After the emotional rollercoaster of yesterday’s team competition, the British riders had to resume normal service and focus on one final effort in search of further medals to top off a great performance at the Longines FEI Para European Championships in Gothenberg, Sweden.
First in the arena for the British was Grade III rider Suzanna Hext who was looking to complete a matching trio of gold medals. Two tough competition days had left the rider from Cornwall exhausted but she was more than up to the task at hand, as was her partner, Abira, owned by Charlie and Pammy Hutton.
Abira belied his 17 years as he skipped round the arena, really rising to the occasion and clearly enjoying the music. It was a gamble for Suzanna as she’d not actually ridden competitively to her new Julie Geraghty designed music but, full of the confidence that two gold medals brings, she rode beautifully.
The rider before, Steffen Zeibig for Germany had set the benchmark of 76.173% and it was going to be a close call. 76.406% flashed up on the board and the lead was Suzanna’s.
Our second rider was Erin Orford with Annabell Whittet’s Dior III who really wanted to crown her debut championship with a medal. ‘Pimms’ looked fresh and Erin rode a clever floor plan which she unveiled at Deauville CPEDI early this year set to music from the movie The Holiday by Owen Gurry. The piano music was perfect for the Dimaggio-sired mare and the duo were clearly enjoying their round, just one small jog in the walk marring a great performance which the judges awarded 73.606% for and into third.
The final rider, 17 year old Tobias Thorning Joergensen from Denmark was all that stood between two medals for our riders. His Blue Hors Hertug sired Bruunholms Caribian has turned a few heads this week as has the stylish rider. When he hit is final halt, the Danish supporters let out a huge whoop of joy, it was a fantastic performance but what would the judges think? 76.126% it was – Suzanna had her clean sweep but Erin narrowly missed out.
Suzanna commented; “My body let me down a bit today but thankfully Abira didn’t! He’s a special horse and we have a special bond. I’ve never ridden to that music in competition before so I’m pleased it all worked. To get three gold medals is just insane, I’m a bit overwhelmed with it all! It’s been such a long journey to get to this point and so many people have been a part of it.”
“Me being here is solely down to Pammy and Charlie [Hutton] and the team at Talland,” she continued. “Without their support, I’d never have achieved any of this. Horses made me believe in myself again and gave me my life back. I shouldn’t have half the strength I do but riding helps with my core so I’ve got more of my life back.”
A disappointed Erin said; “She was quite hot today! I got a little behind in the first part of my trot and over corrected so caught up too much. I’d have loved a medal today but the standard is just so high. It’s been amazing here, such a good atmosphere and to think I wasn’t even meant to compete – I really hope they’ll let me back!”
On to the Grade I and another chance for Julie Payne and Di Redfern’s Anthene Lindejberg to shine and emulate team mates Suzanna and Abira. Everyone had their hearts in their mouths as Athene tripped just as they started their compulsory serpentine movement and the Gribaldi mare went to take a canter stride but in a split second, Julie gave her a reassuring pat and they were quickly back into their marching stride.
Another masterpiece by Julie Geraghty was perfectly matched to the long strides of Athene and, if it were possible, the walk just got better and better as the test progressed. The final centre line was a picture as Julie hit her final halt perfectly in line with a final tinkle on a piano key. It was good, but how good? 80.393% good! A great score, boosting their personal best by some five percent, and enough to take gold for the Oxfordshire rider to complete a fairy tale Championship debut.
“I felt to start she wasn’t as active in tempo as I’d have liked and it wasn’t quite to the beat but then she tripped! I gave her a pat and felt her instantly relax and it was just what we needed really as she was much better and I began to enjoy it,” explained Julie.
“I love the ending to our routine and today I hit it just perfect. Our floorplan is simple as Athene doesn’t need anything fancy so we focus on the compulsory movements, do them well and show her off as she’s a horse with such quality.”
At the end of three emotionally intense and high-energy days, how did Julie feel about her first Championship experience?
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how my body has coped and we’ve managed everything; we couldn’t have planned it better! I really can’t believe how well it’s gone and I’ve enjoyed every minute, it’s been great fun!” she exclaimed.
On to the final Grade of the Championship and one of the sport’s great rivalries and today it was another great chapter in the history books. The Netherlands’ Frank Hosmar was the first to set the bench mark for his rivals to beat with Alphaville NOP. Riding to a new floorplan, the experienced pair threw down a strong mark of 76.955% for the rest to chase.
Up stepped Sophie Wells with Charlotte Hogg’s C Fatal Attraction, buoyed by a more relaxed, consistent performance yesterday to help Britain to team gold. ‘Jorge’ didn’t give Sophie the easiest of warm ups but a relaxing walk round before Jeanette Wolfs, the judge at C, rang the bell to start and he was back to his happy self. The petite rider guided her bouncing ball with dramatic elegance to match their Tom Hunt music score. The canter section is a highlight and it was breath taking, the only mistake coming when Jorge threw in a change to make it a two time rather than the required threes.
It was time for the agonising wait once again for the judges to punch their final numbers to bring 78.35% up on the board, it was enough to take the lead. All five judges awarded the duo 80%+ for their artistic mark such was the power of the performance.
The final puzzle in the piece came in the form of Belgium’s Michelle George and her new star, the seven year old Fusion OLD. She wisely stuck with a straight forward floorplan which the judges enjoyed for a provisional mark of 71% to bring the class to a close. No final mark was announced and Michelle’s ranking dropped from the board as news filtered through that the stewards found blood in the horse’s mouth in their final inspection. Not a happy end to their Championships.
So it was a well-earned gold for the rider from Nottinghamshire which boosted Britain’s para medal tally to an impressive eight; six gold, one silver and one bronze.
Afterwards, Sophie said; “He was quite tricky in the warm up today, he sometimes goes ‘into himself’ and holds back. You can’t force him or be hard on him so I decided to just give him a stretch and thought ‘I’ll just get what I get in there’! By the time he’d walked around the arena and I picked him up, he felt like he did yesterday so I felt better. With him, you just ride the moment and today we pulled it out of the bag when it really mattered. He’s such an exciting horse to ride and I’m really proud of him.”
And so the curtain comes down on a hugely successful Longines FEI Para European Championships. Gothenberg has been an amazing host and to be in the city centre has showcased para dressage to a number of new people and put it on a grand stage. Sweden, thanks for your kind hospitality and we hope to come back.
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Article Source: British Dressage News
Image courtesy BD Image Archive
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