Emma & Sophie are British para-equestrian dressage golden girls at European Championships

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Sophie Wells competing for Gold in Moorsele Photo by Kevin SparrowPara Dressage rider Emma Sheardown going for silver in MoorseleFinal Golden day for the Girls at the Para Euros

It was a further day of British domination in Sunday’s Freestyle Competitions when our quintet took four gold medals and three silver at the FEI Para Equestrian Dressage European Championship in Moorsele, Belgium. Five fantastic performances brought the total medal tally to eight gold medals and one silver.

In the Grade Ia, Anne Dunham scored a hat-trick of gold medals with a clear 5% victory riding Sally Anne Brown’s Teddy. Her score of 79.20% was the highest of the Championship, clearly showing the 63 year-old clearly hasn’t lost any of her determination and her last clean sweep of the three gold medals on offer was in 2003 at the World Championships – at this venue. “I loved it in there today – great, just great!” said a delighted Anne. “He (Teddy) really flowed with the music but I didn’t know it was as good as it was until the score – just fantastic. Once again, Teddy has proved himself to be a mega-star!”

Last minute substitutes Emma Sheardown and Purdy’s Dream couldn’t quite match Anne’s performance so it was silver once again with a score of 74.10%. The Lincolnshire rider was happy with her runners-up spot; “Anne has been on cracking form all week. I really feel the horse and I have improved all week and we’ve had three good days, especially when we didn’t expect to be here! This was Anne’s championship, but she better look out next year!”

The rain came down for squad debutantes Natasha Baker (21) and Cabral in the Grade II but they weren’t phased one bit and claimed their second gold with a score of 76.25%. Natasha put their ability to cope down to the fact that they have to prepare in all conditions at home as they have an outdoor school! The winning performance wasn’t an easy one. The ex-event horse owned by Natasha’s parents and Christian Landolt had a shaky moment when trotting past the judge’s hut at C and the wind caught the roof, dumping gallons of water in his path and then Natasha’s glasses fogged up toward the end of the test; “I had to guess where the last centre line was!” she said. When asked to sum up her week in one word, Natasha commented; “WOW!” But never one to keep it short, she continued; “This has been the best week of my life. I never thought I’d be going home with two medals, let alone gold ones. I’d like to thank the selectors for giving me this opportunity.”

Deb Criddle entered the arena with LJT Akilles with a look of determination and it was clear that nothing less than gold would do in the Grade III freestyle. The partnership has only been together since February this year but they looked in perfect harmony to score 77.25% and it’s clear that there’s much more to come. “I’m just so pleased with him! I was tougher on myself today and felt I had to pull it all together and it’s paid off. I’ve had some great comments from judges and other riders so it couldn’t have been better. I love riding to music and I think it showed!” Deb is also clearly enthusiastic about her future with the Lady Joseph Trust owned horse. “I’m over the moon with where our partnership is and I’ve learned so much about him in the past few days. There’s a lot still in the tank and I’m still discovering more and more about him. Nina Venables, my trainer, really helps me to make it happen and we’re so excited about the coming months,” she said.

Crowds were ten deep around the outdoor arena for the Grade IV freestyle and it was clear there was going to be a battle between Great Britain, Denmark and The Netherlands. Sophie Wells wowed the judges on Saturday with her nine year old Valerius but the horse is relatively inexperienced at this level and in freestyle. She was drawn early in the final grouping so had to go in and throw the gauntlet down to the experienced combinations to come. She did just that to her Disney themed music with a score of 78.45% and despite some great performances, the 21 year-old kept top spot and a third gold of the Championship was hers. “It’s been amazing here. To come with a new horse was a risk but everyone’s been so supportive and it’s all come together. I couldn’t have asked for more and it couldn’t have been any better. Today I was actually a bit disappointed with my test but happy with the score and three golds is beyond belief. I’m so proud of all of us and I really have to say how lucky we are to have the support of the World Class Performance Programme,” Sophie commented.

World Class Performance Director Will Connell said; “The maximum medal haul could have been nine Gold and two Silver – they won eight Gold and three Silver. This is a truly outstanding result and deserves recognition from across sport. To achieve this with three (out of five) equine and one (out of five) human “Championship newbies” makes the success even more astounding. These results show the depth of talent we have in GBR but also just how talented our riders are and how well supported they are by their own teams of coaches, carers and owners but also by the World Class Programme. The standard in all Grades continues to rise and we still have much work to do ahead of London 2012; competition for selection will be strong and we will need to ensure the core focus is on performing during the Games not just getting selected. All in all a great week at the office – very well done to all involved.”

