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Team GB’s Paralympic equestrians won a record 11 gold medals this week at Greenwich Park.

Although the doyen of the team, Lee Pearson, had hoped to win an 11th gold medal, he met stiff competition in Australia’s Joann Formosa and Austria’s Pepo Puch, his longtime rival. Pearson’s horse, Gentleman, proved to be a tricky mount.

Pearson, born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita told the Telegraph that Gentleman found the frequency of events challenging:

“Gentleman has struggled this week, physically,” Pearson said of his horse, with whom he had claimed gold in Beijing four years ago.

“It’s quite unusual for him to compete every other day. The guys backstage have been working on keeping him sane and sound. I don’t think he could have offered any more in the arena. I don’t think I could have ridden any better, either …”

Still, Pearson comes away with a team gold along with individual silver and bronze medals to add to his collection.

The Paralympic equestrian team appeared on Channel 4 for an interview. All said the competition from other countries was gruelling. One woman said that Team GB had set the standard some years ago, however, since then, other teams were matching their dressage abilities. This means that Rio will be even tougher in 2016.

Another Team GB equestrian who excelled was Sophie Christiansen from Maidenhead. Aged 24, she became the first British Paralympian to win three gold medals at the London 2012 Games. (Photo credit: Sporting Life)

Sophie is Team GB’s most disabled Paralympian. She has cerebral palsy, the degree of which has a severe impact on her motor co-ordination and speech, similar to Stephen Hawking’s condition.

During her young life, she has also had a collapsed lung, a heart attack, blood poisoning and jaundice.

Whereas most of us would have kept such a little girl safely tucked away at home, Sophie’s parents took a different tack. When Sophie was six, they took her to a local Riding for the Disabled group. That led to a love of horses and international competition.

Sophie won a bronze medal in Athens in 2004. She took silver four years later in Beijing. This year, she won her three golds in London.

Channel 4 dressage commentators said that Sophie’s mount Janeiro 6 was a difficult horse to ride. When asked later how she managed to take him through well-choreographed movements, Sophie said that she just encouraged the horse to have fun. She had done a bit of horse whispering which worked incredibly well.

Sporting Life described the choreography from her freestyle, stunning to behold:

Her patriotic musical freestyle routine included excerpts from Land of Hope and Glory and also featured Big Ben’s chimes plus a quotation from Shakespeare’s Richard II, providing a fitting conclusion to the equestrian programme.

However, Christiansen also has an equally serious academic side. She read pure mathematics at university in which she  holds a master’s degree. Channel 4 said that she earned a first in one of her degrees. Having just watched her at that point and then hearing that, I felt very inadequate indeed.

Christiansen told the Telegraph that if she could invite anyone from history for dinner, her choice would be 17th-century mathematician Pierre de Fermat to the party to ask how he proved his theorem.

Christiansen was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2009 New Year Honours for services to disabled sport. When she isn’t training, she works part-time as a statistician.

Sophie Christiansen is one amazing woman and another inspiring role model for us all.

If you or someone you know is interested in finding out more about Riding for the Disabled (RDA), they have groups all over the country encompassing riding and carriage driving. Children are particularly welcome. I read an article in one of our local papers a few months ago which said that some disabled youngsters who cannot speak manage to do so just through the therapy that horse riding provides.

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