Sophie Christiansen: The championships for experience *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    What a novelty it was to watch the Europeans on FEI TV on my phone when I should be at work — now I know how my supporters feel! Being able to watch para dressage on live stream is a great step forward for our sport.

    This was the “championships for experience” and I am so impressed with how well the girls performed. I was chuffed for the two grade III girls — Britain’s Suzanna Hext and Erin Orford. I could sit here and fill you in on their back stories of grit and determination, but what you really need to know is what talented riders they are. How do you even do a half pirouette if you don’t have any legs, like Erin?

    Suzanna always presents a harmonious picture — there is no fuss, her ride Abira just flows. After Suzanna’s rollercoaster of a journey, I’m sure that it will take while for it to sink in that she has become a triple European champion. Erin’s individual bronze was a tale of perseverance, heartbreakingly missing out on the medals in the freestyle.

    I always have admired the work ethic of Sophie Wells — to train Pinocchio, Valerius and C Fatal Attraction (Jorge) to consistently be in the medals at grade V is more than impressive. It is equally admirable that she is giving back to the sport by training and mentoring up-and-coming para riders, such as Natasha Adkinson and Izzy Palmer, who were both very much in the mix for selection.

    As the competition went on, Jorge grew in confidence. It is always tight at the top in the grade Vs, but Frank Hosmar just pipped Sophie to individual gold. But, Jorge showed off what he could do to Sophie’s emotive music (I cried!) and Sophie was crowned queen of the freestyle.

    Julie Payne’s ride Athene Lindebjerg, the supermodel of grade I horses, slinks around the arena like a panther. The competition was a nail-biter to watch. The Danish threw down the gauntlet with a stunning ride from Stinna Tange Kaastrup on Smarties.

    As Athene’s former rider I secretly knew that she could do it, but what a performance from Julie.Although confident on the outside, I know how hard Julie had to work to keep Athene together both physically and mentally. For a grade I rider to have the core stability and strength to sit on that enormous walk and keep her balanced is impressive. The Gribaldi mare has now won a total of nine championship gold medals over her three-year para career.

    Continuing to grow

    The fact that our so-called ‘B team’ can still win team gold is an absolute testament to the depth of talent and support that we have for the sport in Britain.

    However, even though we always appear to deliver, we still need your help to stay on top. The sport has developed exponentially since I started 15 years ago. The horse power and professionalism has rocketed, but certain aspects still lag behind. We need more owners and sponsors to bring us in line with able-bodied equestrianism.

    A good example of disparity is that while the triple gold para medallists in Gothenburg will have won €4,100 (£3,790), the able-bodied equivalent wins €90,750 (£83,900). But you don’t need lots of money to help us. The more spectators at events and the more demand there is for para dressage, the more companies and the media will be willing to get involved. Follow the riders on social media, share and retweet — that’s how you can help.

    One thing is for sure: Natasha Baker, Lee Pearson and I better be ready for a battle to get back on the team next year.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 31 August 2017