Paris is primary goal as British para dressage team campaign gets underway

Friday, 12 August 2022

With the individual medals out of the way, today’s attention turned to the team medals and an all-important place at Paris 2024. Up first for Britain in the Orifarm Healthcare FEI World Para Dresage Team Championship presented by Pressalit were our Grade 2 combinations. The hot weather currently affecting in the UK has crossed the North Sea and hit Denmark – where a pleasant summer’s day typically tops out at around 20oC – and today the mercury reached a scorching 32 oC, giving testing conditions for the horses and riders.

Georgia Wilson and Sakura

Welsh wonder Georgia Wilson got this afternoon’s Grade 2 action underway this afternoon, in conditions more akin to Tokyo than Denmark as temperatures soared ahead of her striding down the centre line with her own and parents Geoff and Julie’s Sakura. This isn’t always Georgia’s favourite test to ride, but with her coach and mentor Sophie Wells at the arena side, she entered brimming with confidence.

The test had a great rhythm and flow compared to her previous performance in the BB Horse Arena. The leg-yields were obedient and the serpentines had a great fluidity about them. The judges’ marks,  which could have been considered a bit conservative, slipped notably on the first medium trot, but that was the only negative on an otherwise extremely pleasing test. The total score was 72.971%, which gave Britain a great start to our Paralympic qualification campaign.

“It was much better than the first day and I felt like I didn’t just go in there and freeze – I felt like I rode her,” said Georgia. “So, yeah, I’m happy with that. She was a bit more ridable and a bit calmer today – and listening to me a bit more. I enjoyed it – even though it was boiling hot!” she exclaimed.

 “The walk work was better and there was good crossing in the leg yields. She used the free walk as a breather, which was good. It was nice to go in there and ride her, not just be a passenger.”

After competing in Tokyo as individuals – where there are only three riders in a team – today, Georgia was back doing her bit for the British squad.

“It’s a bit weird being in the team – the last time was in 2019. I don’t feel any pressure here, so it’s quite nice to just go in there and focus. I can now look forward to the Freestyle. I need to listen to my music now – it's one of those that gets in your head. I have instructions [from coach Sophie] to do as I’m told!” she said.

Georgia revealed that she was planning on riding to her Tokyo music on Sunday.

Lee Pearson and Breezer

Buoyed by a brilliantly contested individual bronze medal in the individual on Wednesday, Lee Pearson was looking to pull something special out of the bag with his homebred 11-year-old Breezer, to give the British team score a huge boost. Lee has always had high hopes for the Barcardi-sired, talented but sensitive gelding, but with the pressure mounting thanks to some 76%+ scores posted earlier in the day, it would need to be the test of a lifetime.

As he entered the arena, the vocal crowd in the neighbouring Stutteri Ask Stadium burst into celebration for a clear jumping round, which noticeably unnerved Breezer. Luckily, Lee had enough time on the countdown clock to put in an extra circle in an attempt to settle him before entering in trot and halting at X. The move-off in walk revealed that Breezer was certainly on his toes and that the veteran rider with 15 championships would need to use all his experience. The early walk work was tentative and Lee did well to keep Breezer in any sort of rhythm. Once the trot work was introduced and Breezer had more to think about, the picture continually improved and the higher marks flowed. The final halt and salute brought a sigh of relief from Lee, and it was now an anxious wait for the all-important score. The enormous scoreboard, which sits at the A end of the arena, flashed up with 73.529% – a good score, but perhaps a few percentage points off what the team had hoped for.

When you’re as experienced as Lee, you take each test in your stride

“He was okay with the showjumping arena applauding two days ago, but he did a prize-giving and I didn’t realise that you don’t have to take your own horse in, so we definitely won’t be doing that in the future because it just upsets him. He was very relaxed warming in and just before he went in, there was uproar in the next door arena. I looked at the time, I had to stay chilled and I added another circle and did the test. By that time, he was quite tight in his back and he wanted to trot in every walk section, but he didn’t and I’m unbelievably proud of him.

“The aim was a lovely supple, slow, relaxed walk today, with the same activity in the trot because we had that the other day, but he was literally on the edge of saying ‘I don’t want to be in this arena’. So, the ‘management’ is saying I rode it very well. If we could trot and canter, you can hide those little issues a bit, but in walk, when they can so easily jog, it’s a very difficult test for a hot horse in a big environment.

“I’m really proud of him – sure, I’d like a higher score for the team, but I’m also pleased we managed to get a score on the board because there was moments in there I thought ‘steady, calm’ and I made my bum sit deep int that saddle. Let’s get dancing on Sunday! Really pleased, still love him to bits even though he uses all my horsemanship to pilot a hot horse around a walk-trot test.

“I try to convince myself I’m hacking when I’m in walk – I visualize I’m at home in Staffordshire because my legs go a little numb in walk. Today, the plan was to keep him slow and a little more relaxed based on what the judges said two days ago, but it was more a case of ‘okay, go at your speed, but just don’t trot’. I had to be quick to change the plan – it’s not hassling, just sit deep and appreciate what you’ve got,” he ended.

Scores on the doors

At the end of the class, Lee and Breezer finished in third, while Georgia and ‘Suki’ took sixth, but today’s tests were all about the percentage, not the placing. With two riders down, the British tally is perhaps a little short of the ideal, but tomorrow brings two big hitters in Sophie Wells, riding Rowland Kinch’s Don Cara M (Grade 5), and Natatas Baker with Keystone Dawn Chorus, owned by Joanna Jensen, Christian Landolt, and Phil, Lorraine and Natasha Baker. They both secured individual silver in Thursday’s action, so good performances will put us right back in contention for Paralympic qualification – our primary aim in Herning.