Para-dressage: ‘It means so much’

The first para-dressage medals were awarded at WEG today, as grades II, IV and V competed for the individual titles

Stinna Tange Kaastrup and Horsebo Smarties on their way to Grade II gold (FEI/Liz Gregg)

Denmark’s Stinna Tange Kaastrup made her global breakthrough in the para-dressage competition at the FEI World Equestrian Games in Tryon, North Carolina today, taking gold in the Grade II individual competition with her mount Horsebo Smarties.

Stinna was a double bronze medallist at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio, has won medals at four European championships, and is now celebrating her first World title. She and Horsebo Smarties scored 72.735%, just ahead of Austria’s World, European and Paralympic champion Pepo Puch, who scored 72.676% on Sailor’s Blue. The Netherlands’ Nicole den Dulk came third on Wallace NOP, with 70.735%.

Pepo Punch on Sailor’s Blue, silver medallist for Austria (FEI/Liz Gregg)

Holding her gold medal tightly, an emotional Stinna says: “It’s beautiful isn’t it? I really love that horse so much. To be able to share this with him means a lot, it really does. It really hit me in there [at the medal ceremony] when he came in. We have such a special bond.”

Stinna was overwhelmed with emotion after her win (Libby Law)

Stinna’s win is even more impressive given a slight stumble in her test when she forgot one of the movements and had to restart, costing her two marks. She says: “I was really affected by the heat. We trained in t-shirts in all the training sessions and then I had to put the coat on today and it put me under a lot of pressure because it was so warm. I lost focus a little because of it and I am annoyed about that, but it’s a learning.”

Grade II medal winners Pepo, Stinna and Nicole (Libby Law)

In the Grade IV competition, The Netherlands’ Sanne Voets got her WEG off to the best start by winning her first world individual title. Riding Demantur NOP, she scored 73.927%, ahead of Brazil’s Rodolpho Riskalla and Don Henrico with 73.366%. Denmark’s Susanne Jensby Sunesen on CSK’s Que Faire took the bronze with 73.146%.

Grade IV gold medallist Sanne Voets from the Netherlands on Demantur NOP (FEI/Liz Gregg)
Brazil’s Rodolpho Riskalia was thrilled with Don Henrico’s silver medal-winning performance (FEI/Liz Gregg)

Sanne, the current World and Paralympic freestyle champion, was the first rider in the arena in her grade and says: “Nobody wants to be the first to go but it doesn’t change the job, you just have to do what you do and do it best, I think we smashed it. The first bit is done, we’ve started now, so let’s rock and rumble for the rest of the week.”

Grade IV winners (L-R) Rodolpho Riskalla, Sanne Voets and Susanne Jensby Sunesen (FEI/Liz Gregg)

First to ride was clearly the lucky position today though, as Great Britain’s Sophie Wells took gold in the Grade V competition, in which she was also the first into the arena. Her score, on C Fatal Attraction, of 75.429% – the highest of the day – was comfortably enough to knock The Netherlands’ Frank Hosmar into second, riding Alphaville NOP to 73.167%. Germany’s Regine Mispelkamp took the bronze, riding Look at Me Now and scoring 71.452%, at her first international competition.

Great Britain’s Sophie Wells who won gold in the Grade V competition with C Fatal Attraction (Libby Law)

“My running score was quite low at the beginning,” says Sophie. “I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet to be honest; sitting there and watching [the final riders] was awful, but it’s amazing, I’m so chuffed. You have different challenges through every part of your career, and every horse means something slightly different. I missed out in Normandy [WEG 2014] and you feel like you wait a long time to get the chance to do it again, I’m just so proud of him, it’s been a long journey… and it just means a lot.”

Sophie was thrilled with her performance (Libby Law)
The Netherlands’ Frank Hosmar was second in Grade V, riding Alphaville NOP (Libby Law)
Germany’s Regine Mispelkamp won bronze in Grade V, riding Look at Me Now (Libby Law)
Grade V medal winners; Frank, Sophie and Regine (Libby Law)

Sophie’s team mate, the multi Paralympic, World and European champion Sir Lee Pearson added to the drama of the day in the Grade II competition when he retired his horse, Styletta, around halfway through his test. He explained: “Styletta seems to be struggling a bit with the humidity here. She’s only nine years old. She’s a spectacularly powerful horse and each day she’s been here she’s been feeling like she’s struggling a bit with the weather.

“I didn’t want to retire. I’m passionate about doing my best in the arena for my country but felt that it was the right thing to do.”

Retiring from the individual contest rules Lee out of Saturday’s freestyle competition but he remains scheduled to ride in the team competition on Thursday. His withdrawal will cause some concern in the British camp though, as they have yet to be beaten in the team competition at European, World or Paralympics level, and need a top-three finish to guarantee a place at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

Tomorrow sees the final two medals in the individual competition decided as the grade III and grade I riders take to the arena.