Tag Archives: FEI

It’s Tight Going into Team Medal Decider, but Swiss Are Out in Front

Martin Fuchs and Leone Jei. (FEI/Christoph Taniere)

Switzerland moved into the lead in the first round of the Team competition at the Longines FEI Jumping European Championships 2021 at Riesenbeck in Germany. However, the same three countries continue to dominate the leaderboard, with the overnight leaders from Sweden now in third behind the hosts from Germany who maintained their second-place ranking.

With one more day to decide the team medals, the result is still very much hanging in the balance because the margins are really tight.

The Swiss start with a score of 5.47, thanks to superb clears from Elian Baumann (Campari Z), Martin Fuchs (Leone Jei), and Steve Guerdat (Albfuehren’s Maddox). Second-line rider, and at 24 years old the youngest on the team, Bryan Balsiger faulted just once on the 14-fence track when the grey mare AK’s Courage hit the water-tray oxer at fence 10 in an otherwise super round.

However, they don’t have even a fence in hand over Team Germany who added just the four picked up by their last man into the ring, David Will. Will and C Vier fell afoul of the second element of the penultimate double of oxers, which proved hugely influential throughout the afternoon.

Zeros

His team-mates Andre Thieme (DSP Chakaria) and Christian Kukuk (Mumbai) had both put zeros on the board while Marcus Ehning and Stargold picked up five faults. By the time Will set off, a clear from him would secure the advantage for the host nation going into the final day. His single mistake moved their scoreline on to 8.77. but it still leaves them ahead of the first-day leaders from Sweden, who slipped to third when Rolf-Goran Bengtsson and Ermindo W were the only pair to keep a clean sheet for their side.

On a running score of 11.59, the Swedes are a fence behind the Swiss at the head of affairs, but less than a fence behind the Germans.

Bengstson was delighted with his horse’s performance, and despite the slip down the rankings, he reckons the Swedes shouldn’t be written off yet for the title. “It’s still wide open – Peder (Fredricson) and Douglas (Lindelow) were unlucky, and I didn’t see Angelica (Augustssib Zanotelli) go, but she only picked up four faults too.

“Sometimes it’s good not to be in front on the last day because that means the other teams have to go clear and they feel the pressure. But we need clear rounds tomorrow, that’s the thing!” he said with a big smile.

Both Andre Thieme’s DSP Chakaria and Christian Kukuk’s Mumbai were at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games just a few weeks ago, and yet produced two fantastic rounds for Germany.

Developmental

The two riders talked about how the trip to Japan proved developmental for both horses.

“We all said if she’s sound and fresh when she comes home, and the jumping feels normal and loose, then we will come here for the European Championships. She only learned from being the Olympics. In Tokyo she was maybe a bit too green; it may have been a bit too early for her, but today she felt really good!” Thieme said of his mare.

Kukuk said his stallion Mumbai came home fresh, and that their relationship has really grown thanks to the Tokyo experience. “I think going there made me and him, and brought us together. He is only nine years old, and he was probably a bit shy in himself there, but what is very good with him is that after coming back, it’s nearly like he’s thinking about it all, and when we see him now here he looks even better than before. He’s a wonderful horse; even when you have a mistake he thinks about it and wants to do it better next time,” Kukuk said today.

Meanwhile, the Swiss reflected on a great day when they were the only team to produce three clear rounds to leave them in pole position going into the final day of the team competition.

Fuchs’ tour of Frank Rothenberger’s 14-fence course was epic, Leone Jei’s extravagant jumping drawing gasps of delight from onlookers. “He has extreme potential and a huge gallop and is easy to ride. He has unlimited scope and he’s extremely good in his head – he really wants to jump!” said the man who at 29 years old is defending the individual European title he won two years ago with the great Clooney.

Swiss supremacy

This result saw him take over the lead in the individual rankings, and it says something for Swiss supremacy when they hold three of the top-five individual placings at this stage of the competition, with Baumann and Guerdat currently sharing fourth behind Sweden’s Bengtsson in third and Germany’s Kukuk in second spot.

They may be in a strong position, but they are not getting too carried away. There’s more work to be done before those medals are presented.

“It’s still a long way to go; everything is still out there. The teams are quite close, but our horses are jumping good and we will give it a try tomorrow,” Guerdat said.

He has had Albfuehren’s Maddox since he was seven. “He’s a Swedish horse that Peder Fredricson used to ride. He’s a really nice horse and I always thought that one day he would do something big. He didn’t win much as an 8-year-old; he started a bit last year; he’s only ten and still has a lot to improve, but he’s powerful and has what it takes to jump big fences. Maybe he’s not quite ready yet to jump five big rounds but we will try,” he added.

Mixed bag

The year 2021 has been a mixed bag for the London 2012 Olympic champion. “I’ve had great success and pleasure in my personal life; it’s been enjoyable every minute,” said the popular athlete whose daughter, Ella, was born in April. But as he pointed out, it has been a tough year from a sport point of view. In June he lost the mare he always called his “Queen,” Bianca, who died of a brain tumour.

“It was not the nicest time, but it’s one of those things that happen. I was on a little bit of a down after that. I won’t say it’s because of that, but sometimes things don’t go well and that’s the run I’ve been having at the moment. That’s why today was important – everything doesn’t feel as confident and smooth as normal, but I have to at least fight. That’s the one thing I have control over. To show the good spirit out there, I’ve got to fight even more than normally, but this is sport; it’s what I’m trying to do and I have my horse on my side and I hope together we can fight for the best result possible!”

Results here.

by Louise Parkes

Media contact:

Shannon Gibbons
Manager, Media Relations & Media Operations
shannon.gibbons@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 46

Sweden Leads Team Ranking, but Germany and Switzerland Are Close Behind

Germany’s David Will and C Vier. (FEI/Christoph Taniere)

Team Sweden swept into the lead on the opening day of the Longines FEI Jumping European Championship 2021 at Riesenbeck, Germany, but the newly-crowned Olympic champions have only a narrow advantage over the host country, who in turn lie just ahead of Switzerland going into the first round of the team competition.

The beautiful big grass arena at the charming new venue created by multiple Olympian Ludger Beerbaum and his team provided the perfect backdrop to a great day of sport. And the hosts had plenty to cheer about when David Will was quickest around Frank Rothenberger’s 13-fence track for a German victory with C Vier in the opening Speed class.

Second-last to go, and chasing the target time set by Tokyo Olympic individual silver and team gold medallist Sweden’s Peder Fredricson riding Catch Me Not, Will shaved almost a second off that without seeming to turn a hair.

“My plan was not necessarily to win this class. I wanted to land a really good round and do everything right leading up to the next days, but of course winning is a very big plus so I couldn’t be happier for myself or my horse. His jumping was amazing; he made it easy for me, so the credit really belongs to him!” said the 33-year-old Will who is competing in his very first Championship.

