Para dressage’s biggest rivalry between Great Britain and host the Netherlands is set to renew at the European Championships from Wednesday in Rotterdam.
Great Britain had never lost in the team competition at the Paralympics, World Championships or Europeans. But that changed at last year’s World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Tryon, USA, when the Netherlands took the top team spot.
Now, with the Europeans being held on Dutch soil, the team will be looking to replicate that achievement.
Rixt van der Horst, Nicole Den Dulk, Sanne Voets, and Frank Hosmar are expected to lead the Dutch side.
Team manager Joyce Heuitink said: “It’s my responsibility to send our best riders. We’ve had a phenomenal season so far with riders scoring new personal bests. But we know how hard it is to compete at the highest level and we’ve been working hard to find improvements to our scores. It’s really exciting to have the Championships at home, something I’ve been wanting for years.”
Meanwhile Great Britain has chosen three new riders to join established team member Sophie Wells who will aim to defend her 2017 European titles. Those making their debuts at major international level are Mari Durward-Akhurst (grade I), Nicky Greenhill (grade IV) and Georgia Wilson (grade II).
Not all about Great Britain and Netherlands
The Championships will see athletes from 21 countries competing.
Among those hoping to make their mark will be Latvia’s grade I star. He won a silver at last year’s WEG and made his breakthrough on the international scene at the previous Europeans in Gothenburg, Sweden. He will face tough competition from Italy’s double world gold medallist and current world number one across all five of the sport’s grades, Sara Morganti.
Russia also has podium potential at a major international for the first time this summer, and all eyes will be on Natalia Martynova in grade V. She is currently ranked third in the world in her grade, but will face competition from Wells and Hosmar.
Germany’s debut WEG medallist, Regine Mispelkamp also rides in that grade, at her first Europeans.
Austria’s Pepo Puch will return to the competition in grade III, and there is strong representation from the Belgian team this year too, with multi-WEG and Paralympic champions Michele George returning to a major competition for the first time since the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, as well as high scoring teammates Barbra Menici (the only side-saddle rider) and world number three in grade IV, Manon Claeys.
Other riders to look out for include Finland’s London 2012 silver medallist Katja Karjalainen; 2017 European silver and bronze medallist Louise Etzner Jakobsson; and Denmark’s young superstar Tobias Thorning Joergensen.
The competition runs until 25 August and will see individual test on the first two days, followed by two days of competition to decide the team title, with the best riders in each grade then competing for the freestyle titles on the final day.
More information on the European Championships in Rotterdam is available on the FEI’s website.