British Dressage Chief Executive Amanda Bond witnessed the success of the team and said; “The girls and their support team have been simply stunning this week. It’s been a happy, determined and focused squad which has shown in the results. With three horses and one rider making their debut we had mixed expectations about the Championship but everyone rose to the challenges and eight gold and three silver medals is a monumental result. They coped with the pressure and delivered the results, we can’t ask for more and I’m proud of everyone. I’ve said it a few times recently, but next year can’t come soon enough – British Dressage is ready!”

British medals at the 2011 FEI Para Equestrian Dressage European Championships

Team

Gold – Anne Dunham (Ia), Emma Sheardown (Ia), Sophie Wells (IV), Deb Criddle (III)

Individual

Grade Ia

Gold – Anne Dunham with Sally Anne Brown’s Teddy
Silver – Emma Sheardown with her own Purdy’s Dream

Grade II

Gold – Natasha Baker with Phillip and Lorraine Baker and Christian Landolt’s Cabral

Grade III

Silver – Deb Criddle with the Lady Joseph Trust’s LJT Akilles

Grade IV

Gold – Sophie Wells and her own Valerius

Freestyle

Grade Ia

Gold – Anne Dunham with Sally Anne Brown’s Teddy
Silver – Emma Sheardown with her own Purdy’s Dream

Grade II

Gold – Natasha Baker with Phillip and Lorraine Baker and Christian Landolt’s Cabral

Grade III

Gold – Deb Criddle with the Lady Joseph Trust’s LJT Akilles

Grade IV

Gold – Sophie Wells and her own Valerius

All five riders competed in both the individual Championship and Freestyle classes for their respective Grades. Four riders will also be selected to take part in the Team competition. The Team result is calculated from the top three scores from both the Team and Championship tests; in the Freestyle class the winner is decided by the highest percentage score obtained.

 

Britain’s Championship title record remained intact when Anne Dunham, Emma Sheardown, Deb Criddle and Sophie Wells secured gold at the FEI European Para Equestrian Dressage Championship at Moorsele in Belgium on 3rd September 2011.

The team finished on a score of 444.26% after the two rounds to finish nearly 14% ahead of silver medallists Denmark with Germany in bronze. This breaks the previous highest ever team total, emulating their able-bodied compatriots just two weeks ago in Rotterdam.

Individually, there were gold medals for Anne Dunham (Grade Ia), Sophie Wells (Grade IV) and individual rider Natasha Baker (Grade II). Emma Sheardown (Grade Ia) and Deb Criddle (Grade II) both took individual silvers in their grades.

Anne Dunham and Sally Anne Brown’s Teddy got the medal rush underway with gold in the Grade IA on 74.95% . Not far behind was Emma Sheardown who had to settle for silver with her own Purdy’s Dream with 73.40%. Two medals individually and a great boost for the team score. Anne’s two medals bring her Championship tally to an astounding 16 gold awards in 15 years of competition.

Anne commented; “Teddy was good today. Yesterday, despite our win, he was a bit ‘whoopee’ in there but today he was totally down to the task. His free walk was pretty good and generally he was more relaxed. I’m pleased with him and there’s no better feeling than that! Winning these medals are just as exciting as the first – in a way, even more so as you have to work harder than ever.”

Emma was happy to settle for silver, claiming; “Ed (Purdy’s Dream) was more relaxed today and I could maintain a better contact. His walk was really good and very consistent. I’m so pleased with how he’s been over the past few days, and if someone had to beat me, I’m glad it was Anne. Tomorrow in the freestyle I’ll certainly be going for gold!”

In the Grade II, Deb Criddle was the wrong side of some inconsistent judging and some crowd distractions to finish in silver with her promising new ride, LJT Akilles, who is owned by the Lady Joseph Trust. She said; “I’m really pleased with him today – it’s a bigger occasion and certainly the biggest test of his life. I asked for more and he rose to the occasion but was slightly distracted by the crowds which made riding at the ‘C’ end of the arena tricky. And, unfortunately, a lot of this test is down there! He didn’t put a foot wrong and it’s another stepping stone on our journey.”

Team newcomer Natasha Baker made her debut one to remember by becoming Grade II European Champion with her parents and Christian Landolt’s Cabral. 73.19% gave her victory over strong competition from Germany and The Netherlands. It was an emotional victory with most of the family in tears but a well-deserved one too. “He was relaxed from the word go today so we were straight into the swing of the test which made it easier for me. My trainer Sasha Hamilton has been fantastic out here and it’s really paid off. I owe so much to her and my other teacher Emile Faurie. I’m a little lost for words which isn’t like me – I just can’t believe this has happened at my first Championships”, exclaimed Natasha.