Pathfinders

Swedish pathfinders, Angelica Augustsson Zanotelli and Kalinka van de Nachtegaele, had a clear but relatively slow tour of the track to come home in 80.92 seconds. But when Rolf-Goran Bengtsson and Ermindo W broke the beam in 75.58, Douglas Lindelow and Casquo Blue stormed home in 73.59, and then Peder Fredricson produced his country’s fourth clear of the competition in 72.58, they clinched pole position in the team rankings when the top three scores were counted.

On top of that, Fredricson lies second and Lindelow third individually, with Olivier Robert from France in fourth with Vivaldi des Meneaux and defending individual champion Martin Fuchs from Switzerland in fifth with Leone Jei.

The German team looked compromised when Maurice Tebbel’s Don Diarado was withdrawn. “Of course it was bad for us that Maurice couldn’t ride, but this decision had to be made for the horse. But if you have Marcus Ehning as the fifth you are still pretty OK! We have a good team and a good team spirit; we are working well together and we’ll see where this leads us. I think we can be very happy with this start,” Will said.

Christian Kukuk’s Mumbai and Andre Thieme’s DSP Chakaria are not long back from Tokyo, but both German horses were looking great when slotting into tenth and 17th individually. The Swedes will be under plenty of pressure if they are to stay ahead of the home contingent. Although the Swiss were a little unlucky.

On course

Anchorman Steve Guerdat looked on course for a really fast result with Albfuehren’s Maddox that could challenge for the lead but, coming down to the wall of planks at fence nine on a seven-stride distance, the stallion put down for an extra one at the last minute and ploughed through the timber. The pair cleared the finish in 71.96 which would have been the second-quickest time of the class, but the addition of four seconds for that mistake left them in 14th place instead, just behind Swiss team-mates Elian Baumann with Campari Z and Bryan Balsiger and AK’s Courage. Fuchs’ great fifth-place result was therefore pivotal at the end of the day.

The Netherlands lies fourth, France fifth, and the defending champions from Belgium are in sixth place. Belgian chances were undermined when, in what looked set to be another good round, Olivier Philippaerts’ Le Blue Diamond v’t Ruytershof did exactly the same thing as Guerdat’s stallion at the planks at fence nine.

At the post-competition press conference, Peder Fredricson said, “There was something about that fence that was a bit spooky. When my horse came in, he also had a little look at it – I showed it to him and he really didn’t like it but when he was up and going, he didn’t mind it!” he explained.

Commenting on the course in general, the Swedish star added, “It was really well built, quite welcoming for the horses – a nice start but with a few good questions, including the turn inside to the water and the two combinations at the end. He (Frank Rothenberger) did a really good job; most horses jumped well and confidently and still there were mistakes,” he pointed out.

Temptation

Lindelow described his feeling after steering his 11-year-old gelding into third individually and helping to anchor his country’s team lead. He also talked about the temptation to try too hard where speed was so important. “It’s easy to get drawn in when the class is running so that you try to ride faster than you planned initially. But I think I stuck to my plan, and I’m very happy with the result, and with my horse,” he said.

He wasn’t the only one feeling pleased. “I’m pleased, relieved, a little bit proud, and a little bit honoured!” said event creator Ludger Beerbaum, who was anxious that everything went right at this first major fixture on his home turf. It’s less than a year since the Championship was allocated to his venue which has been rapidly developed since then.

“It’s my name up front but it’s definitely not all my achievement or glory; we have a great group of people: Karsten (Lütteken, Show Director) and the whole team at Riesenbeck International. You never really know when you do an event for the first time – are we really able to do this, are we competent enough, will the ground last, will we have a nice competition, especially in the speed class? You never know 100%. But I couldn’t be more pleased,” he said.

Results and startlists here.

by Louise Parkes

Media contact:

Shannon Gibbons
Manager, Media Relations & Media Operations
shannon.gibbons@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 46

Dutch and Danish Stallions Steal the Show

The KWPN stallion Jovian with Denmark’s Andreas Helgstrand on board. (FEI/Leanjo de Koster)

Stallions from the KWPN studbook claimed both the 6 and 7-Year-Old titles while a Danish Warmblood was crowned 5-Year-Old champion at the FEI WBFSH Dressage World Breeding Championship for Young Horses, which returned to Verden in Germany for the 2021 edition from 24 to 29 August.

6-Year-Olds

Tokyo 2020 Olympic team bronze medallist, Great Britain’s Charlotte Fry, posted 94.000% in Wednesday’s 6-Year-Old qualifier with the KWPN stallion Kjento (Negro x Jazz), earning 10s for both trot and canter, and the pair never looked back. In Saturday’s Final they shone even brighter, with judges Peter Storr (GBR), Adriaan F. Hamoen (NED), Maria Colliander (FIN), and Jean-Michel Roudier (FRA) awarding them gold with a score of 96.000. Kjento earned 10s for trot, canter, submission, and perspective.

Silver went to the Rheinlander stallion Escamillo (Escolar x Rohdiamant) ridden by Spain’s Manuel Dominguez Bernal who posted 93.4%, while the Hanoverian gelding For Magic Equesta (For Romance OLD x Jungle Prince) scored 86.4 for bronze with Poland’s Beata Stremler in the saddle.

Fry is no stranger to success in these Championships, taking the 7-Year-Old title with Glamourdale in Ermelo (NED) in 2018, and in Gert-Jan Van Olst’s Kjento she has found another exceptional ride. “When I got all those 10s, I got very emotional, and it is thrilling to see that everyone sees the same quality as we do. He felt his best ever, and I don’t know how to describe this horse – if you look up the word power, he is it!” she said.

Judge Jean-Michel Roudier praised the quality of both the horses and horsemanship he witnessed.

“The improvement in breeding and riding is incredible over the last years. The winner Kjento was a happy horse like all the three medallists – a happy horse means wonderful training and it gives a wonderful willingness in the horse.” — Jean-Michel Roudier

5-Year-Olds

Germany’s Eva Moller had a sensational day in the 5-Year-Old Qualifier on Thursday when steering the Hanoverian stallion, Danciero 7 (Dancier x Fuechtels Floriscount), into pole position and the Oldenburg stallion Global Player OLD (Grand Galaxy Win T x Blue Hors Don Schufro) into third. Sandwiched in between these two was the KWPN mare Lightning Star (Ferguson x De Niro) ridden by The Netherlands Kristen Brouwer.

Danciero 7, owned by Helgestrand/Schockemohle, scored 96.600, Lightning Star posted 95.200% and Global Player OLD was awarded 95.000%.

But in Sunday’s medal decider it was the Danish Warmblood stallion Hasselhoej Down Town (Hasselhoej Donkey Boy x Blue Hors Zack), ridden by Sweden’s Jeanna Hogberg, who grabbed the gold with an amazing score of 97.000%. The pair had finished fourth in the opening competition three days earlier, but with 10s for trot and perspective, and 9.5s for walk, canter, and submission, this time they left the rest in their wake. Danciero 7 had to settle for silver with 96.600% while Lightning Star took the bronze with 92.8%. Moller’s second ride, Global Player OLD, just missed out on the podium when earning a mark of 92.600%.

