Who will win the medals at the European Para Dressage Championships 2023?

  • Last year, Britain finished off the podium for the first time in the history of modern para dressage, despite heroic efforts. But sometimes, positives are borne out of low moments. With Paris Paralympic qualification safely in the bag, Britain’s para team heads to the European Para Dressage Championships without the pressure that has accompanied every previous British side. And in the absence of pressure, we could see an exciting nod to the future.

    Britain’s fortunes were no doubt dealt a major blow with the withdrawal of Sophie Wells’ Tokyo Paralympic gold medallist Don Cara M, due to a minor injury. But it has also provided the perfect opportunity for Sophie to further develop her green yet talented mare LJT Egebjerggards Samoa, with Paris only round the corner.

    Joining Sophie Wells in grade V ranks will be Charlotte Cundall, who has been knocking on the door of team selection for a while and fully deserves her call-up.

    Georgia Wilson and Sakura have gone from the rookies of the 2021 Tokyo team to the most experienced combination this year, while Gabriella Blake and the part-bred Connemara, Strong Beau, make for an exciting addition to the squad.

    Make no mistake – if they can bring their best form, these four women are capable of bringing home a medal for Britain and ensuring 2022 remains but a blip on an otherwise sparkling record.

    Netherlands or Denmark for gold?

    Gold for Britain, though, would be a big stretch, with the same crack Dutch side that claimed a euphoric victory in Herning returning for more at this year’s European Para Dressage Championships.

    All four Dutch combinations have competed sparingly this year – likely in light of the fact that the youngest of their horses is 15 – but don’t bet against them adding another gold to their record in Riesenbeck. As the world order of para dressage has shifted in recent years, it’s the Netherlands that have emerged as leaders.

    The Netherlands win gold at the World Para Dressage Championships.

    The Netherlands win gold at the World Para Dressage Championships 2022.

    They won’t have it easy, though. Denmark won’t have forgotten the pain of being so narrowly beaten to the top spot on home soil last summer, and with big-scoring Tobias Thorning Jørgensen at the helm, they will be battling for gold. That said, the absence of double world gold medallist Katrine Kristensen from this year’s Danish side could offer up a window of opportunity for the Netherlands – and possibly other teams – to slip ahead.

    Britain’s biggest rival for bronze is likely to be Belgium, with whom they were neck and neck for fourth last year, although Germany can’t be discounted and the young Irish contingent could do well, too.

    This championship is set to be very exciting – not just in its own right, but in what it could suggest for the future.

    European Para Dressage Championships: individual medal favourites

    Tobias Thorning Jørgensen

    Denmark's Tobias Thorning Joergensen scores 86.5% to earn a World Para Dressage and grade III freestyle record in the World Para Dressage Championships results

    This 23-year-old Dane and his grey mare Jolene Hill (above) are yet to be beaten individually at any major championship, with double gold at the Europeans, worlds and Paralympics. In fact, the only time they have been beaten in international grade III competition was earlier this year – by Tobias himself on Blue Hors Zackorado, his new ride who is his direct reserve for the Europeans. Tobias rides with great finesse and it adds to the graceful, harmonious picture this pair seem able to produce in the arena time after time. Expect to see them back in the medals this year.

    Sara Morganti

    Italy’s Sara Morganti has been a force to be reckoned with in grade I ranks for some time, with 14 individual medals to her name. This year, she won}t partner the evergreen 18-year-old mare Royal Delight – who hasn’t competed internationally since winning freestyle gold at the worlds last summer – but will instead ride the younger Mariebelle. The European Para Dressage Championships are 11-year-old Mariebelle’s first championship, but the pair have been together for several years, and have exceeded 81% twice this year.

    Michèle George

    Top grade V honours have long been a three-way battle between Britain’s Sophie Wells, Belgium’s Michèle George and the Netherlands’ Frank Hosmar. In the past two years, it has been Michèle who has risen to the fore, thanks to her partnership with the very talented mare Best Of 8, who was found for Michèle by her trainer, Isabell Werth. They had a setback earlier this year, when Michèle broke her ribs in a fall while training, and although they started the Waregem CPEDI3* a week later, were forced to withdraw after a spook in their first test worsened the injury. Michèle has since reported that the pair are “back on track”, and she’ll be gunning to add European gold to the Paralympic and world titles she has already won with this mare.

    Sanne Voets 

    para dressage

    Sanne Voets riding Demantur at the Tokyo Paralympics

    Sanne has been the undisputed grade IV queen since clinching her first individual gold with Demantur Rs2 NOP (above) at the Rio Paralympics in 2016. Since then, the Dutch pair have added nine more individual golds to their record, as well as leading the Netherlands to three team golds. Demantur is 15 now, and Sanne says her focus has shifted in recent years, away from medals and more towards horsemanship, welfare and the journey – though she remains as competitive as ever. It bodes well for yet more success.

    Michael Murphy 

    Michael bagged Ireland’s first World Championship para dressage medals in 2022, when he won double bronze with Cleverboy. Riesenbeck will be their first European Championship as a combination and now that grade I rider Michael has had a taste for medals, you can bet he’ll be hungry for more. They’ve been on good form this year with plus-80% on their last outing – higher than the score that won him bronze in Herning.

    Sophie Wells

    In her first full season, Sophie’s young mare LJT Egebjerggards Samoa has already shown her talent in the international arena. Winning an individual medal at her first championship would be a huge ask, but not beyond the realm of possibility with a rider as experienced and skilful as Sophie. She’ll need to be more settled in the ring than she has been to produce her best, but will benefit enormously from this experience whatever the result.

    Georgia Wilson

    Georgia Wilson and Sakura, members of the British team at World Para Dressage Championships

    Having been team rookies just two years ago, Georgia and Sakura (above) are now Britain’s most experienced combination, and they’ll be in with a good chance to adding more medals to their growing collection. A recent freestyle personal best bodes well for their medal chances, and as the reigning European grade II freestyle champion, Georgia will be hungry to retain her title.

    Frank Hosmar

    Frank Hosmar’s faithful campaigner Alphaville NOP  is lucky to be here, having survived a near-fatal illness 18 months ago. He made an almost unbelievable recovery in time to win team gold and individual silver for the Netherlands at the worlds last August, and although he’s 18 this year, still appears capable of big scores. Could easily add to his medal tally in Riesenbeck.

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