Three More Golds As GBR Dominates Rio Paradressage

The Grade Ia Podium
Credit : Jon Stroud Media

Friday 16 September - 08h03 | Lulu Kyriacou/BEF/FEI

Three More Golds As GBR Dominates Rio Paradressage

Britain's Paralympic Equestrian Team have defended their Olympic  team title in Rio and also won two individual gold medals ad a silver in the remaining individual contests. Natasha Baker and Sophie Christiansen are Team GBR's latest golden girls and Anne Durham has collected a silver.

Baker and Cabral takes Grade II

Baker and Cabral takes Grade II - Three More Golds As GBR Dominates Rio Paradressage

Natasha Baker
Credit : FEI

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.”

The win was all the sweeter for Baker as it follows her defeat to Van der Horst at the 2014 FEI World Equestrian Games™ (known as WEG) and the 2015 FEI European championships. In 2014 she was the strong favourite for gold but Cabral was spooked by the TV cameras as he entered the arena.
“I’m so happy. I’m still shaking. I’m still crying,” said Baker. “I was so worried he was going to come in here and do a repeat of WEG. I’m just so proud.
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.

Christiansen Just Pips Dunham in 1a

Christiansen Just Pips Dunham in 1a - Three More Golds As GBR Dominates Rio Paradressage

Sophie Christiansen
Credit : Jon Stroud Media

Christiansen won the grade Ia individual title on Athene Lindebjerg with the top score of the week so far, 78.217%. Team mate Anne Dunham, competing in her fifth Games was second, and there was a hugely popular bronze for Brazil’s Sergio Oliva, his country’s second Para dressage medallist after team mate Marcos Alves took two bronzes in Beijing 2008.
"This is surreal at the moment,” said Christiansen. “I've had a change of coach and just injury after injury and up until last week, I didn't even know which horse I would be bringinng.
"I've always wanted to do my best at everything I put my hand to – academics, sport. It's going to sound big-headed but I think you have to have more than talent to stay at the top."

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.”

Dream Team

Dream Team - Three More Golds As GBR Dominates Rio Paradressage

Anne Dunham
Credit : Jon Stroud Media

Dunham was part of the first British squad that competed and won in Atlanta and at 67 years old is probably Britain's oldest Olympian competing. "I have to admit that I am quite relieved we won. After all these years I would not have wanted to be the person that lost us the title" she joked, refering to the British unbroken 20year and eighteen championship long reign at the top of the sport. The team (Natasha Baker, Sophie Christiansen, Anne Dunham and Sophie Wells, Lee Pearson rides as an individual)  have now contributed to a record that is better than any other in British sport and one that equestrianism can be justly proud of.

 “I’m absolutely thrilled,” said Great Britain’s Chef D’Equipe Sarah Armstrong. “I couldn’t have wished for a better result and the guys have been great.
“When I took on the role in November I took a massive personal risk. They were coming off the back of a home Games and it was a big ask to return this and improve on it but I just knew that the athletes, the horses and the amazing support team that we have, I just knew that we could do it.”
The team had a combined score of 453.306 to finish 20 points ahead of Germany in silver (433.321) with The Netherlands in bronze (430.353).

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 tonight 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

Further reading...