Hasselhoej Down Town was real crowd pleaser. “When I got him, everyone said he’s so cute and he really is, but he’s also a really fantastic horse!” Hogberg said. “I have a great team behind me and I have a lot of support from Andreas (Helgstrand), and I think today it was a matter of riding a really solid test without faults and at the same time showing the best of the horse, and he really stayed with me,” she explained.

“He was a bit surprised by the environment on the first day, but today he was much more relaxed,” Hogberg said. However, she pointed out that the young stallion is no pushover. “He’s also the only horse at Helgstrand that I have fallen off!” she added with a laugh.

Brouwer was delighted with bronze for the mare Lightning Star. “I’ve been riding Lily a long time and know her well but of course with Corona I didn’t get the chance to show her a lot. But she makes me every day happy, also here; she’s always fresh and willing to work. Today maybe there was a bit more tension because there was a lot of applause when you were warming up. But she’s only five and has a great future. I hope I can ride her a lot longer,” the Dutch athlete said.

7-Year-Olds

The last Championship to be decided was the 7-Year-Olds, and Danish riders completely dominated the podium, but it was the KWPN stallion Jovian (Apache x Tango) who claimed the title with Andreas Helgstrand on board.

The Helgstrand name was all over these Championships as owners, sponsors, riders, and producers of top-class Dressage horses, and in Friday’s qualifier, Andreas steered Jovian to victory ahead of the Danish Warmblood stallion Elverhøjs Raccolto (Sezuan 2 x Sandro Hit) ridden by his wife Marianne Yde Helgstrand.

The Hanoverian stallion Quando Unico (Quantensprung 3 x Fidertanz 2), partnered by Australia’s Simone Pearce, lined up in third while Andreas Helgstrand also finished fourth with the Danish Warmblood mare Queenpark Wendy (Sezuan 2 x Blue Hors Soprano). But in Sunday’s final, only Jovian stood his ground.

A mark of 89.136 from judges Sharon Rhode (RSA), Ulrike Nivelle (GER), Maria Colliander (FIN), Mariette Sanders van Gansewinkel (NED), and Kurt Christensen (DEN) gave Jovian the title, while silver went to the Danish Warmblood gelding Blue Hors Touch of Olympic L (Don Olymbrio x Fidermark) who posted 83.965 with Denmark’s Nanna Skodborg Merrald on board. And the third Dane on the podium was Anne-Mette Strandby Hansen, who steered the Westphalian gelding Eternity 75 (Escolar x Sir Donnerhal) to a score of 83.75% to pin Pearce and Quando Unico back into fourth place.

“To win with Jovian is special; he is my favourite horse. He is a PR machine for us, and he will have a lot of very nice foals coming up,” said Helgstrand.

Nanna Skodborg Merrald was very pleased to take silver for the Danish Warmblood studbook. “We have had so many good horses for DWB and it is good to give back,” she said. She’s been riding Blue Hors Touch of Olympic L since he was a four-year-old and is looking forward to watching him develop. “I will go into small tour shows with him now, I think he is a future Grand Prix horse,” she added.

And Anne-Mette Skodborg Hansen had every reason to be pleased with Eternity 75 because she’s only been riding him for two months. “Cathrine Dufour trained him and this is my first competition with him!” she said after collecting 7-Year-Old bronze.

Reflecting on another great FEI WBFSH Dressage World Breeding Championship for Young Horses, German judge Ulrike Nivelle commented that this year “we saw huge quality and the level is much better than before, both in breeding and riding. We saw more harmony and softer riding,” she concluded.

Results here.

by Louise Parkes

Media contact:

Shannon Gibbons
Manager, Media Relations & Media Operations
shannon.gibbons@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 46+

Vaulting Favourites Reign Supreme

Lambert Leclezio with Estadoifce and lunger Loic Devedu. (FEI/Lukasz Kowalski)

Vaulting legends reigned supreme in Budapest (HUN) as FEI Vaulting made a successful return to the world stage, with Lambert Leclezio defending his World title for France, Jasmin Lindner (AUT) reclaiming the female individual gold medal, and Germany proving dominant in the Pas de Deux, Squad, and Nations Team categories.

After its triumphant debut at the FEI World Equestrian Games™ in 2018, The Nations Team event once again returned to great acclaim, delivering the first medals of the FEI Vaulting World Championships 2021.  The competition which sees two individuals and one team from each nation line up in the quest for national glory, once again provided a stage for history to be made.

Lambert Leclezio (FRA) defends his World title, Jasmin Lindner (AUT) reclaims the female individual gold, and Germany dominate the Pas-de-Deux, Squad, and Nations Team at the World Championships.

Team Germany, consisting of Jannik Heiland (9.048), Janika Derks (8.884), and Team Germany (9.157), was in a league of its own, posting an incredible average of 9.030 to retain the Nation’s Team World title. The silver medal was awarded to Eva Nagiller (8.938), Jasmin Lindner (9.061), and Team Austria (8.207), whilst history was made with the bronze medal going to Denmark, marking their new-found eminence on the world stage after impressive performances from Sheena Bendixen (8.988), Anna Damm (7.751), and Team Denmark (8.264).

In the female category, golden girl Jasmin Lindner reclaimed the World title she won at the FEI World Championships in Le Mans in 2016. The multi-talented, highly decorated vaulter added to her already impressive collection of Individual and Pas De Deux World gold medals after again showing her formidable talent and unmatched expression within the sport.

Renowned for her story-telling ability, Lindner, the only female vaulter to post a freestyle score over 9.0, dominated both freestyle rounds.  Partnering with her long-term team of lunger Klaus Haidacher and Dr Doolittle 5, Lindner’s Greta Thunberg inspired freestyle helped secure her unprecedented fifth Vaulting World title (3 Pas De Deux, 2 Individual), further contributing to her legacy within the sport (8.759).

Silver individual medallist from the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games™ Janika Derks (GER) once again took the second step on the podium with Dark Beluga and Barbara Rosiny.  Lindner’s fellow compatriot and training partner Eva Nagiller (8.578) took bronze after posting the highest technical test score of the female competition. Denmark’s Sheena Bendixen (8.461) and France’s Manon Moutinho (8.427) finished fourth and fifth, respectively.

The male category lit up the arena in Budapest with France’s Lambert Leclezio retaining the World title he won so emphatically at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games™, once again pushing the boundaries of the sport and rising to the top of the highly competitive class.

Leclezio got his quest to retain his World title off to the best possible start, leading after the compulsory round on 8.849 – a score rarely seen within the sport and evidence of his outstanding technical ability. His nearest competitor, Jannik Heiland from Germany, finished round one on 8.584, with the chasing pack narrowly behind.

