able to gallop when I was eventing so it’s just the same really.”

    ‘When I can let the accelerator off, she’ll be phenomenal’

    Sophie Wells was riding under the customary pressure that goes with being the final rider, and she delivered a beautiful test on her seven-year-old mare LJT Egebjerggards Samoa for 74.08%.

    Their test was outstanding from the outset, but tension crept into the half-passes. Sophie explained that the mare is so genuine she almost tries too hard, and looked for a moment as if she might rocket across the diagonal in the canter half-pass.

    “That half-pass is our bogey move,” said Sophie.

    “That was one of the hardest tests I’ve ever ridden. We had a couple of heart-in-mouth moments, but just for a couple steps and we got it back. She’s on 30% [power] and I’m saying ‘less, less, less, less’. The day when I can put my accelerator on and go, she’s going to be phenomenal.

    “I always feel the pressure of going last on the team – waiting is so hard!” added Sophie, who does breathing exercises to help the mare stay cool before the test. “But Charlotte had done a phenomenal job, so that made my life easier. It took the pressure off, so I could just get my horse round for a good ride. We nailed the bits we need to and there’s lots to improve. She’s only seven!”

    Sophie finished joint third, and Charlotte fifth in the individual standings, with Dutchman Frank Hosmar and Alphaville NOP out in front on 76.44%.

    As the grade Vs completed their team tests before the grade IVs (no British representatives), Britain faced a nervous afternoon while the final Belgian and Danish riders performed. Both Belgium’s Manon Claeys and Denmark’s Renee Igelski would have had to post personal bests to overtake Britain.

    Renee went first, scoring a below-par 70.54% and leaving Denmark – down to three riders after the withdrawal of Nicole Johnsen and Moromax after the individual – down the order.

    Manon produced a lovely test, but she needed 75% to push Belgium ahead of Britain in bronze, and could only manage 73.7%. Italy managed to hold on to fourth, just 0.6% behind Britain, with Belgium fifth and Denmark sixth.

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