Over the last four days, para-equestrian dressage athletes have had the opportunity to place their best foot forward in the Greenwich Park arena at the Paralympic Games. The first two days of competition, Great Britain dominated four of the five grade levels during the team test. During the individual test competition, riders from other countries got into the mix.
The best U.S. performance came from Grade Ib rider Jonathan Wentz, who finished fourth aboard NTEC Richter Scale, the best able-bodied or para performance at this Olympic or Paralympic Games yet.
"We are proud of Jonathan," noted Wentz’ trainer Kai Handt, who also owns Richter Scale.
For the Individual Test at the London Paralympics, Wentz drew an early spot in the order just in front of Lee Pearson of Great Britain. Although Wentz had a test that was respectable, moments of imperfection would earn him a score of 70.34 percent, which momentarily put him in first place. But Pearson and his mount, Gentleman, moved him off the top of the leaderboardwith a 75.39. Then Australian athlete Joann Formosa and Worldwide PB earned a 75.82 percent, knocking the nine-time gold medalist Pearson to silver. With only two horses to go, Pepo Puch of Austria and horse Fine Feeling would push Wentz into fourth place.
"There's still way more to come," said Wentz with a smile. "During the Team Test we got hit for being too conservative, but today we went too much the other way and hit too hard on the accelerator. We got way too wobbly in the trot-work. We finally scored the way we were hoping in other parts of the test, but the trot work hurt us. I was happy with the turn on the haunches and my walk work since it was a place we improved upon within our test."
As the Grade Ib gold, silver and bronze medal winners stepped up to the podium for the Individual Test, Formosa, Pearson and Puch exchanged a congratulatory embrace.
"I came here to win, and I wanted gold," exclaimed Formosa. "This has been my goal my entire life. I love this sport, I love my horses, and when I am aboard my horse there is a feeling of freedom. I couldn't be happier to have won this medal, and I couldn't have earned this without my support team, fundraising, family, friends, and fans."
Pearson noted, "I am really happy with earning silver, believe me. It has been a tough competition, and Joann rode beautifully. I am actually over the moon; it would have been amazing to win a gold, but I am happy to place this medal up on the wall with my past medals."
He continued, "Of course I will be back in Rio to redeem myself. I love horses and I love this sport. Although I wouldn't be able to do this sport without the help of everyone on Team Great Britain, our sponsors and staff, our country, and of course the United Kingdom Lottery."
Other British Wins
Natasha Baker and Cabral won gold in the Grade II competition for Great Britain. Baker expressed her excitement, "This is the most incredible feeling in the world. Coming to my first Games here in Great Britain and to come home with a Gold Medal is brilliant; I get a postbox and stamp!
She continued, "Since the age of 10 I said I would compete in the Paralympics and win a gold medal. Since my first Games I never expected this in a million years, but I couldn't have done this without my horse. He is a dream. I am so proud of him, I really am."
Great Britain added another gold medal to their haul when Grade Ia para-equestrian Sophie Christiansan and Janiero 6 earned an 82.75 percent. Earning the silver was Helen Kearney of Ireland and Mister Cool ahead of Laurentia Tan and Ruben James 2 of Singapore.
Michele George, of Belgium, claimed the Grade IV gold on Rainman (77.06%) over Great Britain’s Pinocchio and Sophie Wells (76.32%) and the Netherlands’ Frank Hosmar (73.09%).
In Grade III competition, German rider Hannelore Brenner (Women of the World) topped the podium after an Individual Test finish of 73.46 percent. Great Britain’s Deborah Criddle and LJT Akilles took silver over Denmark’s Annika Dalskov and Aros a Fenris.
A Learning Process
U.S. combination Donna Ponessa and Western Rose, owned by Wes Dunham, earned the sixth position for their Individual Test in Grade Ia competition.
"We gave it our all, but it could have been a lot better. There was some improvement from the Team Test and some things we didn't do as well," said Ponessa. "It's a learning process."
In the Grade II competition, U.S. team captain and 2008 paralympian Rebecca Hart was positive as always for the entire team despite her 11th-placed individual result with Lord Ludger, owned by Jessica Ransehousen.
"This was his first international on this scale," noted Hart. "It was not what I hoping for, but it's good to get him out here and get the experience. Obviously we were hoping for a little bit more especially for the team but it was OK. There are definitely ups and downs to every event for each one of us. We have what we need. We just need to do it."
Dale Dedrick who rode Bonifatius in Grade II competition for the United States concurred. "We have a great team, and I am proud to be a part of it. Our preparation for this event has been superb. From the work my trainer Roz Kinstler of Ann Arbor, Mich., and I have done at home and on the road to the preparation of Meagan Szarek my groom."
For full results, visit the official London 2012 site.