All Gold for Sir Lee Pearson as Great Britain Dominate The Equestrian Paralympics
As the summer ends and the Olympics have finished, the Paralympics take over in the same venue in Tokyo. Like the Olympics, all the Paralympics sports were held behind closed doors. Eventing and show jumping do not happen in the Paralympics for obvious reasons, but the dressage competition has grown enormously in popularity for the past few games.
The classes are all divided up from Grade 1 to Grade 5 and which class a competitor is allowed to compete entirely depends on the level of disability they have. The first time each rider comes before the judges in all classes in these games is to decide the individual medals, one set of medals for each classification. The first round also decides which riders are entitled to go for the individual freestyle at the end of the whole competition.
The first class to go were those in Grade 2. There were 12 combinations before the five judges. Great Britain and Japan had two competitors each. The other eight were all from different nations. The jury/judge’s president was Marco Orsini from Germany.
Sir Lee Pearson from Great Britain, one of the last to go in the class won his eleventh Gold medal at the tender age of 47 on a horse he had bred and brought on himself – Breezer. After the class, Sir Lee was very emotional saying that this win was as important to him as any of his previous wins as he had bred the horse himself and that he never quite knew how this quirky horse would react.” It was the first international competition the horse had attended abroad, so who knows what was going to happen!!” Austria’s Puch Pepo, previous holder of the gold medal riding Sailor’s Blue ended with a silver medal with a fellow Brit – Georgina Wilson riding Sukura in Bronze. The top eight in this class qualified to go through for the freestyle.
The next Graded class was Grade 4. This time the judge’s president was Anne Prain from France. There were 15 combinations in this one, all representing a different nation. The winner was from the Netherlands, Sanne Voets riding Demantur. Brazil’s Rodolpho Riskalla took the silver riding Don Henrico and Manon Claeys from Belgium took the bronze riding San Dior 2. Again the top eight qualified for the freestyle later in the week.
The final Grade of the day was Grade 5 and this time Sarah Leitch from Great Britain was the jury president. There were 14 combinations with two from Belgium. One of the Belgians took the gold – Michele George riding Best of 8. The silver was won by Great Britain’s Sophie Wells, along time supporter of these games, she was riding Don Cara M, another horse competing for the first time in an international class. What a way to start. Her original horse went lame just before leaving the UK so she took this one instead. The bronze medal went to Frank Hosmar from the Netherlands who was riding Alphaville.
The first of the Grade on day two was Grade 1 and there were 18 in this class. The jury president was Jeanette Wolfs from the Netherlands. Roxanne Trunnel won the Gold in this with over 80% score, the top score of any paralympian so far. She rode Dolton for the United States. The silver medal was won by Latvian Rihards Snikus riding King of the Dance, again with over 80% and the bronze was won by Sara Morganati riding for Italy on Royal Delight. This was a strong class with the top eight to qualify all doing so with scores of over 70%.
The final section for the Paralympic riders was the Grade 3. The president of the judges changed again and this time it was the turn of Marc Urban from Belgium. There were 18 combinations coming forward, one of whom was the 21 year old world champion at this graded level from Denmark, Tobias Thorning Jorgenson riding Jolene Hill. He didn’t disappoint and took the gold by over 2% with his beautifully turned out grey mare.
Natasha Baker for Great Britain rode a seemless test to take silver riding her new horse Keystone Dawn Chorus, known to have the ‘spooks’ on occasions. The bronze was won by Rixt Van der Horst for the Netherlands riding Findsley. The top three were well ahead of the rest of the field and were worthy winners as a result. However, as with all the other classes so far, the top eight from each class qualified to be entitled to compete in the individual freestyle.
With all the riders ridden over the first couple of days, day three saw the team events. Each team comprised three riders. The riders all rode a sort of freestyle to music at the graded level they competed in during the previous couple of days. So for example, rider A at Grade 3 would ride a grade 3 test to music that they, the rider, has chosen themselves, a sort of freestyle; rider B at grade 5 would ride a grade 5 test, again with music they have chosen themselves as a background etc etc. The three scores from each of the riders were added together after all three had gone to determine the winner.
The riders from Grade 2 were first to go followed by those in Grade 1 and finally for the day, the riders from Grade 3 competed. In the Grade 2, seven of the fifteen starting countries had no riders in the Grade 2 section, so posted no score at the end of the class for their country. Of the eight countries that did, Sir Lee Pearson took Great Britain into the lead with a decent 2% score advantage. Austria was second with Pepo Puch and Katrine Kristenson in third for Denmark.
The second section was for Grade 1 riders, and again the judges played musical chairs with Marco Orsini from Germany in the president’s seat. At the end of this class, there were still three countries that had not put a rider forward. The leader board had changed as Great Britain did not have a combination in this Grade 1 class, and the lead was taken over by Singapore. They had now seen all three of their riders compete in the first two classes and ended with a total score of the three at 200.792. Thus far, they were the only country to complete. Austria were in second place with two riders completed and The Russian Republic were third, again with two completed. The highest individual score was 80.351% which was given to the United States’ Roxanne Trunnel.
