Para-dressage competition got underway for Team Canada with the Individual Test on Aug. 27, 2021, held at Baji Koen Equestrian Park at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games in Japan.
The Individual Test began on August 26 for Grades II, IV and V before picking up the next day for Grades I and III. In addition to being the first chance for an individual medal, it acted as a qualifier, with the top eight combinations in each Grade moving on to the Individual Freestyle on August 30.
Winona Hartvikson, 62, was the first to enter the arena for Canada in an admirable Paralympic debut, narrowly missing the Grade I top-eight cut off by less than a percentage point. The Langley, BC, native rode Onyx, an 18-year-old Hanoverian gelding that Hartvikson co-owns with Jane Macdonald, to a final score of 69.893%. While the pair maintained great impulsion throughout their test and received individual movements scores as high as 8.0 for the halt and medium walk, a slight misstep coming out of their three-loop serpentine contributed to a ninth-place finish.
“I am relieved that I’ve been able to get through the first test successfully and with a respectable score,” said Hartvikson, whose first major games appearance was at the Tryon 2018 World Equestrian Games alongside her Tokyo 2020 teammates. “I would’ve liked to have higher marks, of course, but tomorrow’s another day and I think that we can do better and will be super.”
Closely following Hartvikson on the Grade I leaderboard was Jody Schloss of Toronto, ON, in her second Paralympic appearance after challenging London 2012 with Inspector Rebus. For Tokyo 2020, the 48-year-old showed off the elevated level of communication she shares with her international competition partner of the last five years, Lieutenant Lobin (Lobster x Fanal Prydsholm). Schloss and her 17-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding maintained pace and accuracy – particularly in the medium walk, serpentine and halt – to the tune of 69.286% to clinch 11th place.
“It was really fun to ride Lobin,” commented Schloss. “I actually was really happy with my score because I thought he did so well. I was impressed with how forward he was and how he was really listening to everything I was asking. I love Lobin so much, he has really learned to be a para horse. At the beginning, he was a bit anxious about everything and now he knows, ‘Okay, I have to behave.’ The thing I love about him is he’s a really hard worker and he always tries to do really well for me. When I praise or reward him, he’s so happy that he did well.”
The Grade I Individual Test gold medal was awarded to Roxanne Trunnell and Dolton of the United States for their score of 81.464%. Latvia’s Rihards Snikus and King of the Dance held on to silver with 80.179%, while Sara Morganti and Royal Delight of Italy scored 76.964% for bronze.
In Grade III, Lauren Barwick, 43, of Aldergrove, BC, closed out the day’s competition with a beautifully harmonious test on Lee Garrod’s Sandrino (sired by Spirit of Westfalia). The nine-year-old Westphalian gelding was light and relaxed in the experienced hands of Barwick, who has represented the maple leaf at every Paralympic Games since Athens 2004. Barwick and Sandrino’s score of 70.000% put them in ninth place, tantalizingly close to the 70.059% of eighth-place Australian finishers, Emma Booth and Zidane.
“My horse felt the best he has felt in the warm-up and completely connected with me in the arena,” said Barwick, who focused primarily on relationship building and teaching compensating aids to Sandrino in their relatively short partnership of just over a year together at the FEI level. “He’s young, has never experienced anything like this before and he stayed with me and was a good champion. I’m excited for what we can bring to the table.”
Looking forward to the Team Test, for which three Canadian combinations will be selected to compete on August 28 before medals are awarded on the 29th, Barwick commented, “My plan is to focus on trying to bring more of what the judges are looking for to my next test to improve on my score and work towards a personal best. My coach, Shannon Dueck, our Chef d’Équipe, Clive Milkins, and I will review the test sheets and see what it is that the judges were missing in today’s test and see at this stage, in my partnership with my horse, if we can improve on that while keeping a good relationship.”
Also competing in Grade III was Rio 2016 Canadian Paralympian Roberta Sheffield, 40, who resides in Lincolnshire, GBR. Partnered with her 12-year-old mare, Fairuza, she earned a commendable score of 69.353% from the judges for 12th place.
“My original dream when I bought her was Tokyo,” said Sheffield of her journey with Fairuza, whom she purchased as unhandled six-year-old project horse and affectionally calls “Wonky” due to her facial markings. “She had a few health problems so everything got put back a year but then Tokyo itself got put back a year so, in a way, things collided to work. I think she’ll be an even better horse next year. She’s growing into herself; the more experience she gets, the more she impresses me.”
Sheffield concluded, “It has been such a long journey to get to this point: such a test of resilience, self belief, holding your horses and keeping your nerve. [The Paralympics] don’t feel like any other show. It feels so different, so alien but also so exciting. It’s been an incredible experience and I am so pleased that I’ve been able to achieve this with Wonky.”
Tobias Thorning Jorgensen and Jolene Hill captured the Grade III gold medal for Denmark with a score of 78.971%. Natasha Baker and Keystone Dawn Chorus of Great Britain stood in the silver podium position (76.265%), while Rixt van der Horst and Findsley of the Netherlands earned bronze (75.765%).
The Canadian Para-Dressage Team is supported at the Games by: Chef d’Équipe, Clive Milkins; Para-Dressage Veterinarian, Alan Manning; Grooms, Lillie Durbin, Courtney Palleson, Karis Van Essen and Richard Neale; Athlete Personal Supports, Shannon Dueck, Jane Macdonald and Melinda Castillo; Senior Manager, Dressage Olympic/Paralympic Program, Christine Peters; Coordinator, Para-Dressage, Jamie-Ann Goodfellow; and Equestrian Team Lead, James Hood.
For more information on equestrian events at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, including the full schedule of equestrian competition and results, please click here. Further information on the Canadian Equestrian Team can be found at on the Equestrian Canada #RidetoTokyo webpage.