There was joy too for Italy’s Sara Morganti riding Royal Delight, as she upgraded her WEG 2014 Grade Ia individual silver to a gold in Grade I, while Team USA scored its first ever WEG medal with Rebecca Hart taking bronze in Grade III, in front of a delighted home audience in the Tryon Arena.
Van der Horst’s defence of her title came on her new horse, Findsley, on which she scored 73.735%, finishing comfortably ahead of Great Britain’s Rio 2016 triple gold medallist Natasha Baker, who rode Mount Saint John Diva Dannebrog to score 72.471%, whilst Rebecca Hart (USA) finished with 71.618%, riding El Corona Texel.
After collecting her medal, a grinning van der Horst said:
““I am really thrilled. It is so amazing to be world champion again, I am really happy. During my test I didn’t realise it was that good, I wasn’t thinking about it so it’s just amazing. In the beginning I was nervous but I relaxed during the test and it got better and better. I was just enjoying my ride.”
Like Great Britain’s Baker, van der Horst has only been riding her horse since the start of the year and, while competitive, wasn’t sure she would defend her title.
“I hoped for this,” she added, “and to be at WEG, but to get a gold medal is a dream come true again.”
An emotional Hart celebrated a bronze which clearly meant the world to her having previously been fourth at the 2010 WEG in Lexington, Kentucky, and again at 2012’s London Paralympic Games.
“It feels amazing, I love it,” she exclaimed. “I’m finally not the bridesmaid. I’ve been crying for the last hour and to be able to do in on home turf with my family watching and to be the US’s first WEG medal ever. This won’t be coming off my around my neck for a long time.”
Sara Morganti (ITA), again riding Royal Delight, scored 74.740% finishing ahead of Singapore’s Laurentia Tan, who scored 73.750% on Fuerst Sherlock. Having led almost from the start of the competition until Morganti and Tan were the last two to ride, Germany’s Elke Philipp won the bronze medal, with 73.143% on Fuerst Sinclair.
Morganti’s win is extra sweet coming, as it does, after a difficult couple of years. At the Rio 2016 Games she was a favourite for a medal only to have Royal Delight be judged not fit to ride at the vet inspection, a decision which left her ‘devastated’.
Speaking after a tearful medal ceremony she said:
“I feel so happy. I had some health issues and, for a moment, I thought I couldn’t come here but I wanted to so much for my horse and my trainer. We really wanted to do something good and even just to be here was great – but to win gold is a dream.”
And having shared a podium with Tan and Philipp, she added:
“They are all wonderful riders that I love very much and I’m so happy to be on the podium with them. They have beautiful horses. I cried and I’m crying quite a lot. I can’t even imagine my family at home. My husband and my sister are here and all my family – my mum, my dad, my brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews are all together at home to watch it on TV.”
With all the individual test titles now decided, The Netherlands sits comfortably on top of the Para Dressage medal table with two golds, a bronze and a silver, having won a medal in every class in which it has competed. Great Britain lies second with one gold and one silver, with Denmark third with a gold and bronze.
Tomorrow sees the start of two days of team competition with Great Britain yet to be defeated at European, world or Paralympic level. However, new horses and concerns over the performance of Lee Pearson’s Styletta following their retirement in yesterday’s Grade II contest mean Great Britain’s defence is not, on paper, guaranteed. Couple that with great performances so far from Dutch, German, Danish, and other riders, the competition is now wide open.
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