There are just hours to go until the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Paralympic Games on September 7. Para-Equestrian sport will celebrate 20 years in the Paralympic movement when dressage gets under way a few days later, on Sunday 11 September at the Deodoro Equestrian Centre, with riders from 29* nations competing. The list of entries is published here by the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI).
The British team will be hoping to retain the gold they won in London in 2012, and both their reigning champions – Sophie Christiansen, individual and Freestyle Grade 1a, and Natasha Baker, individual and Freestyle Grade II – are bidding to retain their individual crowns.
Also returning are Michèle George (Belgium), individual and Freestyle Grade IV champion, and Pepo Puch (Austria), Freestyle Grade 1b champion. Absent from this year’s entries are both Joann Formosa (Australia), winner of individual Grade 1b and Hannelore Brenner (Germany), individual and Freestyle Grade III winner, who withdrew only a few days ago due to an injury to her horse.
Making her Paralympic debut is Dutch rider Rixt van der Hoorst who scooped both the individual titles at WEG in Normandy, 2014, before doing the same at 2015’s FEI European Para-Equestrian Dressage Championships. Another Paralympic newcomer – and sure to be a hero with the home crowd – is 31-year-old Rodolpho Riskalla, who represented Brazil in international dressage for a number of years. A bout of meningitis left him with disabilities and he has now returned to the sport in its Paralympic format.
Uruguay is sending its first para-equestrian athlete to the Games, too, with Alfonsina Maldonado competing in Grade IV on her horse Da Vinci.
The newcomers combine with some of the best-known names in the sport, including world number two, Sara Morganti from Italy, and Ireland’s Helen Kearney. Both could provide strong competition for the medals, as could Rebecca Hart from the USA. And no doubt Great Britain’s Lee Pearson will be aiming to add to his medal tally of 12 (including 10 golds), the highest of any Paralympic Equestrian.
“It is really exciting to see so many nations once again competing in the Paralympic Games”, FEI Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez said.
“We’re also delighted to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Para-Equestrian at the Games, and that again competing this year are Anne Dunham (GBR), Jose Letartre (France) and Jens Lasse Dokkan (Norway) – all three were at the first Para-Equestrian competition in Atlanta 1996, with Jens having competed at every Paralympic Games since.
“We’ve seen from a very exciting Rio 2016 Olympics that the Deodoro Equestrian Park provides first-class facilities for this top level of competition and will once again serve to host a great six days of equestrian action. With riders ranging in age from 16 to 67, we will be able to witness the sport at its best.”
New Zealand doesn’t have any para-equestrians at these Games, but Andrew Bennie is there as coach for Natasha Tse of Hong Kong, who is competing on her horse Benjamin.
*There were 30 nations on the nominated entry list as Russia had also qualified three athletes, but the suspension of the Russian Paralympic Committee by the IPC means that no Russian athletes will take part.