Dutch rider lands first Paralympic dressage freestyle gold, while comeback rider upsets form for silver

  • Dutch rider Sanne Voets landed the first Paralympics dressage freestyle gold today, repeating her win from the individual test in today’s grade IV freestyle by more than 6%.

    Riding the 13-year-old chestnut gelding Demantur in a double bridle, Sanne scored 82.085%, with an artistic mark of 85.12%. Their test was notable for its consistency, even rhythm and steady frame, with good relaxation in the walk and activity in the other paces.

    “I was really, really focused. Normally when I get to the first halt, I try to make eye contact with the judge because he or she is in front of me, but I never did that when I got here – it was just me and my horse, and today it was me and my horse and the music,” said Sanne.

    “It was like I was not completely here or something – like this flow. It was so powerful, but soft and relaxed and it felt really confident. Sometimes when you ride a test, you’re thinking what to do now, maybe inside leg or what’s your angle and it wasn’t like that today. It almost just happened to me. Well, it didn’t just happen, but it really felt like we really found the true harmony, the two of us and nothing else.”

    Sanne was in her car, listening to popular Dutch band Haevn, when she felt compelled to create a freestyle routine around the group’s music. She booked tickets to a gig and approached the group at the end to ask if they would consider a collaboration. The result is a unique freestyle that includes light, dainty piano music and vocals.

    Sanne – who was born with a condition which weakens her legs and affects her other joints, which was exacerbated by a fall in 2001 – was also a Paralympic dressage freestyle gold medallist with Demantur in Rio five years ago. She said her floor plan is 90% the same as it was in Rio, but she acted on feedback from a judge at a national show a couple of months ago to change one canter line.

    Sanne explained: “The judge said, ‘The only thing I think could be better is to ride your counter canter towards the judge, instead of the other way.’ It’s really hard if you already have a floor plan to change it. But I also thought it was a bit silly to do three medium canters, so I decided to take out two of them and make more like a loop thing and I think that that’s pretty much works.”

    Louise Etzner Jakobsson took the silver in this Paralympics dressage class, moving up from fourth in the individual test riding Goldstrike BJ. This was a remarkable comeback for the Swedish rider, who broke her left leg falling off a bicycle two months ago and only started riding again during quarantine in Aachen.

    “Mentally I decided I was going to fix it – there was no other conclusion,” she said. “I counted the days and told my doctor that this [cast] has to be taken off that day so I have to ride.

    “If I decide something. I do it. My intention was to do the best I could after the circumstances this summer. And I know that all the other riders are very good.”

    Louise has also only had her ride Goldstrike BJ for a year and this was only his third international show.

    Of her test today, she said: “At the end I was ahead of music and I didn’t know if I should make a little circle or not. But I had a very nice feeling because the horse was very soft, though he doesn’t like the camera so he looks at them and thinks, ‘Oh that’s dangerous.’ But he was with me all the time.”

    The bronze went to Belgium’s Manon Claeys, repeating her position from the individual on San Dior 2 (75.68%).

    The final rider in this Paralympics dressage class was the individual test silver medallist, Brazil’s Rodolpho Riskalla on Don Henrico. He showed some expressive, flashy work, but his test was marred by tension, particularly when the chestnut leapt away from one corner of the arena as he moved into the right half-pass in canter. He finished fifth.

    Manon had assumed she had dropped to fourth after the early part of Rodolpho’s test and was shocked to find she had retained bronze.

    “I’m a bit speechless and that’s not normally something that ever happens to me,” she said. “I went to the Swedish woman [Louise Etzner Jakobsson] and I said, ‘Sorry I lied to you, it’s silver instead of bronze’ because I told her congratulations you have bronze, because I thought Rodolpho will be second.”

    Manon admitted today was not her best test: “My feeling was not that good, because he was a bit tense because he’s tired – I feel he’s not only physically tired, but also mentally tired, and then he’s getting a bit stressed and a bit tough to ride. I didn’t expect a medal, to be honest, but I’m very happy of course.”

    There are no British riders in the grade IV at the Tokyo Paralympics, but all four Team GB combinations are in action in the other grades of the Paralympics dressage later today.

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