Dressage: Day one preview

Nervous wait for equestrian medal hopefuls ahead of competition getting underway at Deodoro. 11 Sep 2016
Pepo Puch

Austria's Pepo Puch and Fine Feeling S claimed the top spot in grade Ib at the JYSK FEI European Para-Dressage Championships in Herning, Denmark

ⒸFEI/Kate Houghton
By Rob Howell | For the IPC

There will have been an anxious wait for five leading medal contenders ahead of the start of the para-equestrian dressage competition, which starts at the Olympic Equestrian Centre in Deodoro on Sunday (11 September).

The horses of London 2012 freestyle gold medallist Pepo Puch (AUT), world champion Sara Morganti (ITA), Brazil’s Rodolpho Riskalla’s and former world and European medallist Stinna Tange Kaastrup (DEN), as well as her team mate Caroline Nielsen, were all asked to come back for re-inspection on Sunday morning after they failed to get through the main horse inspection on Saturday (10 September).

There are 76 riders from 29 countries competing for 11 gold medals (two individual medals in each grade, and the team medal) over the next six days. The competition marks 20 years since the sport was introduced to the Paralympic Games, in Atlanta 1996.

The action starts with the team tests for the grades III and Ib. All riders will perform a set test and the top scores for each nation qualified for the team competition will be combined with scores from the individual tests in each grade, later in the week, to decide the overall team champions.

Ones to watch on Sunday in the grade III include double Beijing 2008 gold medallist Philippa Johnson-Dwyer of South Africa, and Denmark’s Annika Lykke Dalskov Rissum, returning to competition after having a baby and then a long period of injury for both her and her horse.

In a blow for the German team, however, double Beijing 2008 and London 2012 grade III champion Hannelore Brenner had to withdraw from the competition just days before she was due to travel to Rio after her horse picked up a small injury.

The grade Ib contest will see arch rivals Lee Pearson (GBR) and Puch go head to head for the first time at these Games (subject to Puch’s horse passing its re-inspection).

Pearson is one of Great Britain’s most decorated Paralympians, and comes to Rio with 10 gold medals, a bronze and silver to his name. But in a strong field they will both be challenged by the likes of The Netherlands’ Nicole Den Dulk and the USA’s Sydney Collier, who at 18 is the youngest competitor in the field.

“It’s fantastic, so surreal to be here,” said Collier. “It’s been such a good experience so far and the stadium looks amazing. My goal is to get on that medal stand and I have faith in our abilities. I really think that we can do it.”

Grades IV and Ia will compete their team tests on Monday (12 September), with grade II finishing that part of the team competition on Tuesday morning (13 September). Tuesday will also see the first medal of the competition decided, when the grade III riders perform their individual tests in the afternoon.