Rivalries to watch at the European Para-Equestrian Championships

London 2012 champion Sophie Christiansen and world champion Sara Morganti face off in the grade 1a. They are one of the matchups to watch. 16 Sep 2015
Italian woman celebrates on a horse

Italy's Sara Morganti

ⒸJon Stroud
By Robert Howell|For the IPC

The International Equestrian Federation (FEI) European Para-Equestrian Dressage Championships begin on Thursday (17 September) in Deauville, France. While British riders have been one of the strongest nations in the sport, other European countries have boasted strong contenders, including the Netherlands and Germany.

With that, here are key rivalries to watch in each of the five classes:

Grade Ia

The grade Ia competition has, for the last few years at least, been dominated by Britain’s Sophie Christiansen. She took three gold medals (two individual titles and a team title) at the London 2012 Paralympic Games and did the same at the 2013 European Championships.

But at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France, last year, Italy’s Sara Morganti beat Christiansen in the grade’s team test (although Great Britain went on to win the team title). While Christiansen came storming back to take the individual title, a superb freestyle display saw Morganti pip Christiansen for the title.

Christianen looks to defend her European title on her new horse Athene http://www.paralympic.org/news/christiansen-not-riding-rio-rio-2016. Add in Anne Dunham, Britain’s Paralympic champion at Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000 and Beijing 2008, and this grade is one not to miss in Deauville.

Grade Ib

In 2013, Lee Pearson did not even get selected for the European Championships. That motivated Pearson to work on his new horse, Zion, and Pearson left the 2014 World Equestrian Games with a team and both individual titles.

In Deauville, Pearson will be up against London 2012 victor, Austria’s Pepo Puch, who was runner up twice at the World’s. The Netherlands’ double-world bronze winner Nicole Den Dulk is also in the mix. Former world champion Stinna Tange Kastrup of Denmark could also vie for the podium.

Grade II

The real surprise of the World Equestrian Games last year was the sudden emergence of Dutch superstar Rixt Van Der Horst. The young rider, at her first major international competition, beat British favourite Natasha Baker (double London 2012 individual gold medallist) in both individual events.

But Baker looks to bounce back on her new horse Sooki St. James.

Grade III

Germany’s Hannelore Brenner and the Netherlands’ Sanne Voets are the big matchups to watch. Until the 2013 European Championships, Brenner had won almost every major Championships she had competed in, including individual golds at the 2008 and 2012 Paralympic Games, and the 2010 Worlds. But that changed in 2013, when Voets took the European title in the freestyle competition, a feat she repeated at last year’s Worlds.

France’s Jose Letarte cannot be left out after taking two bronzes at the 2013 Europeans. Home advantage may come to play for Letarte this week.

Grade IV

Belgium’s Michele George is the rider to beat, and Britain’s Sophie Wells will be out to do just that. Following World and European successes in 2010 and 2011, respectively, Wells finished runner-up to George in London 2012 in both individual events.

But the following year, Wells swept three golds at the Europeans, setting the stage for a mighty battle at the 2014 World Games. Once again, though, it was George who topped the podium, taking both titles.

And do not write off the Netherlands’ Frank Hosmar. Hosmar took both individual bronzes at the Worlds and Paralympics behind George and Wells, and both silvers at the 2013 Europeans.

The European Championships in Deauville will feature 75 riders from 20 countries and also hold some of the last available world ranking points for Rio 2016.

The competition is free for spectators. Visit the event website for more information on the FEI European Para-Equestrian Dressage Championships.