It went right up to the wire, but Britain’s para dressage team remain World champions after four tough days of competition in Normandy.
Until the last rider left the arena, and it was confirmed Sophie Christiansen had won the gold on Janeiro 6 in the Grade Ia, there were still anxious looks being exchanged. But Sophie managed to beat the two riders who pushed her into bronze earlier this week to ensure Team GBR claimed the gold.
With the freestyle still to come tomorrow (Friday 29 August), the British para dressage squad currently hold two individual golds and two individual silvers, plus team gold.
“I’m over the moon,” said Lee Pearson, who won the grade Ib championship yesterday. “There’s been so much pressure this week, it’s been a real battle. I feel it’s the toughest team gold we’ve ever acquired.”
Sophie Christiansen agreed: “It’s been such a tough championships. I feel we had to really fight for it.”
“I’m massively proud of the team,” said chef d’equipe David Hunter, “We needed a medal to get to Rio and we’ve achieved that in great style.”
Grade IV individual test
It was so close – there was less than half a percentage point between them – but Belgian rider Michelle George on her own FBW Rainman beat Sophie Wells and Valerius (pictured top) to gold. The Dutch combination Frank Hosmar and Alphaville N.O.P were a close third.
A clearly disappointed Sophie scored a fraction less than she had in her team test despite a very expressive test, although her horse was slightly unsettled to start.
“He’s very noise sensitive and reacted to people clapping as we went in,” explained Sophie, “but a year ago he would have freaked. He felt amazing in the test and I couldn’t be more proud of how he went.”
Winner Michelle George was London 2012 champion and Michelle and Sophie often share the podium. “Sophie is always very strong,” said Michelle, “And the horse is new to me so I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s good for our sport that the medals don’t just go to the Brits!”
There was also disappointment for Natasha Baker in the Grade II. Although she rode a superb test and Cabral looked soft and willing, he was spooked three times by noises and flags at the C end of the arena. So despite managing an impressive 71.42%, Natasha was beaten by the championship debutante from the Netherlands Rixt van der Horst, on her new ride Uniek.