Sophie Wells wowed the judges in the Grade IV with her own Valerius – including a 10 from one for her entry and a few nines throughout the test. 74.097% gave a clear victory and left them the talk of the showground with some amazing trot work. Despite a pressure-filled day, Sophie remained focused on the task at hand; “It’s hard going late in the day, especially when you’re in the team and you know what everyone else has done. My trainer Angela Weiss is brilliant at keeping me focused and making sure it’s all about me and my horse. I was also a little worried as he got quite wound up in the prize giving yesterday and you never know how a young horse will react. I trotted up the centre line, pressed the right buttons and got the feeling I wanted. Sometimes I’ve had to carry him in the test but today, he took me so I couldn’t have asked for more.”

Sophie also cited her recent experience at the able-bodied European Young Rider Championships as part of her success. “The Young Riders really motivated me. I watched the professionalism of the Germans and Dutch and learned by their example. Plus, I couldn’t do it without Angela (Weiss) as she is my support in every way.”

The Championships come to a close tomorrow with the Freestyle competition where all five riders will be in action for further individual medals. Times: (British time)

Natasha – 10.02
Anne – 10.57
Emma – 11.21
Sophie – 14.07
Deb – 15.08

All five riders compete in both the individual Championship and Freestyle classes for their respective Grades. Four riders are also selected to take part in the Team competition. The Team result is calculated from the top three scores from both the Team and Championship tests; in the Freestyle class the winner is decided by the highest percentage score obtained.

Further information on Team GBR Para Dressage Team can be found at www.equestrianteamgbr.co.uk

You can also join Equestrian Team GBR on Facebook and Twitter www.facebook.com/EquestrianTeamGBR or www.twitter.com/teamgbr

Specific information about para equestrian dressage is available at www.britishdressage.com you can also join British Dressage on Facebook www.facebook.com/British.Dressage and Twitter www.twitter.com/britishdressage

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Next week the British Para-Equestrian Dressage squad will be heading for Moorsele in Belgium to compete in the European Championships (1-4 September).

The Team GBR all female squad of; Anne Dunham (Teddy), Sophie Christiansen (Rivaldo of Berkeley), Natasha Baker (Cabral), Deborah Criddle (LJT Akilles) and Sophie Wells (Valerius) under team coach MPara Equestrian team- European Championshipsichelle Assouline and Chef d’Equipe David Hunter will be defending the European title they won in Norway in 2009. They will be five of 79 riders taking part and one of 19 nations contesting the Championships.

Wiltshire based Grade Ia rider Anne Dunham MBE, who is wheelchair bound with multiple sclerosis, is the most senior and experienced member of the squad. Anne (62) has represented Team GBR at four Paralympic Games, winning gold at each and in her riding career has won over 13 gold medals in total. She rides Mrs Sally Ann Brown’s, Teddy, a 14-year-old chestnut Welsh section D gelding with who she won team gold at last year’s para-equestrian dressage World Equestrian Games in Kentucky.

Deborah Criddle (45) from Taunton in Somerset is another experienced para-dressage rider. She won her first individual medal in the World Championships in Denmark 20 years ago and made her first team appearance in 2001. Deborah, who has one arm and limited use of her right leg, competes in the Grade III section. She last rode for the team in 2007 after which her former horse was retired and makes her return with LJT Akilles who will be making his first squad appearance. LJT Akilles was bought courtesy of the charitable Lady Joseph Trust, for Deborah earlier in the year and the two have only been together since February.

Although just 23-years-old Sophie Christiansen MBE from Sunningdale in Berkshire, has plenty of competitive experience. She made her Paralympic debut at just 16 in Athens 2004 where she won an individual bronze. Sophie, who has cerebral palsy, will be riding The Berkeley Group’s, Rivaldo of Berkeley in the Grade Ia section of the championships which is the level for the most disabled competitors. With Rivaldo, Sophie won a gold medal in their individual grade test at last year’s World Equestrian Games in Kentucky.

Twenty-year-old Grade IV rider Sophie Wells from Harby in Nottinghamshire riding her own 17.2hh Valerius is the fourth squad member. Sophie, who was born with amniotic band syndrome, made her first championship appearance at the Europeans two years ago where she won three gold medals. Last year Sophie made her own piece of history when she was selected for the Young Rider European Championship with her other ride, Pinnochio, becoming the first ever para-rider to be selected for an able bodied team.

It will be a championship debut for Natasha Baker (20) from Uxbridge. Natasha, who has a neurological disability, rides the 10-year-old Cabral a former event horse acquired from international dressage judge Christian Landolt in the Grade II section. The pair who are last year’s National para-equestrian dressage champions gained international success this year at the Deauville CPEDI3* where they won all three of their classes.

The British para-equestrian team has formerly enjoyed unprecedented Championship success and has an unbeaten record on the World and European stage since the sport began. All five riders are on the World Class Programme, which is supported by Lottery and Exchequer funding via UK Sport.

David Hunter, World Class Performance Manager for the para-equestrian dressage team commented; “We have a determined team of experienced riders with some newer horse combinations and will work hard to defend our team gold in Moorsele.”

 

Photo by Kit Houghton

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