Roxanne Trunnell and horse Dolton compete in the dressage individual test - Grade I at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 27, 2021 in Tokyo.
For Roxanne Trunnell, the path to what would become a historic Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 performance came into focus three years ago.
In September 2018, she teamed with a new partner, Dolton, for the World Equestrian Games in Tryon, North Carolina, and the pair came away with a bronze medal in the Grade I dressage individual freestyle test. Trunnell had never finished higher than seventh at a major international competition before, but it was clear she and Dolton had something special, and their partnership was sealed when Karin Flint bought the gelding after the Tryon performance.
“Not only did I win my first medal at that WEG but I also won the opportunity to continue riding this fantastic horse,” Trunnell told TeamUSA.org.
The duo have been all but unstoppable ever since, culminating in a dominant showing in Tokyo that saw them take gold in the Grade I individual test and individual freestyle tests and help the United States to bronze in the team test to music. It was the first team dressage medal for the U.S. in the Paralympics, and Trunnell was the first American to win Paralympic gold in equestrian since 1996.
Those three trips to the podium marked quite a departure from Trunnell’s experience at the Rio Games, where she finished 10th in the individual championship and the U.S. placed 14th in the team dressage. She rode Royal Dancer in Rio but did not have the bond with him that she has developed with Dolton, and she believes that made all the difference in Tokyo.
“I am the only one who competes Dolton, and I get to ride him four to five times a week,” Trunnell said. “I spend a lot of time just hanging out with him at his stall, it is very clear that he loves me and trusts me. When we go into a ring he knows I won’t put him in a bad position and I know he is going to try his hardest for me. He’s got my back and I’ve got his.
“Having done a Paralympic Games before did make me calm since I knew what to expect, but mostly what made me calm was going into it riding Dolton. I knew we both have done these tests together a lot and that we were just going to go out and do our thing in the arena like we’ve done at all the shows before this one.”
The 36-year-old from Richland, Washington, entered Tokyo as the top-ranked dressage athlete in the world and a favorite to win gold but noted “anything can happen” in the show ring, so she kept her focus on trying her best.
Everything came together as planned, with Trunnell recording a score of 81.464 percent to win the individual test over Latvia’s Rihards Snikus and Italy’s Sara Morganti. She followed that up with a competition-best 80.321 in the team competition as she joined Rebecca Hart and Kate Shoemaker on the podium along with teams from Great Britain (gold) and the Netherlands (silver). Trunnell closed out her run in Tokyo with a Paralympic record score of 86.927 in the individual freestyle test to beat Snikus and Morganti once again.