by Rob Howell
On the day of the “dancing horses”, The Netherlands’ Sanne Voets became the first ever non-British rider to win three gold medals in one major international championship before team-mate van der Horst put the icing on the Dutch cake by doing exactly the same. And topping off an incredible five days of competition there was a history-making moment when Japan secured its first ever Para Dressage medal at the Adequan© World Para Dressage Championships at the FEI World Equestrian GamesTM in Tryon, USA today.
Competing in the Grade V competition, and less than two years out from the Tokyo Paralympic Games, Japan’s Tomoko Nakamura and Djazz F scored 73.540 to take a surprise bronze. Nakamura said, “I was so nervous and it went so quickly and I feel so honoured to be in such a big competition.”
An imperious score of 80.150% was more than enough for Great Britain’s Sophie Wells to pick up her second gold of these Games in the grade’s Freestyle. Riding C Fatal Attraction, she finished ahead of The Netherlands’ Frank Hosmar and Alphaville N.O.P. who scored 79.155% to take his second silver.
Speaking after the test, Wells said her horse was “a little bit tense today and on edge but he’s come out this week and given me everything. When you miss out on an Individual Gold [WEG 2014] after training every day it’s hard, but to achieve this after a big gap like I’ve had is amazing. That’s why Rio 2016 was so special because I missed out on the gold in London 2012 too!”, she added.
The day started with victory for Sanne Voets, and that first ever non-British triple in the Grade IV competition. Riding her beloved Demantur N.O.P. she scored 79.645% to finish ahead of Brazil’s Rodolpho Riskalla on Don Henrico who posted 77.780%.
Voets said, “This horse two years ago won the first ever Paralympic gold medal for the Netherlands, and he contributed very much to our first ever team gold medal on Friday, and now he is the first one taking home triple gold for the Netherlands in the World Games. I couldn’t be happier!”
There was double joy for Team USA too, as Kate Shoemaker claimed the bronze on Solitaer with 73.230%. It was the the host nation’s second medal of the Games, and comes hot on the heels of their amazing fifth place in the team competition.
Control and grace
A stunning display of control and grace by Italy’s Sara Morganti took the freestyle gold in the Grade I competition – her second of the Games. Riding Royal Delight, her horse for the past eight years, Morganiti scored 78.867 ahead of Rihards Snikus of Latvia. Snikus, a keen DJ in his spare time, rode King of the Dance to score 76.113% and pick up his first ever global medal having broken onto the international scene at the FEI European Championships in Gothenburg in 2017, where he picked up a silver and a bronze.
“It’s incredible and so big an emotion I can’t even describe it,” Morganti said after waiting for confirmation of her win. “We won three out of three [the pair had the highest score in their grade’s team test as well] and I was hoping for a medal, but I didn’t dare hope for two gold medals. It’s a dream come true and so very fantastic!”
The two wins here at WEG will help Morganti put the disappointment of Rio 2016, when her horse didn’t pass the compulsory veterinary check, behind her. “I needed to come out here with my horse and show how good she is,” she said, “and we worked so hard at home to do our best and she’s improved. The beautiful thing is she continues performing at the top of the ranking and competitions. This is even more than a gold!”
And double US joy turned to triple when Roxanne Trunnel, riding Dolton scored 75.587 to pick up her nations’ third Para Dressage medal by taking the bronze.
There was a huge squeal of delight from Denmark’s Stinna Tange Kaastrup when she saw her score in the Grade II contest. Riding Horsebo Smarties she posted 78.947%% to take the gold ahead of Austria’s Pepo Puch on Sailor’s Blue with 75.500. The Netherlands’ Nicole den Dulk won bronze on Wallace N.O.P. with 74.573 - a replay of the grade’s individual and freestyle contests.
“I don’t think there are any words for how amazing I feel. It’s been out of this world and incredible and much more than we ever hoped for. I’m really proud and really happy. I don’t know what else to say. All the years of hard work make this all meaningful” Kaastrup said.
A dramatic Grade III freestyle rounded off the day. The Netherlands’ Rixt van der Horst joined team-mate Voets as a triple gold winner, scoring 77.437% on Findsley. And continuing the USA’s incredible run, Rebecca Hart added silver to her bronze from the individual on El Corona Texel with an impressive 73.240%. Germany’s Angelika Trabert continued her return to the sport by taking the bronze on Diamond’s Shine, with a score of 71.840%.
“It has been such an amazing year for the Netherlands. I have no words for it, both in terms of me and what the team did!”, van der Horst said.
But there was high drama when Great Britain’s Paralympic Champion Natasha Baker was thrown from her horse, Mount St John Diva Dannebrog during her test, eliminating her from the competition. “My ego was bruised and so was my backside,” she joked afterwards, “but at least I landed on the centre line.”
So at the end of a brilliant week of competition, The Netherlands sit comfortably atop the overall medal table, with five golds, two silvers and two bronzes, followed by Great Britain with two golds, and one silver. Denmark are third with two golds and a bronze, while Riskalla’s two silvers give Brazil the fourth spot. The USA sat fifth with one silver and three bronzes.