It was another brilliant day for the Great British para-equestrian dressage team, with four medals secured on day eight of the Rio Paralympic Games. Natasha Baker (Grade II) and Sophie Christiansen (Grade Ia) both defended their Paralympic titles from London 2012, whilst a British one-two in the Grade Ia, saw Anne Dunham clinch Silver.
There was more delight to come for British supporters with confirmation that the team (Natasha Baker, Sophie Christiansen, Anne Dunham and Sophie Wells) had retained their Paralympic team title, remaining unbeaten in the event since the sport’s first outing at Atlanta in 1996. With today’s result secured, Great Britain remains undefeated at not only Paralympic level but also World and European.
First up for Great Britain this morning was Natasha Baker who was looking to defend her Paralympic title from four years ago with Cabral, owned by Christian Landolt and her parents Phil and Lorraine Baker. The only horse-rider combination in the para-equestrian dressage team from London, the dynamic duo gave it everything and produced a stunning test to see a score of 73.400% awarded.
With half the field still to ride in the Grade II class it was an anxious wait for the twenty-six year old rider, but as the final scores started to come through the emotion was palpable as the Gold and Paralympic title were once again confirmed for Great Britain. A beaming Natasha commented afterwards; “I’m an emotional wreck. I’m still in complete shock, I’m just so proud, for once I’m absolutely speechless. I can’t believe what’s just happened. London was just so, so special for me, so to retain that title I just can’t believe it.”
With eights awarded by the judges for rider skill, Natasha added; “I’ve had such a good year, a couple of days ago he (Cabral) had a massive spook so I didn’t reach my full potential. I had a little pep talk with him before we went in and said trust me, we can do this, and we did. He’s my best friend, he’s my soul mate and I couldn’t love him more. He is just the best horse in the world. We’ve just got such an amazing team around us, and to have the support of the National Lottery, we’re just in a really good position at the moment.”
With the Gold going to Natasha, it was a double podium placing for The Netherlands, with Demi Vermeulen (Burberry) and Rixt Van Der Horst (Caraat) taking Individual Silver and Bronze respectively.
The afternoon session at Deodoro brought about the final Individual Championship class as the Grade Ia athletes took to the arena. 2012 Paralympic champion, Sophie Christiansen was first out for Great Britain with the nine-year-old Athene Lindebjerg, owned by Di Redfern. Producing an awesome fluid test with the mare, with eights and nines awarded for the pair’s halt, paces and final centre line, Sophie was absolutely delighted as a score of 78.217% was given, shooting her into the lead.
The last rider for the British squad and the penultimate rider for the class, Anne Dunham with The Lady Joseph Trust and Henrietta Cheetham’s striking Lucas Normark, looked confident as they entered the arena. With some lovely work shining through the judges gave a final total of 74.348%, which put Anne just behind Sophie. It was a nervous wait to hear the final confirmed scores, but the British equestrian camp had reason to celebrate as confirmation of a Great Britain one-two was announced, with Sophie taking the Gold and Anne the Silver, as the host’s Sergio Oliva (Coco Chanel) took the Bronze.
“It feels absolutely amazing, we’ve worked for this for eight years me and my family and it’s amazing to be here in Rio,” Anne commented after receiving the news of her Silver medal, “It’s just amazing, it’s been wonderful today. All my previous Games experiences have really contributed so much to me as a person and I’m immensely proud to have seen the sport grow over that time.”
When asked about taking the Silver, Anne said; “It’s a dream come true, I would have liked the Gold and we’ll both be there fighting for it tomorrow and both be riding our socks off for our country.”
Commenting afterwards Sophie said; “It feels quite surreal at the moment. She (Athene) was really with me today, she was so good, she wasn’t scared at all by it. I never underestimated my teammate out there (Anne), I was on tenterhooks until the very end of the test. We’ve all had to fight for it, but I’m really pleased.”
The final day of the Individual Championship competition also brought about the finale of the team event. With some fantastic performances from the quartet over the week, Great Britain retained their Team title, remaining undefeated at Paralympic, World and European championships. Germany finished second, with The Netherlands third; the medal presentation for the team event takes place tomorrow.
All five British athletes will compete again tomorrow as the Individual Freestyle tests get underway, which determines the second set of individual medals. The Freestyle tests see athletes ride to music of their choosing, set to a floorplan of their design.
Full results from today’s tests can be found on the Rio 2016 website
Photos Courtesy of BEF / Jon Stroud Media