Para-dressage team wary despite World Games gold

By Ollie WilliamsBBC Sport in Caen
Sophie Wells, Sophie Christiansen, team captain David Hunter, Lee Pearson and Natasha Baker
Team gold medal winners Sophie Wells, Sophie Christiansen, team captain David Hunter, Lee Pearson and Natasha Baker
Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014
Venue: Caen, France Dates: 25 August-7 September
Coverage: Watch live on BBC Two, Red Button, online, tablets, mobiles and the BBC Sport app (times listed below)

Britain's Para-dressage riders have warned that they are being caught by international rivals, despite a strong display at the World Equestrian Games.

The Paralympic champions won three solo titles alongside team gold, down from six individual wins in 2010.

Lee Pearson led the medal haul with three golds, helping the team retain their world title before claiming two individual titles.

"This sport is hot but we managed to stay at the top of the game," he said.

Qualification rules have changed so two fewer British riders competed at the World Games this year, partly accounting for the reduced medal tally, but having secured four individual qualification slots and a team place for the Rio Paralympics, the GB riders believe they must now work harder than ever.

"Nothing is for granted," added Pearson, who enjoyed success on his return to the GB team for the first time since the London 2012 Paralympics.

"We have to ride every step of the way to get into the medals now, never mind win gold."

Pearson was joined by Sophie Christiansen, Sophie Wells and Natasha Baker in the team competition as they finished ahead of the Netherlands and Germany to continue the team's record of not being beaten in a major Para-equestrian championship for 20 years.

GB Para-dressage medals at 2014 World Equestrian Games
Team gold: (Natasha Baker, Sophie Christiansen, Lee Pearson, Sophie Wells)
Individual gold (Grade Ia): Sophie Christiansen
Individual gold (Grade Ib): Lee Pearson
Individual freestyle gold (Grade Ib): Lee Pearson
Individual silver (Grade Ia): Sophie Christiansen
Individual silver (Grade II): Natasha Baker
Individual silver (Grade IV): Sophie Wells
Individual freestyle silver (Grade IV): Sophie Wells

The 10-time Paralympic champion then dominated both his Grade Ib individual and freestyle competitions, scoring a superb 80.05% in the latter on board his mount Zion to beat London 2012 freestyle champion Pepo Puch from Austria.

Sophie Christiansen, an individual champion in 2010 who went on to claim three Paralympic titles at London 2012, won one individual event this year but finished second in the freestyle, scoring 77.550% behind Italy's Sara Morganti who managed 78.800.

"I couldn't have done any more. In London I went out and won by 8%. This time, I just got pipped," the 26-year-old told BBC Sport.

Wells was beaten into silver by Belgium's Michele George in both of her Grade IV events while Baker, who won two golds in London, had a tough time in her Grade II competitions.

The 24-year-old won silver in the individual behind Dutch rider Rixt van der Horst, but finished out of the medals in the freestyle after an unsettled performance from her mount Cabral.

"This has been the toughest year," said Baker. "The standard has gone up so much. It's going to get harder so we need to make sure we don't get complacent and keep pushing for top scores."

Team-mate Ricky Balshaw, who finished out of the medals in his Grade Ib category said: "This year has been a real eye-opener. There's a lot more money in the sport and the standard of horse has changed.

"I'm just watching a Dutch rider now and the horse is phenomenal, you'd see it in the able-bodied ring. It really is 'game on' now."