Para-Equestrians Prepare to do Battle for Paralympic Medals

Para-Equestrians Prepare to do Battle for Paralympic Medals

Four years ago in London, Great Britain took gold, Germany took silver, and Ireland took bronze.

Photo: FEI/Liz Gregg

With just a day to go until the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games on Sept. 7, para-equestrian athletes from 29 nations are preparing to compete on the world’s biggest stage in a bid for the most coveted medals in the sport.

The list of definite entries is published on the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) website

The unbeaten Team Great Britain will be looking to retain their team gold once again, and both the nations’ reigning Paralympic Champions return to Rio—Sophie Christiansen in the individual Freestyle Grade 1a and Natasha Baker in the individual Freestyle Grade II—bidding to retain their individual crowns.

Also returning are Michèle George from Belgium, individual Freestyle Grade IV champion, and Pepo Puch of Austria, Freestyle Grade 1b champion. Absent from this year’s entries are both Joann Formosa, also of Austria, winner of individual Grade 1b medal, and Hannelore Brenner of Germany, individual Grade III winner, who withdrew only a few days ago due to an injury to her horse.

The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games will see para-equestrian sport celebrate 20 years in the Paralympic movement, with 14 countries fielding teams and a further 15 nations lining out with individuals at the Deodoro Equestrian Centre when para-equestrian dressage gets underway on Sept. 11.

A new addition to the para-equestrian family for 2016, Uruguay is sending its first para-equestrian athlete to the Paralympic Games, with Alfonsina Maldonado competing in Grade IV with her horse Da Vinci.

The list of debutants includes Rixt van der Hoorst, of the Netherlands, who scooped both the individual titles at the 2014 FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France, before doing the same again at 2015’s FEI European Para-Equestrian Dressage championships in Deauville, France. Also, making his Paralympic Games debut for the home nation, 31-year-old Rodolpho Riskalla, who represented Brazil in dressage at international level for a number of years before stepping back from the sport in 2014. A bout of meningitis left him with disabilities, so he has now returned to the sport in its Paralympic format.

The debutants combine with some of the best known names in the sport, including World Number Two Sara Morganti, from Italy, Grade Ia silver and gold medalist at the FEI World Equestrian Games 2014, and Ireland’s Helen Kearney who could both provide strong competition for the medals, as could Rebecca Hart from the United States. Great Britain’s Lee Pearson will be looking to add to his medal tally of 12 (including 10 golds), the most of any Paralympic Equestrian.

“It is really exciting to see so many nations once again competing in the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games,” said FEI Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez. “The list of definite entries includes some great names out to retain their titles, as well as many new riders making their Paralympic debuts. We’re also very proud to welcome Uruguay to the family as they field a para-equestrian athlete for the first time.

“We’re also delighted to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Para-Equestrian at the Games this year, and that again competing this year are Anne Dunham (GBR), Jose Letartre (FRA), and Jens Lasse Dokkan (NOR). 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,” Ibáñez continued. “With riders ranging in age from 16 to 67 we will be able to witness the full universality of the sport at its best.”

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