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 2016 Para dressage competition.
Pepo won the grade Ib individual medal, while Sophie took the grade IV individual title.
Sophie, riding Valerius, scored 74.857% to finish just ahead of Belgium’s London 2012 winner Michèle George, with The Netherlands’ Frank Hosmar taking the bronze.
“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 [the pair won silver] and this is for him as well.”
Michele 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, Pepo Puch’s one-point win over Great Britain’s Lee Pearson seems even more impressive. Riding Fontainenoir, Pepo scored 75.103% to Lee’s 74.103%. Denmark’s Stinna Tange Kaastrup, who has overcome immense adversity (see below), took the bronze.
“Amazing, amazing, amazing,” said Pepo. “The horse was really good, but with the wind and some babies crying, he was looking outside, but I could catch him. I had him on my side.
“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.”
Pepo competed in eventing at Athens in 2004, finishing 63rd. A cross-country fall in 2008, when his horse tripped and severed his spinal cord, left him with incomplete paraplegia. After spending six months in hospital following the accident, he took up riding again. He went on to compete in London at the Paralympics, winning a gold and a bronze medal.
Fontainenoir is known at Pepo’s home as Fondy Blondy. “He’s the blackest blond horse ever,” said Pepo. “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.”
Lee 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.”
Stinna Tange Kaastrup was due to compete at London Paralympics but her horse died just before the event. She’s a truly inspirational woman, born with no legs, and deserves all the success she gets. You can read more about her story on this link.
There was a dramatic moment half way through the grade Ib competition when Canada’s Ashley Gowanlock fell from her horse as it bolted while they were leaving the arena. Ashley was assessed by the Rio 2016 medical staff and found to have no serious injuries, but was taken to hospital for further testing as a precaution.
The individual championship tests conclude on Thursday (September 15) with grades II and Ia. The overall team champions will be announced at the end of the day as well. Denmark currently leads that competition ahead of France and Australia, but with more riders from more teams due to ride, that could all change.