This exceptional standard was further evident in the first freestyle round where Leclezio, Heiland, and rising star France’s Quentin Jabet all posted scores in excess of 9.0. The skill, flexibility, expression, and harmony of those chasing the medals thrilling to watch.

Saturday’s technical test round saw Leclezio perform a breath-taking masterclass.  The flawless, technical elements coupled with his intricate, clever composition saw him post a previously unheard-of technical test score of 9.083, creating breathing space between him and his nearest competitors Heiland and France’s Theo Gardies. A fall for Quentin Jabet in the technical round saw him fall away from medal contention.

In their first championship together, Leclezio, lunger Loic Devedu and Estado IFCE performed a jaw-dropping final freestyle to retain Lambert’s World title, and further cement his legacy within the sport (8,989). Germany’s Jannik Heiland with Barbara Rosiny on the lunge and horse Dark Beluga also retained the world silver medal from the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games™.

Further evidence of France’s dominance within the male category, Theo Gardies took bronze converting his previous junior success into senior acclaim (8.659), with Quentin Jabet posting the highest final freestyle score of 9.126 to finish fourth and again prove that he is one to watch for the future.

In the squad competition Germany led through all three rounds of the competition, dominating the event.  Together with lunger Gesa Buhrig and Claus 51, the team from Fredenbeck upheld Germany’s rich history within the Squad competition to take gold. Their perfect final freestyle saw them awarded 9.224 to finish on an astonishing total of 8.735, scoring 0.7 more than second place Team Austria.  A masterclass in teamwork, coupled with incredible artistry and strength, saw the gold medal never in doubt. A commanding win for the powerhouse vaulting nation.

Representing Austria, URC Wildegg with Cornelia Trimmel and Leokado added to their already impressive tally of World and European medals taking second place (8.044). The United States of America finished in bronze medal position, the first time they have won a medal at the senior World Championships in squad since the 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games™, marking their ascent back to prominence on the world stage (7.914).  Denmark rounded off a history making Championship to finish fourth (7.856).

The ever-entertaining Pas De Deux class lived up to its highly entertaining billing, once again providing edge of the seat action.  Vaulting legends from the 2014 gold medal winning team, Team Neuss, Johannes Kay and Janika Derks (GER), converted the silver medal they won at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games™ into gold in untouchable fashion. A fall by their fellow countrymen and nearest competitors 2019 FEI European Gold medallists Chiara Congia and Justin Van Gerven in the first round saw them enter round 2 with an impressive 0.7 advantage.  Together with Humphrey Bogart and lunger Nina Vorberg, they proved unbeatable, finishing on an impressive total of 8.936 and taking the top step on the podium.

Chiara Congia and Justin Van Gerven came back from their round one mistake in spectacular fashion to post the highest second round freestyle of 9.092, thus securing the silver medal (8.646).  The bronze medal went to USA’s Daniel Janes and Haley Smith, securing their first ever FEI medal as a pairing after bravely changing their freestyle between round 1 and round 2 (8.469).

By Hannah Eccles

Media contact:

Shannon Gibbons
Senior Manager Sport Communications
shannon.gibbons@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 46

Roxanne Trunnell Breaks Paralympic Record in Stunning Night of Freestyle Displays

L-R: Rihards Snikus (LAT) silver, Roxanne Trunnell (USA) gold, Sara Morganti (ITA) bronze (FEI/Liz Gregg)

Roxanne Trunnell (USA) broke the nine-year-old Grade I Paralympic Freestyle record in a stunning Freestyle competition which also saw Sir Lee Pearson (GBR) take his third gold of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

The highest scoring podium

Grade I was the only Grade to have three athletes with a score of over 80% on the podium. Roxanne Trunnell (USA) scored 86.927% on Dolton to break the previous record of 84.750% set by Sophie Christiansen (GBR) in London 2012.

“I just wanted a nice test. It felt good with the music the whole time,” Roxanne said. “It’s been really nice. Everyone is so happy and friendly it makes everyone in the barn happy. It’s just fun. Everyone will be excited when we get home.”

The ever-brilliant Rihards Snikus (LAT) took his second silver in Tokyo on King of the Dance with 82.087%, doubtless prompting more demands for his DJing skills when he gets back home. For Rihards, these two medals more than make up for his disappointment at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. And third place went to Sara Morganti (ITA) on Royal Delight, with 81.100%.

Sir Lee makes it a golden 14

Sir Lee Pearson (GBR) became the most successful athlete in the entire competition by taking his third gold medal of Tokyo 2020, the 14th of his Paralympic career, in the Grade II Freestyle.

His relatively inexperienced and home-bred partner, Breezer, took him to a massive 82.447% to take the title ahead of Pepo Puch (AUT) who rode Sailor’s Blue to a score of 81.007%. Meanwhile, Lee’s young teammate, Georgia Wilson (GBR), added another brilliant bronze to her collection on Sakura with 76.754%, which is not a bad result for the reserve rider who was called to Tokyo as a last-minute replacement for Sophie Christiansen.

“Number 14, not that we’re counting,” laughed Lee. “I’m twice over the moon. I actually didn’t care if I medalled. That horse gave me his heart in there. He was so much braver than the team and individual test a few days ago. He was still nervous, and we had a tiny little spook when we entered but I said, ‘come on, we can do this’.”

Lee came to Tokyo with Breezer having had to retire from their selection event. “I’ve not managed to ride this Freestyle in a competition, so I’ve been nervous for days. He’s brilliant. I’m taking the best horse home. I didn’t think I could love him any more than I did before but he’s beautiful, amazing.”

Sanne’s HAEVNly gold

Sanne Voets (NED) stormed to victory in the Grade IV Freestyle with a massive personal best score of 82.085% to win her class. Riding Demantur N.O.P. to the stirring music of Dutch artists HAEVN, she finished comfortably ahead of silver medallist Louise Etzner Jakobbson (SWE) who scored 75.935% on Goldstrike B.J. Manon Claeys (BEL) took bronze on San Dior 2 with 75.680%.

Louise’s silver was even more remarkable given that she broke her leg falling off her bike just a couple of months ago, and only got back on a horse to ride two weeks ago during the horses’ quarantine in Aachen (GER).

Speaking after her ride, Sanne said: “I’m not sure I can find the right words. I was really focussed and normally when I first enter a test, I try to make eye contact with the judge. I never did that here; it was just me and my horse and the music. It was a bit like hypnosis. It felt powerful and soft and relaxed and confident. Sometimes when you ride a test, you’re thinking, ‘what do I do now?’ but it was like it just happened to me. It felt like we found that true harmony and it was the two of us and no one else.”

