Britain’s Athens Paralympic dressage squad looks on form to retain the European title at the Paralympic Dressage Championships in Hungary next month (29-31 July 2005), but can expect traditional dressage nations such as Germany and the Netherlands to try hard to challenge them for the top spot.
As current European, World and Paralympic champions, the British team will be the ones to beat, and the seven-strong squad combines considerable experience with fresh talent.
Multi-gold medallist Lee Pearson (pictured) heads the British squad and will ride his striking dun, Blue Circle Boy, in the grade 3 competition – two grades above the level of his disability. Competing in grade 3 recently in Germany, Lee topped the leader board with an astonishing score of over 80%, proving that he thrives on the additional challenge.
Other familiar partnerships include Nicola Tustain, who has been selected with her highly successful partner Prinz Heinrich, and Michelle Crunkhorn, who will be riding the Para Dressage Training Trust’s Painted Affair. Michelle made history recently by becoming the first Paralympic rider to compete alongside able-bodied riders at prix st georges level.
The remaining four of the seven riders will be riding new horses in Hungary. Jo Pitt has taken over the ride on Lambrusco, the horse that Anne Dunham was due to take to Athens, and Anne partners Amo, a new horse from the Talland stable. As the daughter of Pammy Hutton’s former grand prix ride Amanti, Amo certainly has the pedigree to reach the top.
The youngest member of the squad, 17-year-old Sophie Christiansen, will partner Martini Maybe, with whom she scored over 74% in the final selection trials, and multi gold medal-winner Debbie Criddle has her own new horse in Pompidou.
The squad will train together in mid July with the team riders named before the horses and riders depart for Hungary.
Jane Goldsmith, the British Dressage chairman of Paralympic selectors, said: “In our selection policy we refer to building a team for the Beijing Paralympics, and that’s what we’re aiming for, but we’re fortunate to find ourselves with a really strong squad even now.
”This has given us a golden opportunity to try out new partnerships in high level competition before the World Championships in 2007, which will be held on home turf at Hartpury College.”