‘What a horse – what a legacy’: farewell to one of Britain’s best 

  • Tributes and a final farewell have been paid to a horse who won triple Paralympic and European and double World Championship gold for Great Britain.

    Sophie Christiansen’s London 2012 superstar Janeiro 6 (Rio) has been put down aged 23. The combination finished in the top three in every international competition they contested, taking the freestyle in London with 84.75%, their personal best.

    Rio was bought from Ferdi Eilberg, who had won the advanced medium national championship on him.

    Sophie’s coach Clive Milkins said he “snuck off to ride him without anyone knowing”.

    “The first time I sat on him, I knew he would win golds in London,” he said.

    Rio went to Sophie in May 2011.

    “The rest is history,” Clive said. “The 30 international classes. Triple Paralympic, European and double gold at [the 2014 World Equestrian Games], only beaten because he was tired after a very late night session in the doping box the night before. The highest score at a Paralympics. Sophie’s personal best, and a record not yet beaten.”

    After his retirement in 2017, Rio became a schoolmaster for young para riders, cared for by Jo Alderton-Whitwoth and Jane Alderton, competing at the Riding for the Disabled Association national championships, and winning there in 2018.

    “He was treated like a king by Jo – he had his harem of donkeys, pigs and even on his last day, he was rearing and yelling when his girlfriend was taken out of sight,” Clive said.

    “He was a tough old goat with a sense of humour. Virtually impossible to hack out without coming home alone, he allowed you to ride him and if you picked up a whip he would remind you that he knew his job.

    “He adored Sophie and loved dancing with her. In the stables, he was my buddy.”

    Sophie told H&H she was delighted her partner had gone on to give young people the experience of riding a Paralympic champion – one who had originally been her back-up horse for London.

    “When my top horse had to be put down, he had to step up,” she said. “He took it all on board really well.

    “He taught me about trusting. I had to be in the right mindset to ride him but once I’d learned that, and to relax, our scores were phenomenal.”

    Sophie said London 2012 was an “unbelievable” experience, and she trusted Rio implicitly.

    “He was my favourite of the horses I’ve ridden, because of his personality,” she said. “I prefer them to have a bit of something and he was cheeky. My balance isn’t the best but he knew that, and he looked after me.”

    Sophie said Rio loved cuddles – even from her non-horsey boyfriend – and described him as “my best friend”.

    “Gone, but never forgotten,” she said. “He’s up there with Britain’s greatest horses. Not many horses have done what he did.”

    Clive said he always had faith in Rio, and confidence he would do the job.

    “In the arena, he knew he had to walk – and what a walk,” he said. “Big, powerful and like a panther; if you rode him on the buckle end, you would feel seasick with the trunk rotation. His temperament made him a great team horse, with a guaranteed high score as well as that extra something that made him a top individual.

    “Who will ever forget Sophie’s freestyle in London? It was more like the last night of the proms, with Land of Hope and Glory, the Shakespeare quotes and the Union Flags; a totally unique British way of winning a dressage gold medal.

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    “So many people contributed to Rio and Sophie’s success. From Jane [Goldsmith] for finding him, to Michel Assouline for keeping us all trained up for peak performance on any given day, to the whole of Team GBR for their constant health and welfare support, and to both South Bucks RDA and Ride to Achieve, who kept him in the best of health the whole time I cared for him.

    “Many will say he was just a horse, but for me he was such an important part of  Sophie’s dream team, he was my confidante, my team manager, and at many times my best friend as we shared so many journeys, and times together.

    “If he was just a horse, what a horse – what a legacy.”

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