Team GBR Para Dressage Squad off to a great start at FEI European Dressage Championships, Gothenburg

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The para competition got underway with a flourish and gave the team a welcome boost with two medals from the grade III category. Erin Orford and Annabell Whittet’s Dimaggio sired Dior III didn’t show any sign that their late call up and Championship debut marred their performance with a relaxed, accurate test to post 70.382%. 

Afterwards, Erin commented; “She felt nervous in the warm up but as soon as I picked up my reins she was keen to go and I knew everything would be fine. In the arena, she held her breath a little bit but she stayed with me.
She felt really great; it’s a good atmosphere in there. We just went in there to do our job. I’m pleased she put in a solid test and solid score; it’s a pretty competitive class so we’ll have to see what happens.”

It was then the turn of Suzanna Hext, also on debut however it was her partner Abira’s fifth European Championship having been competed by co-owner Charlie Hutton previously. Abira was certainly enjoying his para Championship and looked active and bouncy. His enthusiasm slightly marred the three loop serpentine with walk transitions as he jogged which, with double marks available, was costly. But 71.388% was the final score…and the win. So it was a gold for Suzanna on her first mission for Team GBR, five years since a riding accident changed her life and three years on from getting back in the saddle.

A delighted Suzanna said; “It was a shock to see my name at the top of the leader board when I came out; all very surreal! The good bits were very good but I was just a bit disappointed with the jog in the serpentines which are double marks so very expensive. 

"It surprised me just how fresh he was today and I had to change my riding style. I can use my voice so I talked to him. The test[individual] is good as there’s lots in it to keep him busy but hopefully he’ll be more settled tomorrow.”

It's clear that Suzanna feels that Abira is a very special horse and is so grateful for having the chance to partner him. “I owe a lot to Pammy and Charlie Hutton for letting me ride him; he’s the horse of a life time and we have such a special bond. I just can’t believe I’ve won gold; I just keep thinking ‘that can’t be right, how did that just happen’!”

After the lunch break, the atmosphere intensified as the Grade V individual test got under way. This group features one of the sport’s great tussles between Frank Hosmar for the Netherlands, Belgium’s Michele George and our own Sophie Wells. Frank was the first of the rivals to go and laid the gauntlet of 72.428% firmly down. 

Then it was Sophie’s turn and Charlotte Hogg’s C Fatal Attraction was looking a picture in the warm up but on entering the arena, the petite gelding grew a few hands at the sight of the judges huts, busy Gothenburg streets with buses going by and a large interested crowd of passers-by. ‘Jorge’ is low on Championship experience but as it’s Sophie’s 11th straight British team appearance, she isn’t and every inch of that expertise was used to coax 71.758% from her stage struck partner. There weren’t any glaring errors, just unwanted tension which meant that Sophie couldn’t show him off to his full potential. That left her just behind Frank for a silver medal.

On to Michele’s turn but she was debuting her new ride, Fusion OLD so she took it easy to score 67.595% but this horse will soon have her snapping at Sophie and Frank’s heals once again.

“I felt like I was sat on an unexploded rocket to be honest but he stayed with me,” explained Sophie. “The tension could have been worse and it’s just down to his inexperience but we got through it the best we could. He’s got to come out and do these things. Hopefully tomorrow he’ll be a bit more settled now he knows what to expect when he goes in.

"I had to 'deal' with him the whole time so wasn’t able to show him off which you want to do at a Championship. He’s a real horse for the future and is just beginning to come into his own now and getting stronger.”

Our final combination of the day was in the intensely competitive Grade I group in first timer Julie Payne and Di Redfern’s Athene Lindejberg. Julie came to support Sophie before getting on and the adrenaline was flowing even then and she couldn’t wait to get on, certainly no Championship nerves. The test was poetry in motion; accurate, relaxed and purposeful which the judges rewarded with 77.642%, a new personal best for the duo. A short wait with a few finger nails chewed followed but they retained their lead and it was a second gold of the day for the British riders. 

With a beaming smile, Julie said; “That’s just one of the best feelings I’ve ever had! It was the best test I’ve done with her, she was so into my hand. Everything I asked, she answered and I couldn’t have asked for any more from her. That’s the best adrenaline rush I’ve ever had in all my riding career. I could feel my body start to shake but I just thought ‘no, I’m not going to let you’!”

She continued; “When I was a very little, I said to my parents ‘one day, I will be up there’. I’ve been so close but now it’s a dream come true. 

“I’ve not been feeling very well since I arrived but this morning, I felt good. I thought ‘at least my body chose the right day’!”

So day one and it’s four medals to the tally; two gold, one silver and one bronze – a great day in the arena for our para foursome. On to the team test tomorrow where the team medals are up for grabs and under the new format, it’s just the single test to count towards the result. If the riders can keep today’s momentum, tomorrow will be a good day too.

Article Source: British Dressage News

Image of Suzanna Hext and Abra courtesy A  Country Lady


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