Sophie Christiansen: WEG para dressage — this should be a wake-up call *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    I rushed back from work to watch Sophie Wells fight for her individual grade V title online at the World Equestrian Games in Tryon. To be able to watch world-class para dressage live is a dream.

    Across all grades, from a walk-only test to the advanced movements of the grade V, the overall picture needs to be harmonious. A para judge will forgive lack of expression and power if it makes them smile.

    It was easy to forget that Natasha Baker has only had the ride on Diva for 8 months. I’m excited to see what the future holds with the partnership, as test riding and experience will easily tidy up the places where she can gain marks. The spook in the freestyle was really unfortunate and reminds us that we are working with living animals and nothing can be taken for granted.

    I really hope that Natasha has started something new for British para riders by teaming up with Mount St John’s Stud.

    Horsepower has shot up massively and we can no longer afford to buy the calibre of horse required to defend our titles. We need to bring in owners and breeders to the sport, and think about how we fundraise.

    Erin Orford also did amazingly, considering the wrong freestyle music was played. I’m not sure I would have been so cool and collected!

    It takes quite a lot to impress me, but Denmark’s Stinna Tange Kaastrup always does. To do leg-yield with no legs is quite something. Talented and articulate, she is a brilliant ambassador for para dressage. I remember her bursting onto the scene at Kentucky in 2010, where she won silver. She is now world champion.

    Interesting judging

    There were 17 riders in the grade I, which was great, though I predicted the top three beforehand. Italy’s Sara Morganti on the faithful Royal Delight was consistent and correct, meaning the judges couldn’t give her anything below a seven. Laurentia Tan and Elke Philipp’s horses have more impressive walks, but as the movement gets bigger, it is more difficult for us as the most disabled athletes to keep the consistency.

    The judging was interesting in the grade I — the top four competitors were ranked from first to eighth across the five judges.

    The judges need to collectively decide what they are looking for in a walk test, which it appears they did for the rest of the week. But it also begs the question whether we should drop the highest and lowest score when we have five judges.

    This would have meant that the USA’s Roxanne Trunnell, who came fifth, would have won individual bronze to add to her freestyle medal.

    Finding Horsepower

    The Brits did remarkably well to hold on to the silver medal. When Rixt van der Horst and Sanne Voets won the individual titles in grades III and IV, and with Frank Hosmar not far behind Sophie, I did think it was going to be tight.

    The Dutch have been knocking at the door since 2015 and with new combinations on our team this year, it was a tough ask to hold on to our undefeated record.

    But this should be the wake-up call we need to keep on pushing for those marginal gains, and we need the help of the public in finding and financing horsepower for the talent we have in this country. The squad has gone through change recently and it will take time to build up experience.

    With two years until Tokyo we have work to do, but I’m ready for it!

    Ref Horse & Hound; 27 September 2018