A strong field of British equestrian riders will be out in force at this year’s Hartpury Festival of Dressage between 6-8 July in Great Britain, all vying for one of five seats on the plane to the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
Hartpury is the last three-star Para equestrian dressage competition in Europe before Rio 2016 and competition for a spot will be tight.
That is the case more than ever this year with a number of up and coming riders mounting a strong challenge to some of the most well-known and respected faces in the sport.
Riders from far afield are also heading to the competition including a full contingent from Paralympic hosts Brazil, whose riders have been in Europe all summer competing at various events in an all-out effort to gain as much international experience as possible ahead of the Games. They are joined by representatives from Hong Kong, China; Ireland and Saudi Arabia.
Heading the charge for Great Britain will be superstars Lee Pearson in the grade Ib competition and Sophie Christiansen in the grade Ia. Pearson will be riding his double World Championships winning horse Zion, while Christiansen will compete on her triple London 2012 winner Janeiro 6. It will be a welcome return to three-star competition in Great Britain for Rio, as he is known, giving selectors the chance to choose between him and Christiansen’s other horse, Athene, to take to the Paralympic Games.
Alongside Christiansen will be Anne Dunham, aiming to qualify for her fifth Paralympics having narrowly missed out on a spot for London 2012. If she is selected Dunham will return to Paralympic competition 20 years after she took part in the first equestrian competition in Atlanta 1996.
Double Paralympic gold medallist Natasha Baker is riding in the grade II contest, on her London 2012 victor Cabral. For the past couple of years Baker has had some success on newer horse Sooki St James but again it looks like she is giving selectors the chance to choose JP, as he is known at home. Baker has had a good year so far, rising from No. 100 in the world at the end of 2015 to her current position at number 15.
But Baker can expect a strong competition with compatriot rider Erin Orford on Dior. Orford sits just 10 places behind Baker on the world rankings and will be fighting hard to impress the selectors.
The same can also be said for Nicky Greenhill in the grade III who will be defending the three top places she earned at the competition last year. Both Orford and Greenhill had strong winter and summer results in the run up to Rio and could be a surprise choice for the team.
Finally, in the grade IV, Britain’s former world champion and European champion, and double London 2012 silver medalist Sophie Wells will compete on two horses, Valerius and C Fatal Attraction.
The competition can be followed on the festival’s website.