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Yesterday, Great Britain squeezed through to retain their Longines FEI Para Dressage European Championships team title by the slimmest of margins, relying on a magical final ride from superstar debutant, Julie Payne on Athene Lindebjerg.
Fresh from individual Grade I gold on day one, Payne entered Gothenburg’s Heden Arena late on Tuesday afternoon knowing she needed a score of 75.000% or more to prevent a bullish Denmark quartet from making history.
“I have never seen everyone so nervous,” said Erin Orford who had earlier ridden Dior to a score of 68.853%. “We were all watching the live stream on FEI TV to get the running average,” she added, laughing.
They need never have doubted Payne, the 55 year old and her mount danced their way to 78.107%, the highest score of the week so far.
“She is just unbelievable,” said Orford.
Payne is certainly that and more, she revealed after her record ride that she’d been “fighting her body all day”.
“I was saying to my legs, “work”, they were saying “I don’t want to!” When they worked, my pelvis said I won’t move and I was saying ‘yes, c’mon you have got to move’. It took everything I’ve got - and bless her - Athene Lindebjerg gave me everything,” said Payne.
Thanks to scores from nine-time major championship rider Sophie Wells, on C Fatal Attraction, and individual gold medallist Suzanna Hext on Abira, Great Britain won by a margin of just 3.425% over Denmark.
"The hardest test I have ever ridden. I have spent most of the day in the bathroom not feeling very well. That took everything I have got.”
“If nothing else happens in my life, this has just been the absolute pinnacle of my life, it’s an absolute dream and now I am going to cry,” Payne said.
For much of the competition, the Dutch, bronze medallists behind Great Britain at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, had been right in the hunt with both Frank Hosmar on Aplhaville N.O.P. and Nicole den Dulk riding Wallace N.O.P. scoring more than 73.000% in the morning session.
“I was the one saying we would win team gold and I blew it,” said Voets. The individual Grade IV gold medallist did, however, share the crowd’s enthusiasm and revel in the excitement of the event.
“It’s good for the sport that it’s this exciting, till the last rider, I think the last time it came down to the last rider was 100 years ago,” she joked.
Para Dressage action continues today with the much-anticipated freestyle event. The Heden Arena will be rocking from 9am. Elsewhere, the team dressage Grand Prix concludes in the Ullevi Stadium. Don’t miss it…
Text by Luke Norman
Images by Liz Gregg