September 11, 2008 -- A collective sigh could be felt in the Sha Tin venue as the final day of competition at the 2008 Paralympic Games got underway this morning. For everyone who has put so much time, money and work into the last six weeks, all that remained was 15 hours. The British made the best of those hours, winning 10 medals.
The competition kicked off with the Grade III riders performing their individual freestyle tests. Barbara Grassmyer was the first U.S. rider in the ring with Mibis. Their test featured very good half-passes and flying changes that would make many advanced event horses jealous. To the music of Phil Collins, the pair cruised around the arena. They scored 63.389 percent, giving up some marks when their second shoulder-in was a little wobbly.
"It was a lot of fun," said Grassmyer who has Aperts Syndrome. "It was a good score, I'm quite happy overall with how she went. She was very good. The music fits her the best."
Their score was good enough for 10th place at the end of the freestyle.
Hannelore Brenner and Women of the World won gold for Germany on a score of 74.223 percent, Great Britain's Simon Laurens won silver on Ocean Diamond and Dalskov Lykke rounded out the medals for Denmark on Alfarvad April Z.
Grassmyer, who lives in Placerville, Calif., has the 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games firmly on her radar screen as her next major goal.
Two Grade 1b members wrote the last chapter for the U.S. team. The first rider was Keith Newerla and David O'Connor's Walk on the Moon. The 11-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (one of only a handful of Thoroughbreds in the competition) put in an improved effort from the individual test, and Newerla (from King of Prussia, Pa.) crafted an accurate effort to the music from Inspector Gadget and Mission Impossible. It suited Walk on the Moon perfectly.
"This is his first international Para competition," said Newerla about the former event horse. "He's done an admirable job. To deal with the stands, the heat, the atmosphere the way he did shows what kind of horse he is. He showed his heart with how much he tried. You can't be upset with a score when a horse does the best he can."
Newerla's score of 60.500 percent was, to him, reflective of the entire week for the team.
"In all honesty, from, a team perspective we were a little disappointed," he said. "We know we can ride better than we did. We didn't reach our own expectations."
Lynn Seidemann was the final rider to represent the U.S. at these Paralympic Games. Riding Rhett, a 10-year-old KWPN gelding owned by Kathryn Groves. Seidemann utilized all of her skills to coax a good performance out of Rhett, whom she has only been riding for two months. Seidemann's freestyle was choreographed to Disney music--the test featured very consistent trot work but lost points in the walk.
"It wasn't what I expected," said Seidemann who is a paraplegic as a result of a skiing accident. They scored 64.221 percent and ended up ninth. "I wish I could have done better at my walk work and then I would have scored very high. But we've only been together for two months so I still think we did really well."
The Coppell, Texas, mother of two won a silver medal in wheelchair doubles tennis at the 1992 Paralympic Games in Barcelona. She also won individual silver in the freestyle at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Seidemann rode in her third and what she anticipates to be her last Paralympic Games.
"I think I will do handcycling locally," said Seidemann of her next athletic endeavor. "But this has been a great Games--it is top of the line."
The Grade 1b Individual Freestyle was won by Lee Pearson on Gentleman with a score of 77.056%. Pearson won his ninth paralympic gold medal over his teammate Ricky Balshaw on Deacons Giorgi who scored 70.444%.
"We managed one-two," said Pearson. "I'm numb. We've both worked so hard."
The Grade 1a Individual Freestyle was also dominated by Great Britain, who flip flopped placings from the individual test. This time, Sophie Christiansen won her first individual gold on Lambrusco III (on a score of 76.056 percent) and Anne Dunham (who won individual gold in the first individual test) won silver on Teddy with a score of 73.33 percent. The bronze medal went to Singapore rider Laurentina Tan.
"I'm so glad for Anne," said Christiansen. "She really deserves it. If it wasn't for her pushing me I wouldn't be at such a high standard."