|The gold medal winning British Para dressage team: L to R Jo Pitt, Lee Pearson, Sophie Christiansen and Anne Dunham. (Kit Houghton/FEI)|
The British were in stunning form in the Para Dressage Championship at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Kentucky, USA, when winning the team title, taking a clean sweep of the medals in the Grade 1a Individual, and gold and silver in Grade 1b. It was The Netherlands Petra Van de Sande who put a stop to their gallop when winning Grade 2 ahead of Germany's Britta Napel, while Denmark's Caroline Cecilie Nielsen took bronze.
Britain's Para Dressage record is outstanding - they have never been beaten in the battle for the World title since taking team gold on their home turf in Hartpury in 1991. But their shining star, the formidable Lee Pearson who predictably also took the Grade 1b gold in convincing fashion today, said tonight that the standard of the sport is improving rapidly and that he and his team-mates no longer have the advantage they have grown accustomed to - the margins are getting tighter all the time.
CLINCHED TEAM BRONZE
Germany took team silver and it was 16 year old Stinna Tange Kaastrup who clinched team bronze for Denmark. Kaastrup was under huge pressure going into the ring to do her Grade 1b test, but her mark of 70.174 with her 14 year old bay gelding Labbenhus Snoevs was greeted with roars of approval from the spectators in the Covered Arena because they knew they had seen something extraordinary. "I have no legs, but on a horse I feel equal to all the other riders and it's the coolest feeling in the world!" she said.
Pearson's score of 76.435 in the Grade 1b test never looked like being overturned - his nine year old gelding Gentleman putting him in first place with all five members of the Ground Jury. But his fellow-countryman, Ricky Balshaw, also produced great work from his handsome bright-chestnut gelding Academy Award to slot into silver medal position with a mark of 72.870. Kaastrup's lovely test racked up a mark of 70.174 and that saw her sharing individual bronze with Norway's Jens Lasse Dokkan and Lacour and securing that team bronze in style.
Grade 1a was a runaway success for the British contingent as Sophie Christiansen (Rivaldo of Berkeley) took gold, Anne Dunham (Teddy) took silver and Emma Sheardown (Purdy's Dream) slotted into bronze medal position. Christiansen's great score of 76.100 saw her burst into tears. "It's amazing. I'm so happy with my horse because he just took care of me. That score is the highest I've ever gotten in the individual test and now I can't wait for my Freestyle!" she said.
In Grade 2, The Netherlands Petra Van de Sande pipped Germany's Britta Napel while Caroline Cecilie Nielsen took bronze. Van de Sande was delighted with her horse who she said has been "very good all week - light and wanting to go". She was thrilled about winning gold - "it's very special, you dream about it" but she gave a lot of the credit to her grey mare. "I call her the Gift from God" she said, "she's so special!".
All of the athletes were in agreement about one thing - the integration of Para Dressage into the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ is an important, historic and special moment for this sport. And Lee Pearson was at pains to point out that one of the highlights of the athletes' experience has been the support and enthusiasm of the Kentucky volunteers. "They have been phenomenal - they've gone beyond their duties to help me personally and all the riders and on behalf of everyone I want to say a big 'thank you' to them" he said.
Para Dressage resumes tomorrow morning with the first of the Individual Freestyle tests.