Ricky Balshaw, a Paralympic silver medallist and world and European medallist, shares his thoughts on Paralympics glory for both Britain and the whole sport
WHAT an amazing team result we had in Tokyo – gold was far beyond the expectations for our team on three horses all at their first championship. My prediction before the Games was that the USA would get the gold, the Netherlands would take the silver and Britain would be arguing for bronze. I can’t say how happy I am to have been wrong.
You’ve got to hand it to Lee Pearson – getting three gold medals is absolutely top-class. He rode out of his skin and did exactly what he had to do, when he had to do it. After being unable to finish his test at his last selection trial when Breezer became upset at Hartpury, what Lee did in Tokyo was mentally very impressive too.
Natasha Baker was brilliant; she was always going to be up against it with Denmark’s Tobias Thorning Jørgensen in her class, but to achieve over 77% in the freestyle is amazing.
My prediction for Sophie Wells, had she been on her top horse C Fatal Attraction, was that she had a very good chance of winning individual gold medals. With the inexperienced Don Cara M, a fairly new ride for her, winning silver was beyond expectations for her. The horse isn’t easy and had a few tense moments – but what a horsewoman she is to achieve what she did.
For me the absolute star of the British squad was Georgia Wilson. Her horse Sakura is only seven and Georgia was at her first Paralympics, so to come away with two individual medals is astounding. I don’t know Georgia as well as I know the other three riders, but I’m so proud and pleased for her.
It might have been easy for her to be overwhelmed by the situation, but I’m sure the experience and expertise Sophie, her trainer, passed on to her was invaluable. I can’t think of a better mentor than Sophie, for both the performance side and the mental side. And for Sophie to do both jobs, as a rider and trainer at the Games, is incredible.
One of the biggest heartbreaks of the Games was when Irish grade I rider Michael Murphy lost his rein in the individual test. His horse, Cleverboy, can walk for an 11 and Michael was my wild card to take an individual medal. It meant he didn’t qualify for the freestyle, but he clawed it back in the team test for over 75%, and that shows a lot of mental strength.
I also felt for Dutch grade IV rider Sanne Voets, who was denied the “triple triple” of gold medals by the Brits. On a personal level, I am heartbroken for her as Sanne is lovely, but her journey won’t end here.
All the horses at the Games looked fantastic, and the support staff who went out with the riders did a great job. Yes, it’s the horse and rider in the arena, but without every single person behind them, from grooms to psychologists and everyone in between, they wouldn’t be able to do the job.
With all the recent negativity surrounding the equestrian element of the modern pentathlon at the Olympics, I thought it was especially amazing to see all the horses being so well treated. All the riders put their horses first: the Netherlands’ Rixt van der Horst pulled out of the freestyle as her horse Findsley didn’t feel quite right; Sophie Christiansen opted not to take her selected horse to Tokyo because of a minor injury; and Lee had pulled out of the final selection trial mid-test to protect his horse’s mental welfare.
Those who treat horses negatively are a tiny minority and there is no place for it in our sport. Horses are the most important thing and their welfare is paramount.
Channel 4’s excellent coverage of the Games was great for our sport. It was amazing to see dressage getting live coverage, and being represented on both the daytime shows and on The Last Leg in the evening. It’s refreshing that our horses, riders and teams are getting the support they deserve.
The more exposure para dressage can get the better, for disability sport and for equestrianism as a whole.
- This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 2 September
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