Britain Wins Gold at 2008 Paralympic Games

Great Britain orchestrates gold medal performances in Equestrian at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Hong Kong, China. U.S. riders now turn their attention to the freestyles.
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Great Britain orchestrates gold medal performances in Equestrian at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Hong Kong, China. U.S. riders now turn their attention to the freestyles.

September 9, 2008 -- The first medals were handed out at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Hong Kong tonight, and although the US anthem wasn't played, the Team is looking firmly to the future. They will ride their freestyle tests over the next two days and then focus on the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games where they will be riding on their home turf.

Barb Grassmyer kicked it off with Mibis. She put in a steady performance in the Grade III Individual Test. From Placerville , Ca,, the pair lost some of their roundness and balance in the canter and they ended up on a score of 57.12%.

"I'm happy with my performance," said Grassmyer, who finished 10th. "Mibis went very well tonight. My goal was almost achieved. I would have liked to have scored in the 60s."

Grassmyer, who has Aperts Syndrome, is looking forward to the freestyle on Thursday where she hopes to put in an even better performance.

Grassmyer has met people from all over the world on her travels from her Placerville, Ca. base with the 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood, something that she values greatly.

"I love to travel and meet people," said Grassmyer. "I love to make new friends and ride my horse around the world."

Grassmyer's division was won by Hannelore Brenner from Germany on Women of the World and Bettina Eistel (who rides beautifully despite having no arms) was the Bronze medalist.

Keith Newerla got his first chance to ride in the main arena today. Riding Walk on the Moon (who is owned by David O'Connor) as an individual, Newerla's score was not quite as good as he hoped for but Walk on the Moon was total class in the arena, which was proving very electric for many horses.

The 11-year-old Thoroughbred is a former event horse making his Paralympic debut.

"I thought it was an accurate test, but he gets behind my leg" said Newerla who has Spastic Diplegia. "But I'm honored to have the opportunity to ride him. We've had a lot of fun together and it shows what type of horse he is. He is remarkable. Any rider would be lucky to have a horse to ride that is that special. He tried his heart out and did the best he could."

Newerla (who lives in King of Prussia , Pa. ) didn't reckon in the medals in the Individual Test (his score was 58.571%) but he looks forward to both the Freestyle and to the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington , KY.

"It would be great to compete in the U.S.," said Newerla. "To be there, for the first time, with all the other disciplines, we can show what we can accomplish as riders. We are riders and it will help build awareness in the U.S."

Lynn Seidemann rode Rhett in the penultimate test of the evening of the 1b division. Her test featured improved trot work from the previous test and excellent halts. The Coppell, Tx. rider had some very good moments in her test with the 10-year-old Danish Warmblood. Their score of 63.905% left them sixth.

"It was good," she said. "I wanted to improve the trot work which we did so I'm happy with that. My score was what it should have been but my expectation was to do better. I am very much looking forward to my freestyle -- that is my favorite part."

Seidemann is a paraplegic as a result of a skiing accident more than 20 years ago. Riding gives her back some of the freedom she used to have on her own two legs.

"I feel like I'm not disabled when I ride," she said. "I feel like I can play again."

The British ran off with their third consecutive team gold medal on a score of 439.608, led by 1b individual Test winner, Lee Pearson. Pearson rode Gentleman to his eighth consecutive gold on a score of 73.236%. Germany won silver and Norway won bronze. The U.S. finished 10th.

"Its crazy to have 100% success rate at the Paralympics," said Pearson. "For an inexperienced horse, I couldn't ask for more."

The Ia division was won in a close contest by Great Britain's Anne Dunham who rode the appropriately named and adorable Teddy to a score of 73.100%. Dunham also had the highest score in the team portion of the competition. She just nipped teammate Sophie Christiansen on Lambruso III, who won silver. Singapore rider Laurentia Tan was a popular crowd bronze medal winner.