Michele’s golden double

Michele George (BEL) was dominant again in the Grade V Freestyle, defending her London 2012 and Rio 2016 titles with aplomb. She scored 80.590% on Best of 8 to pip Frank Hosmar (NED) to the title by just 0.350 of a point. Frank, riding Alphaville N.O.P., scored 80.240 to take the silver, while Regine Mispelkamp (GER) took bronze with 76.820 on Highlander Delights.

“I’m really blown away. The mare is just fantastic. What can I say? I’m a bit speechless because coming over here with a young horse and showing the world what she’s capable of is just genius. I knew she could, but I thought maybe it was a bit early to show everyone because at home she can work like a queen but at home is at home.”

Michele went into the arena just after Frank had posted his great score. “Once you’re riding into the arena, you don’t look at that,” she said. “I know he had a high score, but I thought the mare feels good, so I came into the arena and tried to make something even better. That’s the spirit.”

Tobias’s double delight

In the second highest winning score of the night, Tobias Thorning Jorgensen (DEN) rode Jolene Hill to his second gold of the Paralympic Games in the Grade III Freestyle. Together they scored a massive 84.347% to take the title ahead of Natasha Baker (GBR), who scored 77.614% on Keystone Daw Chorus. Anne Katrin Lubbe (NOR) took the bronze on La Costa Majlund with 76.477%.

A clearly delighted Tobias said after his ride: “I feel great. I left my head out here this time because I wanted to show I can do this. I just rode to the edge of being too much and I was probably closer to some mistakes today than I was yesterday, but I took the chance.

“I always had the dream of double gold, but I knew it would be hard. I would be happy if it was a silver or bronze, just to get two medals at my first Paralympics, but two golds is amazing.”

At the end of five days of stunning Para Dressage competition, the horses and athletes of Tokyo 2020 will now start their journeys home. They will remember a record-breaking week of drama and fierce competition which saw new champions crowned and titles re-won or defended.

Great Britain tops the Para Dressage table, with three golds, three silvers, and two bronzes, ahead of The Netherlands’ two golds, two silvers, and two bronzes. Belgium takes the third spot with two golds and two bronzes, followed by the USA in fourth position with two golds and a bronze.

The world’s best Para Dressage athletes will gather again in August 2022 at the FEI World Championships in Herning (DEN). Until then, the memories of this competition in Tokyo will be slow to fade. It’s been a dazzling, brilliant Paralympic Games.

by Rob Howell

Media contact:

Vanessa Martin Randin
Senior Manager, Media Relations & Communications
vanessa.randin@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 73

Hitting the Right Note in Equestrian Para Dressage

Sanne Voets (NED). (FEI/Liz Gregg)

Equestrian Dressage and Para Dressage are considered the most artistic of the equestrian sports. But it is in the Freestyle tests, which are specially choreographed for each horse and performed to music, that the horse and athlete have a real opportunity to come into their own.

No one know this better than Dutch Para Dressage star Sanne Voets, who took individual gold here in Tokyo on Thursday.

“When the horse, rider, and music all come together in a perfect fit, that’s when the magic happens,” Voets said.

“It all starts with your choreography. And the first ingredient of good choreography is to know your horse very well, to know what your strong exercises are and what you are good at. Top sport is all about standing out and having the audacity to show the world what you’ve got. The Freestyle gives equestrian Dressage and Para Dressage athletes that opportunity.”

And Voets is not afraid to make a statement with her original Freestyle choreographies or her unconventional choice of music. Prior to the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, Voets worked with critically acclaimed Dutch DJ Armin van Buuren for a chance to perform to his song “This Is What It Feels Like.” Together with her horse Demantur, Voets brought home the only equestrian gold for the Netherlands.

“The music adds an extra dimension to the choreography,” Voets explained. “You want to enter that arena feeling your very best. You want to feel focused. You want to feel strong and confident and that feeling can be affected by the music you choose.”

The 33-year-old is now going for more gold at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo alongside her horse Demantur RS2 N.O.P., affectionately known as “Demmi”, with a new Freestyle routine, developed in collaboration with top Dutch freestyle producer Joost Peters, and one of the Netherlands’ most popular bands, HAEVN. Founded in 2015 by singer-songwriter Marijn van der Meer and film soundtrack composer Jorrit Kleijnen, HAEVN’s music has a unique sound that Voets believes will allow her to make her mark.

“HAEVN compose cinematic music that has a distinctive sound with their piano, string, and electronic sounds. The singer Marijn has a clear and warm voice and this really makes the sound of the band unique. I first heard them when I was in my car and the lyrics touched me deeply,” Voets said.

“’Where the Heart Is’ is a song about chasing a dream, paving your own path, and taking a leap of faith. I chose it because I see myself so much in this song. I also try to follow my own path by doing what I feel is best, even when it is not the generally accepted way. There is always some doubt: Do I dare to be different? Is this the right choice? Am I good enough? This song tells me to have faith.”

Voets, who was born with a condition which weakens her legs and affects her other joints, holds Team, Individual, and Freestyle gold medals at European and World level. She won gold in the Grade IV Individual Freestyle on the opening day of the Para Equestrian events, and is hoping to achieve a ‘triple-triple’ of golds in Tokyo.

“The relationship between the horse and athlete is essential for success. You cannot perform or act like you have harmony when that relationship is not there. Demmi has quite a personality and we have a deep connection. He is so special to me. He always reminds me of what really matters and is the reason I’m encouraged to go after my dream, to never let anything or anyone stop me, and also to do good. I heard someone say a few years ago that a good Freestyle is like a movie. It should tell a story. It should tell your story. And that is what this HAEVN-Freestyle really does.”

If there’s anyone who knows how to find that perfect fit and bring music, athlete, and horse together into a breathtaking Freestyle routine, it is British composer and producer Tom Hunt.

Based in London, Hunt is the man behind Charlotte Dujardin and Carl Hester’s Freestyle music, and composed the music for Dujardin’s bronze medal Freestyle at the Tokyo Olympic Games. He also worked with Great Britain’s Natasha Baker and Singapore’s Laurentia Tan on their routines for the Tokyo Paralympics.

“Usually, the process begins with a discussion with the athlete where we talk about the Freestyle and about preferences he or she might have,” Hunt explained.

“If the athlete is passionate about creating a really good Freestyle, then that feeds into how I work with him or her. Some athletes are very hands-on at every stage and are really passionate about getting every detail absolutely perfect.

“Before I even begin creating the demo, I need to see how big the horse is, what its paces are like, and how expressive it is. Then I look at the floor plan and how it has been crafted, so I can emphasise the strengths of the horse and have the music highlight those sections of the choreography. It is important to build on the dynamics of the music in order to really show off the horse’s paces.

“When creating Freestyle music, it is important to figure out how to fit the music to what the athlete aims to do and the story they want to tell, and to make the style work for them and the horse.”

However, when composing the music for Laurentia Tan, Hunt has had to take into account input from a number of different people. Tan, who is currently ranked number four in the world for her Grade in Para Dressage, is profoundly deaf.

