Herning – Denmark, August 25, 2013: Great Britain were in winning mode on day four of the JYSK FEI European Para-Dressage Championships in Herning (DEN) today (24 August), winning three of the four gold medals that were up for grabs in the individual and team competition.
Following impressive British performances in both the team and individual competitions, the reigning World, Paralympic and European Champions defended their title successfully with an unbeatable score of 453.585. World, Paralympic and 2011 European runners-up Germany were again in second place with 429.066, and a jubilant host team Denmark took bronze with 422.031, just 0.328 ahead of fourth-placed Italy.
The individual Grades Ia, II and III competitions were also decided today, and contributed to those team scores.
The individual Grade III title was successfully defended by Germany’s World and London 2012 double gold medallist Hannelore Brenner, scoring 72.610% with Women of the World. Silver went to The Netherland’s Sanne Voets on Vedet PB with 71.927%, while France picked up its first medal of the competition with José Letartre taking the bronze on Warina, with a mark of 69.683%.
In the Grade Ia, Great Britain’s Sophie Christiansen maintained her unbeatable form on Janeiro 6 with a commanding score of 76.609% to take gold from team mate Anne Dunham on LJT Lucas Normark, whose score of 75.174% earned the silver. Italy’s Sara Morganti was clearly thrilled with her bronze-winning score of 74.478% on Royal Delight, which was received with typical Italian exuberance by her cheering fans at the medal ceremony.
Great Britain’s London 2012 double gold medallist Natasha Baker successfully defended her 2011 European title in the Grade II competition with a mark of 72.114% on Cabral. She was closely followed by Germany’s Angelika Trabert on Ariva Avanti with 71.571% for silver, while Germany also took the bronze with Britta Näpel riding Aquilina 3 to score 71.286%.
After winning the Grade III competition, Germany’s Hannelore Brenner said: “It’s wonderful. My mare was very nervous because of all the people. I don’t know if she has ever seen such a big crowd, so I knew I had to get her with me and she was with me. It was very tense everywhere – like riding on a volcano.”
Brenner, who is now the current World, Paralympic and European champion, added: “Every time it’s a wonderful feeling. You have to work every year to be a little bit better than the year before because the judges know you and they know how you can ride, so you have to do a little bit better each year.”
Sophie Christiansen marked her victory in the Grade Ia competition with a self-explanatory tweet of “EUROPEAN CHAMPION!!!!” to her 4,000 plus followers. In calmer mode after the medal ceremony she said: “It was just so difficult after last year (her triple gold at London 2012). Everyone expected me to come out and deliver the goods again and I put a lot of pressure on myself because I know how good my horse is and I just want to show him off. But today I actually relaxed into it and enjoyed it and the pressure seemed to vanish so I’m really glad I could do it for Great Britain again.”
Natasha Baker was also delighted by her win and, like Sophie Christiansen, tweeted: “Woohoo, EUROPEAN CHAMPION!!!” Proudly sporting her latest gold medal, she commented: “It doesn’t really seem real to be honest after such an eventful last few days and I’m just really proud that he managed to deal with it.
“Hopefully he’ll get a good night’s sleep tonight and hopefully tomorrow he’ll be coming out (for the freestyle) and I’ll be able to push him just that bit more. He’s improved so much since London and I wanted to come here and show him off but, up until this point, I haven’t been able to so hopefully tomorrow he’ll give me that opportunity.”
British Chef d’Equipe David Hunter said after victory in the team competition: “I’m very happy; it’s a very good day. Everybody has pulled out all the stops for a great team result and brilliant individual results. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
And despite Great Britain’s dominance in the event he was adamant that nothing is ever taken for granted. “We never assume anything,” he said. “We have been successful for quite a long time but nothing ever stays forever and that is what sport and competition is about. There is never any room for assumptions and never any room for complacency.”
Britta Bando, Chef d’Equipe of team silver medallists Germany was delighted with her colleagues’ performance too. “I’m very happy about it,” she said. “It is very difficult to get the British team but we were second in Kentucky (FEI World Equestrian Games 2010), and in London and now.
“I have one new rider in my team, Elke Philipp in Ia, with a very young horse so it’s a really good result for her and the team and I’m very proud.”
And the celebrations continued for Danish Chef d’Equipe, Lis Lihme. “I am so happy for the girls that they did it,” she said. “A new rider and a new horse on the team and still they did it. I am so proud of my girls.”
But the day firmly belonged to Great Britain. After the team medal ceremony they celebrated wrapped in their country’s flag. Particularly happy was Anne Dunham, who collected a team gold and silver in the Grade 1a. Still featuring on the podium after a career that started at the 1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta, she said: “It’s just as exciting and just as thrilling as the first time. It feels fantastic to be able to do it and just be here.”
Natasha Baker added: “It was cool. My first team medal!”, while Grade IV rider Sophie Wells summed up the team’s performance and said: “We’ve come here, and I’m on a new horse and Anne’s on a new horse so that adds a bit of emotion. It’s a step in the right direction of the future as well because we’re setting up now for Rio. Definitely it’s the first step and that makes us more proud.”
Tomorrow’s final day of competition at the JYSK FEI European Para-Dressage Championships in Herning sees the top seven riders in each Grade compete for the individual Freestyle titles. It’s going to be another exciting day! —- By Rob Howell/ Photo: Liz Gregg/FEI