For the first time at a major para-equestrian Championship level, the Netherlands topped the medals table after dethroning powerhouse Great Britain at the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) Para-Equestrian Dressage European Championships in Deauville, France, in September.
The Dutch were the first to knock the British from the top at a European, World or Paralympic Championship, placing this at No. 44 in the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) Top 50 Moments of 2015.
The Dutch scored an impressive four gold medals (individual and freestyle golds coming from grade II rider Rixt Van Der Horst and grade IV’s Frank Hosmar), against Great Britain’s three (two for grade Ia’s Sophie Christiansen and the team title). The Dutch team also racked up a silver and four bronze medals.
The result confirmed what was made apparent at 2014’s Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) – that the Dutch have firmly established themselves alongside Great Britain as the dominant force in para-equestrian dressage, and that Great Britain’s ability to pick up gold medals in whatever class it competes in cannot be taken for granted.
At the London 2012 Paralympic Games, the British won the most medals with 11, including five golds from the 11 medal events. The Netherlands only two took medals, both bronze from Hosmar.
The Dutch Chef D’Equipe, Joyce Heuitink, said: “It was an amazing Championship. This year we thought it would be impossible to beat the World Equestrian Games but every show proved we were on the right track and we did a little bit better at every one. We got an extra victory and a higher mark every time we competed but you never know what will happen at the major championships. But Frank and Rixt were amazing and showed outstanding quality.
“Since last year with [the] WEG and now — this it’s so exciting. It’s teamwork that makes the team work.”
That has been evident at events. When a Dutch rider had entered the arena, the rider often seemed to draw his or her teammates to line up along the perimeter fence, as a sea of orange and a chorus of loud cheers would ring at the end of each test. Team member Sabine Peters, who had to withdraw from the Europeans after her horse picked up an injury, even paid her own way to Deauville to cheer on her fellow riders.
The stand out performance in Deauville for the Dutch came from Hosmar. One of the world’s best riders, Hosmar had yet to win a major Championship title before Deauville – taking a succession of silver and bronze medals at World, European and Paralympic levels. However, from the moment he and his horse Alphaville N.O.P. stepped into the arena on the first day of competition, it was clear that he was a real Rio 2016 contender.
He went on to win both the individual and freestyle tests, beating constant rivals Sophie Wells of Great Britain and Belgium’s Michele George in the process.
“So many times I’ve had bronze and silver and now finally there is gold,” Hosmar said. “It means a lot which is why I was so emotional. We’re building up and building up and finally it’s coming together.”
With Rio 2016 now just under 10 months away, the Dutch surge in form makes the para-equestrian dressage competition with Great Britain hotter ahead of Rio 2016, where the Netherlands are expected to leave with more than just two bronze medals.
You can find out more about the Top 50 Moments of 2015 at the dedicated webpage.