Sir Lee Pearson became the most successful equestrian athlete competing in Tokyo when taking his third gold medal — and the 14th of his Paralympic career — in the Grade II Freestyle.
His relatively inexperienced and home-bred partner Breezer earned a massive 82.447% to take the title ahead of Austria’s Pepo Puch, who rode Sailor’s Blue to a score of 81.007%.
Britain’s Georgia Wilson added another brilliant bronze to her collection on Sakura with 76.754%.
“Number 14, not that we’re counting,” smiled Lee. “I’m twice over the moon. I actually didn’t care if I medalled. That horse gave me his heart in there. He was so much braver than in the team and individual test a few days ago. He was still nervous, and we had a tiny little spook when we entered, but I said ‘come on we can do this’.”
Lee came to Tokyo with Breezer having had to retire from their selection event.
“I’ve not managed to ride this Freestyle in a competition so I’ve been nervous for days,” confessed Lee. “He’s brilliant. I’m taking the best horse home. I didn’t think I could love him any more than I did before but he’s beautiful, amazing.”
America’s Roxanne Trunnell broke the nine-year-old Grade I Paralympic Freestyle record set by Britain’s Sophie Christiansen in London 2012.
Sophie scored 84.750% at those Games, and Roxanne smashed it with 86.927% on Dolton.
“I just wanted a nice test. It felt good with the music the whole time,” Roxanne said. “It’s been really nice. Everyone is so happy and friendly it makes everyone in the barn happy. It’s just fun. Everyone will be excited when we get home.”
Rihards Snikus — who works as a DJ — took his second silver for Latvia on King of the Dance (82.087%). Bronze went to Italy’s Sara Morganti on Royal Delight (81.100%).
The Netherlands’ Sanne Voets stormed to victory in the Grade IV Freestyle with a personal best score of 82.085%. Riding Demantur N.O.P. to the stirring music of Dutch artists HAEVN, she finished comfortably ahead of Sweden’s silver medallist Louise Etzner Jakobbson on 75.935% with Goldstrike B.J.
“I’m not sure I can find the right words,” said Sanne. “I was really focussed and normally when I first enter a test I try to make eye contact with the judge. I never did that here, it was just me and my horse and the music.
“It was a bit like hypnosis. It felt powerful and soft and relaxed and confident. Sometimes when you ride a test you’re thinking ‘what do I do now?’ but it was like it just happened to me. It felt like we found that true harmony and it was the two of us and no one else.”
Louise’s silver was even more remarkable given that she broke her leg falling off her bike just a couple of months ago, and only got back on a horse to ride two weeks ago during the horses’ quarantine in Aachen.
Belgium’s Manon Claeys took bronze on San Dior 2 (75.680%).
Belgium’s Michele George was dominant again in the Grade V Freestyle and successfully defended her London 2012 and Rio 2016 titles.
She scored 80.590% on Best of 8 to pip Dutchman Frank Hosmar by just 0.350 of a point.
Frank, riding Alphaville N.O.P., scored 80.240 to take the silver, while Germany’s Regine Mispelkamp took bronze with 76.820 on Highlander Delight’s.
“I’m really blown away. The mare is just fantastic,” said Michele. “What can I say, I’m a bit speechless because coming over here with a young horse and showing the world what she’s capable of is just genius.
“I knew she could, but I thought maybe it was a bit early to show everyone because at home she can work like a queen but at home is at home.”
Michele went into the arena just after Frank had posted his great score.
“Once you’re riding into the arena you don’t look at that,” she said. “I know he had a high score but I thought the mare feels good, so I came into the arena and tried to make something even better. That’s the spirit.”
Silver for Britain’s Baker
In the second highest winning score of the night, Denmark’s Tobias Thorning Jorgensen rode Jolene Hill to his second gold of the Paralympic Games in the Grade III Freestyle. Together they scored a massive 84.347% to take the title ahead of Britain’s Natasha Baker, who scored 77.614% on Keystone Daw Chorus.
Norway’s Anne Katrin Lubbe took the bronze on La Costa Majlund with 76.477%.
“I feel great. I left my head out here this time because I wanted to show I can do this,” said Tobias. “I just rode to the edge of being too much and I was probably closer to some mistakes today than I was yesterday, but I took the chance.
“I always had the dream of double gold but I knew it would be hard. I would be happy if it was a silver or bronze, just to get two medals at my first Paralympics, but two golds is amazing.”
Britain tops the table
Great Britain tops the Para Dressage table, with three golds, three silvers and two bronzes, ahead of The Netherlands’ two golds, two silvers and two bronzes.
Belgium fills the third spot with two golds and two bronzes, followed by the USA in fourth with two golds and a bronze.
Main image: Lee Pearson and Breezer. Credit: FEI/Liz Gregg