This report was compiled from USEF and FEI press releases.
TOKYO 2020 PARALYMPIC GAMES – PARA DRESSAGE INDIVIDUAL TEST GRADE II, IV, V
They came, they saw, they conquered. Some of the world’s most experienced and decorated Para Dressage athletes took to the stunning Baji Koen arena today for the first competitions and medals of the Equestrian Events at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Emotions were running high, as were temperatures, but everyone kept their cool for the first individual medals up for grabs in Grades II, IV and V – and the all-important qualification for the top eight ranked athletes in each Grade earning their spot in the Individual Freestyle to Music test which takes place on Monday 30 August.
Sir Lee Pearson, the world’s most decorated equestrian Paralympian, does it again…
In an emotion packed first day of competition, Sir Lee Pearson (GBR) collected his 12th Paralympic gold medal at his sixth Paralympic appearance since 2000 at the Baji Koen Equestrian Park, winning the Grade II Individual Test.
Lee rode his home-reared Breezer to the title with a score of 76.265% to finish ahead of Pepo Puch (AUT), who rode Sailor’s Blue to score 73.441%. These two highly experienced athletes are used to tussling for the top spot, with Pepo claiming Individual gold in Rio ahead of Pearson and vice versa for the Freestyle medals.
Georgia Wilson (GBR) picked up a fairy tale of a bronze medal on Sakura, with 72.765%. She was the team’s reserve rider and was called to the Paralympic Games just two weeks ago, when her teammate Sophie Christiansen was forced to withdraw due to a veterinary issue with her horse.
Speaking after his ride, Lee said “I am very, very emotional. I cried on the second X on hold in the arena. It’s been such a long journey. Breezer is a horse who I’ve had since he was born. I am also a Dad myself now, and that has also made me more emotional.
“I didn’t think having a home-bred horse would give this a little extra meaning but it has. I saw him at hours old in a field and to complete that test, which at my last test event I did not complete, that added to the emotion.”
Sanne gets the missing gold
There was more emotion on display when Sanne Voets (NED) won the Grade IV Individual Test, the one gold medal missing from her collection of European, World and Paralympic titles.
Sanne scored 76.585% on Demantur N.O.P, which was the highest score of the day, while Rodolpho Riskalla (BRA) took the silver medal on Don Henrico with 74.659%. Belgium’s Manon Claeys marked her Paralympic debut with a bronze medal, scoring 72.853% on San Dior 2.
“I think my face pretty much told it,” said Sanne. “I’m just over the moon with him. He still amazes me every day and he travelled here well. When you enter the stable and you see he’s happy, relaxed and at ease, you realise again that’s what is most important.
“Of course you’re here to perform at your very best and you want to win medals, but there’s always one thing more important than the result, and that’s just your horse being happy.
“But when you are sitting on a horse like that, there’s no way you cannot smile and not enjoy your test.”
Seventh heaven for Michele George
The last medal of the night went to Michele George, in just her seventh competition with Best of 8. She scored 76.524% to finish ahead of Sophie Wells (GBR) who rode her reserve horse, Don Cara .M to an impressive 74.405% in his first ever overseas competition. Frank Hosmar (NED) took the bronze on Alphaville N.O.P., with 73.405%.
Michele wore the gloves and boots she wore at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games at which she won the Grade V Freestyle, with a silver in the Individual Test, on the late FBW Rainman.
“I’m really proud of my mare and I enjoyed the ride,” she said. “And this is for me the most important thing, that I could come home and say I’ve done everything I could. She had a beautiful performance and she gave her best. Best of 8 gave her best!
“She did great half passes and I think she had a very nice extended canter as well. So it’s amazing. I can’t find the right words to express how impressive it was for me. It is a once in a lifetime experience.”
Photo courtesy of US Equestrian.
The U.S. Para Dressage Team saw its first two combinations head down the center line at Equestrian Park in Tokyo, Japan, opening the first day of equestrian competition at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. Beatrice de Lavalette and Clarc were the first combination to contest the Grade II Individual Test in the main stadium, earning a 70.265 percent, while Kate Shoemaker and Solitaer 40 closed out the evening of competition with a 70.854 percent as the last combination in the Grade IV Individual Test. Both combinations qualified for their Grade’s FEI Individual Freestyle to Music on Monday, August 31.
De Lavalette and Clarc, a 14-year-old KWPN gelding owned by Elizabeth & Nicholas de Lavalette, made their first Paralympic debut, complete a solid test to open Grade II competition. The pair earned a 70.265 percent from the ground jury to put them into fifth place in Grade II competition. They are also the first U.S. combination to break the 70 percent mark in a Paralympic Games, setting an early tone for the team rides ahead.
“It was a very enjoyable ride,” said de Lavalette of her ride with Clarc. “I went through my test about a thousand times. I wasn’t really nervous, but just excited. The excitement took over and I knew my test, I knew my horse was right, and we were together and in sync, so I couldn’t be happier with the ride.”
De Lavalette (Lake Worth Beach, Fla.) has said that competing at the Paralympic Games and representing her country is one of the main motivating factors in her incredible recovery and return to sport following the 2016 Brussels Airport bombings. Riding her recently acquired mount, Clarc, de Lavalette commented on the meaningfulness of the Paralympic journey and what it felt like to make her international championship debut.
“It is such a great honor to be here representing the U.S. at this competition and being able to have fun with my horse out there after five years of fighting for my life. It was really very emotional for me at the end,” she explained. “Setting the goal of being here five years ago when I was in the ICU was a dream and being here today is a dream realized and I couldn’t be happier. I’m very proud of myself and my team because without them I wouldn’t be here.”
Kate Shoemaker and Solitaer 40, a 14-year-old Hanoverian gelding owned by Deena, Craig, & Kate Shoemaker are also making their Paralympic debut after contesting their first major international championship with the U.S. Para Dressage Team at the FEI World Equestrian Games Tryon 2018. The pair earned a 70.854 percent from the judging panel in an extremely competitive first day of Grade IV competition, placing them seventh out of 15 competitors.
“I’m really pleased with my horse, though a little bit disappointed with the score of course since we had hoped to be in the medals and I felt our ride today was quite good, but all I can do is be happy with my performance in the ring and I absolutely love my horse to pieces,” said Shoemaker after her test. “The energy in there was phenomenal. It just gives you a sense of power and the horses can feel it and it’s just so much fun.”
Shoemaker (Wellington, Fla.) and Solitaer 40 have been partnered together for the entirety of both of their international careers and achieving this selection to the U.S. Para Dressage Team for the Paralympic Games is the highlight for Shoemaker and her team. Working through the 2020 and 2021 seasons to continually improve their marks in both the Individual and Team tests, the pair have become a consistent combination for the team.
“We’ve been showing together for a while now and this is the end of our seventh year together. It’s a partnership that’s been a long time coming,” added Shoemaker. “He loves championships and when you add that little bit of energy, he really turns into something special and it’s a feeling like none other.”
More medals up for grabs
At the end of day one of the competition, Great Britain top the Para Dressage medal table with one gold, one silver, and a bronze, with The Netherlands and Belgium close behind on one gold and a bronze each.
There are a total of 11 sets of medals being contested at the Para Equestrian Events of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games across the five Grades – five Individual, five Freestyle to Music and one overall team medal.
Tomorrow will see the Grades I and III Individual Test medals decided. Roxanne Trunnell, the world Number One in Grade I and across all five Grades will be aiming for her first Paralympic title, while in Grade III look out for a real tussle for the medals between the likes of Natasha Baker (GBR), Tobias Thorning Jorgensen (DEN), Rixt van der Horst (NED) and Rebecca Hart (USA).