“With Laurentia we’ve been working not just with a whole team of people who tell her what the music sounds like, but also with technology so she can feel the music,” Hunt said.

“The SUBPAC is a piece of technology that she wears like a back pack and it feeds back all the low frequencies of the music so she can feel its pull when she’s riding. The creation of Laurentia’s Freestyle music for Tokyo has been a longer process than others, and not something we could have done quickly. So it has been good to have had the time to work with her over the past year.”

While the Freestyle Test is where the Para Dressage athletes can really show off their musical tastes and artistry, they are also free to choose the background music for their Team Tests. Any style of music can be used in a Team Test and, as it is considered background music, it does not affect an athlete’s score.

The Tokyo 2020 Para Dressage Individual Freestyle Tests across all five Grades will take place on Monday, 30 August 2021 at the Baji Koen Equestrian Park.

Media contact:

Vanessa Martin Randin
Senior Manager, Media Relations & Communications
vanessa.randin@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 73

Great Britain Defy the Odds to Take Spectacular Paralympic Team Title

L to R: Rixt van der Horst – Findsley, Sanne Voets – Demantur, Frank Hosmar – Alphavile (NED) Silver medalists; Lee Pearson – Breezer, Sophie Wells – Don Cara M, Natasha Baker – Keystone Dawn Chorus (GBR) Gold medalists; Kate Shoemaker – Solitaer 40, Roxanne Trunnell – Dolton, Rebecca Hart – El Corona Texel (USA) Bronze medallists. (FEI/Liz Gregg)

Suspense and pure grit were on display as Great Britain claimed the Tokyo 2020 Para Dressage Team gold medal, continuing their seemingly unbreakable hold on the title which started in Atlanta 1996. The trio of Sir Lee Pearson (Grade II), Natasha Baker (Grade III), and Sophie Wells (Grade V) scored 229.905 to finish just 0.656 ahead of The Netherlands’ 229.249. And in another momentous shift in the sport, USA took the bronze medal with 224.352, making this their first Paralympic Team podium finish, and the first time the podium hasn’t been made up of all European teams!

How it works

There are three athletes per team. Each Grade competes separately in its own Team Test, with each horse and athlete combination performing a series of pre-determined movements, which differ by Grade. The combined results of each of the teams’ three athletes determine the overall score and the team with the most points wins gold. The competition was run over two days, starting with the athletes from Grades I, II, and III performing on Saturday, leaving Grades IV and V to seal the deal.

Here’s how the day unfolded

At the beginning of the day, the competition was shaping up to be a showdown between the three podium winners, with Great Britain having the slight advantage over the USA, with both countries having two tests already completed.

The Grade V Team test was won by Belgium’s Michele George on Best of 8. She scored 77.047% to put her country into medal contention too.

A crucial score of 75.651% for Sophie Wells (GBR) proved to be a massive boost for her country’s chances of winning, while Frank Hosmar (GBR) on Alphaville N.O.P. posted 74.814% to keep things neck and neck between the two countries.

At the start of the Grade IV Team Test, the British had completed all their rides, leaving the USA and The Netherlands with the knowledge of how much their last two athletes would have to score to beat them.

First up was Kate Shoemaker (USA) on Solitaer 40. She scored 71.825% to put the USA in silver medal position.

Sanne Voets then entered the arena on Demantur N.O.P. and knew she needed to score 78.136% to beat Great Britain. Four minutes later she left, and her score was announced, a massive personal best of 78.200%. However, between the calculation of what was needed to win, and Sanne’s test, Sophie Wells’ score was confirmed slightly higher than the provisional score given earlier, thus handing Great Britain the closest of wins. It could not have been any closer; it could not have been more historic.

Speaking after their medal ceremony, Natasha Baker tried to sum up how the team felt. “I don’t think any of us expected that in a million, trillion, gazillion years to be honest. We’re all so immensely proud of everything our horses have done in the last few days.”

“We had no expectation that we could achieve that,” Sophie Wells added. “We genuinely thought it was impossible in the most realistic way. We all had horses that have never done this or been against anyone else. The Dutch are so strong and secure on their horses and we’re not.”

“We haven’t even got any championship horses on this team,” said Lee Pearson.

Team Leader Georgia Sharples paid tribute to the team, saying: “I just think these guys are undefeated Paralympic champions but in a whole new context. You’ve heard about the inexperienced horsepower, but never underestimate these guys and what a job they did out there on that field of play.”

The Netherlands were equally enthused by their silver, and the closeness of the competition.

“We’ve been working towards this for five years,” said Sanne Voets, “and this is where you want to perform at your best and if you can succeed at that you can’t be disappointed.

“There was so much pressure. When we saw the order to go and I realised I was the last rider of the three countries who were expected to win, I knew I would know the score needed for team gold.”

And despite coming into the Games as hot favourites for the title, there was delight and relief with bronze for the USA as well, especially Rebecca Hart, who has competed at four Games now.

“I don’t have words right now,” she said. “It was such an amazing competition and so close. A real nail-biter to the very end. I am so incredibly blessed and happy to be standing here with these two amazing riders. To finally, after so many years, be able to stand on that podium as a country, it’s a lifelong dream come true.”

After the drama of the Team competition, the Para Dressage competition at Tokyo 2020 comes to an end when the top eight individual riders in each Grade take to the arena to dance in the ever-popular Freestyle competition. The five medals will come thick and fast in what will doubtless be another fascinating, exciting, and potentially historic end to a brilliant Paralympic Games for Para Dressage.

by Rob Howell

Media contact:

Vanessa Martin Randin
Senior Manager, Media Relations & Communications
vanessa.randin@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 73

Will the Swedes Continue on a Roll at Riesenbeck?

Jos Verlooy, who was a member of the gold-medal-winning team and also claimed individual bronze with Igor at the Longines FEI Jumping European Championship in 2019. (FEI/Liz Gregg)

When Belgium took the team title and Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs claimed individual gold at the Longines FEI Jumping European Championships 2019 in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, few could have anticipated the chaos that would ensue over the next two years as the Covid-19 pandemic changed the world as we know it.

However, while there was a 12-month delay for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, the European Championships have retained their two-year cycle and excitement is mounting ahead of the 2021 fixture, which is due to kick off at Riesenbeck International in Germany in four days’ time.

President of the Organising Committee for the fixture that will be staged in his own venue and in his hometown is Germany’s four-time Olympic gold medallist Ludger Beerbaum who has 12 FEI European medals in his personal trophy cabinet. He has managed to put the event together in less than a year, and he’s looking forward to welcoming the best that Europe has to offer.

The question

Coming just three weeks after the Tokyo Games concluded with victory for the spectacular Swedes in the team finale, the question now is whether any other nation can stop them in their tracks. And all eyes will be on Peder Fredricson who clinched that golden moment in a breathtaking jump-off partnering the great All In, with which he claimed the individual European title in 2017.

