Para equestrian elite return for season-opener

Paralympic champions head field at first major competition of 2018 05 Apr 2018
Woman on a horse

Paralympic champion Sophie Wells of Great Britain

ⒸLiz Gregg/FEI
By Rob Howell | For the IPC

The top riders in Para equestrian are in France for the first major international competition of the year, as the “Pole International du Cheval” will be held from Friday to Sunday (6-8 April) at Deauville’s equestrian centre.

Although not the first three-star competition of the year, Deauville has established itself as the traditional start of the competition season, and takes on extra resonance this year, with the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) World Equestrian Games looming in September in Tryon, North Carolina, USA.

Among the top riders looking to secure their World Games ticket are Great Britain’s Sophie Wells (grade V) and Sophie Christiansen (grade I), both team and individual gold medal winners at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Alongside them, the grade II individual Paralympic champion, Lee Pearson, starts his comeback year after being absent from competition, alongside Christiansen, for most of 2017.

The trio are among eight other British riders, with Deauville seeing a total of 43 athletes competing from 11 countries.

The Netherlands are also back again this year with their best athletes, including Longines FEI European Championship 2017 medallist Nicole Den Dulk (grade II) and Demi Vermeulen (grade III).

The host nation will field 10 athletes, including stalwarts Jose Letartre, Vladimir Vinchon, Thibault Stoclin and Celine Gerny.

Gerny said: “Deauville is an important competition. It will allow us to test ourselves in relation to the other competitors, and I’ll be able to see how my new mare behaves and if she is liked by the judges. I really enjoy the competition at Deauville as it’s at home, and is a very well-orchestrated show where it’s like being in a cocoon.”

One highlight of the competition is ‘Scholars Day,’ when pupils from local schools are invited to Deauville as spectators.

Gerny added: “As a primary school teacher, I find it’s great that the schools come to the competition. It’s important that children are not frightened of disability and that they can put words on it.”

More information on Deauville can be found on the event website