British London 2012 superstar retires

  • Sophie Christiansen’s multiple medal-winning ride Janeiro 6 has retired aged 20.

    The combination finished in the top three in every international competition they contested.

    Among their many achievements was their London 2012 freestyle win, the pair clinching gold with a huge 84.75%.

    The horse was previously partnered by Michael Eilberg, who won the advanced medium national title with him in 2008, and came to Sophie in May 2011.

    Sophie told H&H Ferdi Eilberg called her coach, Clive Milkins, to say they he had “this really great horse with a great walk”.

    “At the time I was aiming him as my reserve horse for London as I had another horse at the time, Robin, who was phenomenal,” said Sophie.

    Sadly, Robin developed head-shaking issues.

    “All of a sudden, Rio became my main aim for London,” she said.

    Sophie added that the horse is very sensitive and quick to pick up on how a rider is feeling, which hugely affected his walk.

    “When he is nice and relaxed and forward thinking, he has that lovely, panther-like movement he showed at London 2012,” said Sophie.

    “When the rider is a bit uptight, he tends to shorten his stride — I had to really work on how I was feeling mentally to get the best out of him.

    “He really taught me how to be in the best place mentally for a competition.”

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    She added that 2012 was a tough year as she had not planned to have Rio as her main horse and desperately wanted to be on the team, but their early scores together were not what she would have liked.

    “That was when I met my mentor, Leon Taylor, who used to be an Olympic diver,” she said.

    “He really helped me get rid of those demons in my head and brought it back to being about having fun.

    You forget why you start sport sometimes, which is to have fun. It’s easy to get caught up in ‘I have to win gold medals and make teams’.

    “Leon really helped me with that — as soon as I started relaxing and smiling, Rio came into a different league and my results rocketed.

    “I still get chills thinking about London. It was a massive atmosphere and one I’m not sure para dressage will have again any time soon.”

    Sophie and Rio also won individual and team gold at the 2012 Paralympics, before repeating their treble gold success at the 2013 European Championships.

    They also won team and individual gold and freestyle silver at the 2014 para dressage World Championships.

    Sophie added Rio’s personality is her favourite thing about him.

    “He loves people and will always come and say ‘hi’ when you walk into the stables,” she said.

    “He still needs a bit of riding as he has been in work all his life — I didn’t want him just to stop.

    “He has gone to live with Janet Alderton, who specialises in rehabilitation — she knows not to overdo it with him, while still giving him the right amount of exercise.

    “He has been making friends with the pigs and donkeys who also live there!”

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