Just a few days earlier Fredricson stood on the second step of the individual podium in Tokyo. But that is familiar territory for the man who also took individual silver at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and, a long time before that, team silver and individual fourth place at the 2004 Games in Athens, Greece. He’s an extraordinarily gifted horseman who has also competed successfully in the sport of Eventing, and he’s inspiring a whole new generation of athletes, followers, and fans with his ongoing exploits.

Show-stealers

Whether the Swedes will be the show-stealers next week remains to be seen, but bolstering that possibility is the presence of Rolf-Göran Bengtsson. He joined Fredricson on that silver medal winning team in Athens 17 years ago and would go on to take individual Olympic silver in Beijing in 2008 before claiming the FEI Jumping European Championship individual title in Madrid (ESP) in 2011 with the brilliant little Ninja la Silla.

This year he bounced back into the spotlight when clinching victory for his country in the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ at St Gallen (SUI) in June riding his new star stallion, the 12-year-old Ermindo W with which he clinched the 2020 Swedish National title. The pair went to Tokyo as alternates and were not called to action, so will arrive in Riesenbeck fighting fit and full of promise.

Joining them in the Swedish selection will be Angelica Augustsson Zanotelli (Kalinka van de Nachtegaele), Douglas Lindelöw (Casquo Blue), and Evelina Tovek (Winnetou de la Hamente Z), while Fredricson will be armed with Catch Me Not S, a 5* winner in London (GBR) two weeks ago.

However, teams from 14 other nations and a total of 66 athletes from 23 countries will all have their eyes on the podium places as the action plays out next week.

All guns blazing

Team France are likely to come out with all guns blazing after losing out in the closing stages in Tokyo. They looked to have gold in their grasp until Penelope Leprevost and Vancouver de Lanlore were eliminated, but Leprevost is back in the side next week with GFE Excalibur de la Tour Vidal along with Mathieu Billot (Quel Filou 13), Gregory Cottard (Bibici), Olivier Robert (Vivaldi des Meneaux), and Kevin Staut (Visconti du Telman). This is a squad filled with strength and experience.

Also looking strong is the Dutch selection of Bart Bles (Kriskras DV), Marc Houtzager (Sterrehof’s Calimero), Frank Schuttert (Lyonel D), Harrie Smolders (Bingo du Parc), and Jur Vrieling (Fiumicino van de Kalevallei). The British side includes William Whitaker (Galtur) while Ireland’s Eoin McMahon (Chacon 2) should feel right at home because he is based at Riesenbeck. But of course, most at home will be Team Germany.

They hold the record for the greatest number of victories in this 64-year history of the FEI Jumping European Championships with a total of seven team and 14 individual titles under their belts. And, most interestingly, Chef d’Equipe Otto Becker sends out three of the athlete/horse combinations he fielded in Tokyo three weeks ago.

Maurice Tebbel (Don Diarado), Christian Kukuk (Mumbai), and Andre Thieme (DSP Chakaria) are all listed along with Marcus Ehning (Stargold) and David Will (C Vier 2).  Clearly the Tokyo travel took little out of the horses, and the hosts will be keen to bring their team tally to eight and maybe even the individual tally to 15.

In their way

Standing in their way may be the Belgians and the Swiss.

The Belgians made their first-ever European medals golden ones when coming out on top in 2019, and two athletes from that victorious side have been called up again. This time Pieter Devos will ride Jade VD Bisschop, and Jos Verlooy, who also clinched individual bronze in Rotterdam, will be armed with Varoune. Completing the Belgian selection will be Wilm Wermeir (IQ van het Steentje) and the Philippaerts twins Nicola (Katanga v/h Dingeshof) and Olivier (Le Blue Diamond v’t Ruytershof). Devos was a member of the Belgian team that took bronze at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs will defend his individual title riding the exciting nine-year-old gelding Leone Jei who really impressed when jumping double-clear at the opening leg of the shortened Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ 2021 series on home ground at St Gallen in June, where the Swiss finished third behind Germany in runner-up spot and Sweden in pole position.

Fuchs’ top horse and 2019 champion, Clooney, suffered a serious injury when falling in his paddock last week, and he and his popular rider have received a tsunami of supportive messages as the horse world wills the much-loved grey gelding to get better soon.

Horsepower

The Swiss side for next week has plenty of horsepower with Steve Guerdat (Albfuehren’s Maddox), Bryan Balsiger (AK’s Courage), Elian Baumann (Campari Z), and Niklaus Schurtenberger (C-Steffra) on call. And of course, you can never overlook the Italians who have a propensity for springing surprises wherever they go.

Course designer will be Germany’s Frank Rothenberger, and the full list of participating nations is Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russian Federation, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey.

The Longines FEI Jumping European Championships 2021 gets underway on Wednesday 1 September, and following two more days of competition on Thursday and Friday the team medals will be decided. The new individual champion will be crowned on Sunday 5 September, and we can be sure of super sport along the way.

Masterlist here.  

by Louise Parkes

Media contact:

Shannon Gibbons
Manager, Media Relations & Media Operations
shannon.gibbons@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 46+

And the Team Medal Chase Is On

Natasha Baker (GBR) with Keystone Dawn Chorus. (FEI/Liz Gregg)

With day one of the Para Dressage Team competition complete, the Tokyo 2020 medal winners remain impossible to call.

On current standings any combination of The Netherlands, Great Britain, USA, Belgium, and Denmark could take a place on the podium, and in any order.

All Team riders from Canada and Singapore have now competed, leaving Canada at the top of the leader board with a combined score of 211.699, ahead of Singapore with 200.792.

How it works

There are three athletes per team. Each Grade competes separately in its own Team Test, with each horse and athlete combination performing a series of pre-determined movements, which differ by Grade.  The combined results of each of the teams’ three athletes will determine the overall score and the team with the most points wins gold.

Great Britain’s best start

The day started well for Sir Lee Pearson (GBR) who won the Grade II Team Test on Breezer with 77.636%.

“I am over the moon with that lovely score. Breezer doesn’t like the Olympic arena and he was quite frightened in there. He’s a sensitive soul, but I’m so proud of him because I held his hand and he trusted me and I could be sitting here with a different story.

“He’s sensitive, but that sensitivity, when it’s on side, makes him fabulous.”

Pepo Puch (AUT) came second in the Test on Sailor’s Blue with 74.909%, while Katrine Kristensen (DEN) earned her team a valuable 72.515% on Welldone Dallas.

Roxanne throws down an 80 plus challenge

Roxanne Trunnell (USA) laid down the day’s only 80 plus score in the Grade I Team Test, riding Dolton to 80.321%. The noise of fire engines attending a nearby incident added pressure during her Test, but the pair rose above it to perform calmly and brilliantly.

