The golden British trio admitted that never in a “million, trillion, gazillion years” did they expect to be taking home the Tokyo Paralympic dressage team title.
Sir Lee Pearson (Breezer), Natasha Baker (Keystone Dawn Chorus) and Sophie Wells (Don Cara M) faced their strongest opposition yet at a Paralympic Games, securing victory over the Dutch by a 0.656 point margin. The bronze medal-winning US team, tipped as Tokyo team favourites, were less than six percent behind the leaders.
Britain is unbeaten in the Paralympic team competition, with their run of golden success spanning 25 years since the sport was introduced to the programme at Atlanta 1996.
The three British riders on the team all have a wealth of experience behind them, but none of these horses have any championship experience and neither Don Cara M nor Keystone Dawn Chorus had ever left the country before. Sophie was also riding her reserve horse, following the 11th hour withdrawal of C Fatal Attraction before the side left the UK.
She said that while a Tokyo Paralympic dressage team medal was their goal, they had “absolutely no idea” that gold would be within reach.
“We had no idea and no expectation that that’s what we could do, because we genuinely didn’t think that was possible being realistic,” she said.
“We all had horses that have never done it, and we’ve not competed against anybody else [to see how we compare]. The Dutch are so strong and so established and secure on those horses, and we knew America were doing amazingly.”
She added that change of perspective meant that they approached these Games in a different, more relaxed way. On reflection, that different approach was what earned them the gold.
“We just went in and did our jobs, which is what we always do,” said Sophie. “We didn’t go fighting for it this time, because we didn’t think we were then in the mix to fight for it. That shows that actually, maybe that different approach actually is really good. For me on this horse, that’s definitely the approach [that works].
“Like Lee was saying yesterday, you have to ride with such skill and you’re taking every inch of your experience over so many years into that arena.
“I’m just so proud to be on a team with these guys and what everyone’s done has been awesome.”
Natasha added it was “quite nice” to come into the Tokyo Paralympic dressage without the weight of expectation that has followed Britain to its past championships.
“We were hoping to come and maybe challenge for a bronze,” said Natasha, adding they are all “immensely proud” of everything their horses have done and achieved this week.
“Every championship and every Paralympics [in the past], we’ve gone in with that expectation and that pressure on our shoulders. But we were chatting the other day and it’s been so relaxed just being able to come in and enjoy it. It’s just been the most incredible experience. I think that’s why we’ve all cried so much, because we just didn’t expect this in a million years.”
Lee credited the team behind the scenes and the selectors for having faith in the riders they chose for these Games.
“Just to be here, to get here, to compete and then to do as well as we have is a fairytale,” said Lee. “You can, perhaps, think for British riders who have done as well as we have done in previous Paralympic Games that’s not the case, but it really is a fairytale.
“Even on young, inexperienced horses, the selectors had faith in the British riders that they sent out here, because they do believe that as riders we draw on every little bit of experience that we have to get the best score that we can. I’m so grateful to them.”
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