Rio de Janeiro, Brazil—Sept. 14
There were emotional scenes at the Olympic Equestrian Centre in Deodoro on Wednesday as Austria’s Pepo Puch and Great Britain’s Sophie Wells were crowned the latest winners of the Rio Para-Equestrian dressage competition.
Puch won the grade Ib Individual medal, while Wells took the grade IV Individual title.
Wells, riding Valerius, scored 74.85 percent to finish just ahead of Belgium’s London 2012 winner Michèle George, with the Netherlands’ Frank Hosmar taking the bronze. The win comes after Wells has lost out to George at both the 2012 London Games and the 2014 FEI World Equestrian Games.
“I’m crying a lot,” she said after collecting her medal. “It was pretty good. We couldn’t have given any more. I’m just so proud of him. We’ve worked really hard to get there.
“There are no words that can describe how I’m feeling right now. Definitely a sense of pride [in] my horse, my support team, and that we actually went and did it in the arena when it mattered. I can’t believe it. It brings back a little bit of what we didn’t get on Pinocchio in London and this is for him as well.”
Sophie Wells on Valerius. Photo by Liz Gregg/FEI
George was clearly pleased with her silver but admitted to thinking she had won. “I’m not disappointed,” she said, “but I really don’t understand that I am second. I really had a great feeling. When I finished the test I felt, ‘yes, this was it.’
“Unfortunately, the five judges weren’t thinking the same as me. I’m really happy and I will be back next time, I can assure you.”
In a week which has seen winners sometimes decided by fractions of a point, Puch’s one-point win over Great Britain’s Lee Pearson seems even more impressive. Riding Fontainenoir, Puch scored 75.10 percent to Pearson’s 74.10 percent. Denmark’s Stinna Tange Kaastrup took the bronze.
Pepo Puch of Austria on Fontainenoir. Photo by Liz Gregg/FEI
“Amazing, amazing, amazing,” said Puch. “The horse was really good, but with the wind and some babies crying, the horse was looking outside, but I could catch him. I had him on my side.
“He was really good and I was so happy. With the positive feeling comes the emotion and with the emotion it’s not easy to handle the movement in my body. He was helping me. We were working four years for this day. The first day of London was the first day of training for Rio.”
Fontainenoir is known at Puch’s home as Fondy Blondy. “He’s the blackest blond horse ever,” said Puch. “His ex-owner says he’s in the wrong body. He wants to be a dog and wants to be with you all the time.”
Pearson was also happy with his silver, his 13th Paralympic medal in a career that started back in Sydney 2000. “I think the best man won on the day,” he said.
“The standard is tough. It has been up to London and since then. My aim was to go home with a medal so I’m over the moon.”
There was a dramatic moment halfway through the grade Ib competition when Canada’s Ashley Gowanlock fell from her horse after it bolted as they were leaving the arena. Gowanlock was assessed by the Rio Games medical staff and found to have no serious injuries before being transported to hospital for further testing as a precaution.
For the United States, Sydney Collier competed in the Grade Ib Individual test, scoring 67.65 percent.
Making the most of her Paralympic debut, Collier of Ann Arbor, Mich., rode with grit and determination to improve on her performance from Sunday’s Team test, placing seventh in the class. Aboard Wesley Dunham’s 2003 Oldenburg mare Western Rose, Collier executed an accurate and bold test, finishing off with a centerline that received three 8s from the five-member Ground Jury.
“The first day [in the Team test] I toned down my excitement too much and that translated into my ride,” said Collier. “Today, I really focused on allowing myself to be excited, but just enough so that I was still on my game. That strategy worked out so much better and translated very well to Rosie. We were not giving up any points!”
Speaking to the highlights of her Individual test, Collier said, “My favorite part of this test is the medium trot. The horses feel so flowing in this gait and it’s that magical feeling that made me fall in love with riding. I was impressed with our quarter turns on the haunches; we don’t always collect enough setting up for them, but today we clicked and did them right on our mark.”
Collier was the youngest competitor in the Paralympic field and felt honored to have represented the U.S. “It was so fun riding in the biggest competition in the world and just seeing our names up on the leaderboard was really amazing. The whole experience makes me excited for all the things we have to come in the future,” she said.
The individual championship tests conclude on Thursday with the Grades II and Ia competitions. The overall team champions will be announced at the end of the day as well. Denmark currently lead that competition ahead of France and Australia, but with more riders from more teams due to ride, that could all change.