Second place went to Sara Morganti (ITA) with an impressive 79.286% on Royal Delight, ahead of Michael Murphy (IRL) on Cleverboy, with 75.179%. That last result was especially pleasing for the young Irish rider, coming the day after he suffered an equipment failure in the Grade I Individual Test which left him in last place.

“He felt brilliant again,” Roxanne said after her Test. “He was a little tense, but we worked through it.”

Referring to the disturbance outside, she added, “That’s what made him tense up a little. I don’t think you can prepare. It just happens and you go with it.

“It means a lot to ride for the USA after such a weird year. Everyone is going to remember this Paralympics.”

Baker builds as Thorning Jorgensen leads

Tobias Thorning Jorgensen (DEN) gave his country a real shot at a medal with a stunning 79.559% in the Grade III Team Test, on Jolene Hill.

But also building her team’s score was Natasha Baker (GBR) who posted 76.618% on Keystone Dawn Chorus, just ahead of Rixt van der Horst (NED) on Findsley N.O.P. with 76.235%.

“It was intense today,” said Tobias. “I’ve done something today, so I have a little bit of pain, so that was just Jolene carrying me around. I’m very grateful to her, she went even better than yesterday.

“This is a great start and I hope we can be a medal contender or at least be there, so if anyone makes a mistake, we can take it. I just love the Team competition because we go down here as a family and be there for each other.”

How things stand, and what happens next

Based on the scores at this halfway point in the competition, the gold medal is still up for grabs between the USA, Great Britain, and The Netherlands. However, strong performances from the two Danish riders, and with Belgium’s two remaining riders still to go, mean those two countries could still snatch a medal.

It will all come down to the Grade IV and V Tests. As the Grade V athletes go first, all eyes will be on Kate Shoemaker (USA) who will determine her team’s final score, as well as on Frank Hosmar (NED), who will want to build on his teammate Rixt’s performance.

Individual Grade IV bronze medallist Manon Claeys (BEL) and Grade V Individual Test gold medallist Michele George (BEL) will complete Belgium’s competition, while Grade V Individual Test silver medallist Sophie Wells (GBR) could produce her country’s winning score.

But in a dramatic finish, Grade IV Individual Test gold medallist Sanne Voets (NED) could find herself riding to seal victory for her country. As the last of the likely winners to ride, she will have a good idea of the score needed to get the gold. Adding to the pressure is her chance of becoming only the third Para Dressage athlete to secure the triple, triple of consecutive European, World, and Paralympic gold medals.

Sanne insists that she doesn’t play the numbers game, but her fans and followers of Para Dressage will know that this will be one of the highest stakes ride she will ever perform.

Results here.

by Rob Howell

Media contact:

Vanessa Martin Randin
Senior Manager, Media Relations & Communications
vanessa.randin@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 73

How Do You Communicate with a Para Dressage Horse?

Laurentia Tan (SGP) (FEI/Liz Gregg)

The unique bond between a horse and human, as well as the refined communication between the two, are important factors for success in elite equestrian sports. But what does this mean exactly for Para Dressage athletes competing at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games?

While able-bodied Dressage athletes use a combination of hand, leg, and weight signals to communicate with their horses, some Para Dressage athletes require the use of compensating aids to make up for the physical or sensory limitation resulting from their disabilities.

“Walking the way that I do is normal for me and so when I learned to ride, I also learnt in a way that was normal for me,” said five time Paralympic gold medallist Natasha Baker (GBR).

“As I have minimal feeling from my hips down, my legs just hang when I’m on a horse, and they naturally follow the movement of the horse. When you see my legs moving, that’s not me. It’s a completely involuntary movement.

“This is the reason why I have to train my horses to different aids and am reliant on my voice. I train my horses to the smallest of noises or words so they know exactly what I’m asking. It can be a simple sound so they know that I want to go more forward or a command like ‘trot’ under my voice, and they know exactly what I mean.”

While there is a broad range of movement that is standard for able-bodied Dressage athletes, Para Equestrians have to find and develop their own style of communication with their horse in order to compensate for their unique disabilities.

Where necessary, athletes are allowed to use a variety of special equipment and aids which include specially designed saddles that assist the athlete with balance and support. Also permitted are the use of elastic bands to keep feet in stirrups, whips in each hand, and adapted reins.

In the case of Laurentia Tan from Singapore, who developed cerebral palsy and profound deafness after birth, she relies on people to tell her when the music begins and ends and has a greater dependency on feeling in order to communicate with her horse.

“I can ride different horses, but I must have my own customised looped reins, which are important partly because they are customised to the way I hold them,” Tan explained.

“But the reins, which are the connection between my hands and the horse’s mouth, are like a telephone line which make my conversation with my horse soft, steady, and ‘elastic.’  This contact is different depending on the horse I ride and is absolutely essential for me to bring out their best performance.

“I am also sensitive to the feeling through my seat, which facilitates the conversation between me and my horse. I can execute a good square halt through my seat. I can feel when my horse does a perfect straight square halt under me and when to give a correction if one leg is out of place.”

As other Para Dressage athletes will attest, learning to interpret their horses’ body language is one of the keys to a successful sporting relationship. But training a horse to adapt and respond to the use of compensating aids also plays an important role in the development of the horse and athlete connection.

“Before a horse is ridden by a Para Athlete, it is first trained by an able-bodied rider with classic training aids and then retrained to adapt to the athlete’s disability,” Team USA’s Head of Para Equestrian Coach Development and High Performance Michel Assouline explained.

“The horse is trained to what the person does not have. So if an athlete does not have the full use their legs, for example, the horse will be trained to receive cues and signals with a series of taps given through a compensating aid, instead of the legs. An athlete can also learn to use their voice and seat to communicate with their horse.

“For athletes who are unable to use their legs, a tap becomes like a conductor’s baton, which signals to the horse when they should move.

“An able-bodied trainer will usually begin this process and will train the horse by not using their legs, but with the tapping. So by the time the athlete takes over, the horse is already aware of what these cues represent. On average, it takes around six months to a year for the horse to be truly confident and trustworthy.”

The FEI Para Equestrian Committee was created in April 2006 to ensure that the needs and requirements of Para Equestrians are well represented in the work of the International Federation.

“As living beings with thoughts and feelings of their own, horses are extremely sensitive to the specific needs of an athlete’s disability, and are highly perceptive to verbal and non-verbal cues,” Chair of the FEI Para Equestrian Committee Amanda Bond said.

“While horses have a natural ability to adapt, and seem to have a sixth sense for knowing what is required of them, it is the compensating aids which allow Para Equestrian athletes to effectively communicate with their horses.

“The FEI Para Dressage rules have been established to ensure that athletes have the equipment they require to compete on a level playing field, while keeping competition fair and safe. These are important principles to abide by if we are to ensure the continued growth and development of Para Equestrian sport.”

Media contact:

Vanessa Martin Randin
Senior Manager, Media Relations & Communications
vanessa.randin@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 73