The final class of the day was for the riders in Grade 3. It appeared that Marco Orsini decided not to move around for this class, so remained the judge’s president. Just two countries had now completed with Canada being the second, and this put them in the team lead position after the first day of team dressage on a final score of 211.699 points. Singapore were on second with Great Britain, trying to maintain their perfect record in this event as champions in third on 154.254 points, but they still had one more rider to go. The United States, also with one rider still to go was in fourth just 2 points behind Great Britain. All fifteen countries with teams had had two riders go in the first day except four; the Netherlands Germany, Belgium and Australia, who had had only one competitor each for day one.
The second day for the dressage team event was a nail biting affair for many, especially the British team who had won this team competition every Paralympics since 1996, when Paralympic equestrian sport was introduced. The day began with the Grade 5 section in which Great Britain had their last player – Sophie Wells riding Don Cara M. She added over 75% to the team score which put the team in Gold medal position. The United States, one of GB’s nearest rivals, also finished their team games in the grade 5 class, but were unable to overhaul the Brit’s final score, and were standing in silver medal before the last class of the day. Germany, also completed found themselves holding the bronze medal position.
In the final Grade 4 class, seven countries still had a competitor to go including Denmark and the Netherlands, either of which could pip Great Britain for gold and break their total domination of the team event. It ended up as a very close call, as the final rider for the Netherlands, who don’t forget are the current World and European Champions at para dressage, came in for her test. Sanne Voets riding Damantur rode a smooth and very accomplished test getting a score of over 78%. This was really close – had the final rider of the day beaten Great Britain into silver for the first time. No – she hadn’t but with less than 1% between the total scores of the two teams! Great Britain maintained their record of always winning the Gold medal since 1996 for the team event with a final total of 229.905 points with the Netherlands taking Silver with 299.249 points and The United States taking Bronze with a final score of 224.352 points.
The final day of the Paralympic Equestrian Dressage saw the top eight riders who qualified from each of the five grades compete in their own Freestyle, a class where each rider designs both the choreography and the music to go with it. There were eight riders in each section.
The first section was Grade 4 where the Gold medal was comfortably won by the Sanne Veots from the Netherlands with a mark of 82.085% riding Damantur. The silver went to Louise Etzner-Jacobsson from Sweden riding Goldstrike BJ with 75.935% and the bronze was won by Manon Claeys from Belgium riding San Diro 2.
The Grade 5 was the second band of eight riders to be seen, and Belgian rider Michele George riding Best of 8 was the last in and just pipped Frank Hosmar to the Gold Medal. She won with 80.590% leaving the Dutch rider Hosmar riding Alphaville in silver with 80.240. The bronze medal was won by Germany’s Regine Mispelkamp riding Highlander Delights,
Grade 3 came next, again with eight riders. The judges for all the five graded classes remained the same as before, but continued their game of musical chairs which left Jeanette Wolfs from the Netherlands as judge’s president for this one. The penultimate rider from Denmark, Tobias Thorning Jorhensen came in on his beautiful grey horse Jolene Hill. He stole the show with the best score of any dressage rider of the week of 84.347% which took the Gold medal – his second Gold of the games. Natasha Baker was the last to go and had a big hill to climb on her relatively inexperienced horse Keystone Dawn Chorus. She needed to beat Norway’s Anne Catherin Lubbe of 76.447% to stay in medal contention. Natasha got 77.614% which put her in the silver position. The result was Gold for Tobias Throning Jorhensen with the silver to Natasha Baker from Great Britain and the Norwegian taking bronze.
Grade 2 came next. The class lit up when the fifth horse came in, Sir Lee Pearson on Breezer, his home bred gelding. He was going for his fourteenth Gold medal since his first ride in the Paralympics in 2000 at Sydney and his eighth individual gold. Lee and Breezer were in perfect harmony and did a lovely test, although the music choice was interesting shall we say? The pair ripped the score board apart with a score of 82.447% a full 9% ahead of his nearest rival. However, the very next in was defending champion from Rio, Pepo Puch riding Sailors Blue from Austria, and he was not going to let his crown be whipped away from him without a fight. He made a couple of stutters which meant that he ended the day with 81.007% and in silver position. German rider of 66 years young was next, Heidemarie Dresing riding La Boum 20. She was just out of the medals on day one and looked determined to get a medal. A decent test was ridden with a score of 74.867%. With one to go, and realistically, the gold and silver decided, could Georgia Wilson riding Kasura for Great Britain take the bronze from the German rider, as she did in the first test of the games? Yes she could, so in her first Paralympic Games, Georgia took home two medals. Sir Lee Pearson for Great Britain took the Gold with Pepo Puch in Silver for Austria and Georgia Wilson, fellow Brit taking the Bronze.
The final eight of the whole games was the Grade 1 Freestyle test, the last three medals to be sorted out of the 39 medal on offer for the equestrian Paralympic games. It was the last to go, from the United States, Roxanne Trunnel riding Dolton who took the Grade 1 Freestyle individual Gold, and with the highest percentage score of any rider throughout the tournament on 86.927%. The silver went to Rikards Snikius riding King of the Dance for Latvia and the bronze taken by Sara Morganati riding Royal Delight for Italy.
These were momentous games, especially for Great Britain, who downplayed their chances as their horses were generally young and inexperienced at this or any level near it. However, they took home a total of eight medals including three Golds for Sir Lee Pearson. Paris is only three years away, and already the Paralympics to be held there look a mouth-watering prospect.