The 2015 Hartpury Festival of Dressage will draw top names in para-equestrian this Gloucester, Great Britain, this week including British Paralympic, world and European medallists Lee Pearson, Sophie Christiansen, Natasha Baker, Sophie Wells and Ricky Balshaw.
Fellow British riders Anne Dunham and Deb Cradle are also ones to watch, as more than 50 riders from seven countries take part in the five-day event, which begins Wednesday (8 July).
With eyes on September’s International Equestrian Federation (FEI) Para-Equestrian Dressage European Championships in Deauville, France, and the Rio 2016 Paralympics, riders look to score valuable qualification points and impress their team selectors. With just five places per nation available at each event, securing those team places is tougher than ever.
Among the more familiar international names competing are Canada’s Paralympic and world medallist Lauren Barwick and rising star Roberta Sheffield; as well as Ireland’s Kate Kerr Horan, Helen Kearney, Breda Bernie and Rosemary Gaffney. A new generation of Australian riders have also travelled to Europe to compete.
Many of the top British riders are using Hartpury – the last competition before the British team for the European Championships is decided – to test two horses. Multi-Paralympic champion Christiansen, for example, has entered both her medalling horse Rio, and her new horse Athene, while Wells is also competing on her usual ride, Valerius, and new horse C Fatal Attraction. Both have their sights of seeing which is best for Deauville and then for Rio 2016.
Interestingly though, Baker is only riding her new mare, Sooki St. James, and not competing on her London 2012 gold medallist Cabral. Baker, however, recently swept the board in her grade II competition at the British Championships and was highest scorer of that competition on Sooki. For some, perhaps this is the combination fans should now get used to seeing Baker ride.
The competition will also host riders from as far afield as Japan and the Virgin Islands, while the European based Hong Kong team are also making an appearance.