Can the Brits reclaim the para dressage World title in Herning?

  • In 2021, four inexperienced British horses set off for Tokyo, their para dressage championship riders aiming for little more than to give them exposure on the world stage, perhaps picking up one or two medals along the way. What actually unfolded in Japan last summer was something very different – the Brits’ rookie horses rose to the occasion in tremendous style, beating the crack Dutch side to team gold, and each picked up at least one individual medal to boot.

    The same four British World Championships para dressage riders and horses will head to the Herning World Championships, Denmark, with rather more expected of them this year – with success comes increased pressure after all. But Sophie Wells, Sir Lee Pearson and Natasha Baker have been in the game a long time, while the less-experienced Georgia Wilson possesses an enviably cool head under pressure; these four riders know better than most how to rise to an occasion. And the para dressage World Championships promises to be something of an occasion.

    It was at the last World Championships that the Netherlands succeeded in finally toppling Britain from their para dressage throne, forcing them to settle for silver
    for the first time in history. It stung, for sure, but no one could argue that it wasn’t good for the sport. The years that followed have seen the Netherlands dominate the international arena, but with Britain’s euphoric Paralympic triumph, is the tide turning once again?

    In both 2018 and 2021, the winning margin of the gold medal team was under 0.7 of a point; the Netherlands creeping ahead in 2018, and Britain coming out on top by an almost identical margin at their latest championship meeting. Get ready for another tantalisingly close finish in 2022.

    But while the Brits have only got stronger since Tokyo, their young horses having gained in confidence and experience – and Georgia Wilson no longer a rookie but a seasoned member of the team – the Dutch side of World Championships para dressage riders will look a little different this year.

    Reigning grade IV world champion Sanne Voets will be back on her trusty crusader Demantur RS2 NOP. However, the team will be without their Tryon and Tokyo talisman Rixt van der Horst, whose world champion grade II ride Findsley returned to her owner for rehab, after having to withdraw from the Paralympic freestyle last year.

    Frank Hosmar will be another familiar face, riding the multi-medalled Alphaville, but Demi Haerkens and Lotte Krijnsen will be championship first-timers, although both have posted excellent results coming into the worlds.

    The point difference between bronze medallists USA and fourth-placed Denmark in 2021 was as excruciatingly close as that between gold and silver. The USA will field a strong side in Herning, but they’ll be without their top horse from Tokyo, with grade I world number one Roxanne Trunnell bringing her young stallion Fortunato H2O rather than Paralympic record-breaker Dolton.

    This could open the door for Denmark to cruise onto the podium, something they will be desperate to do in front of the home crowds.

    Tobias Thorning Jørgensen is sure to bring in chunky scores in grade III with his delightful grey mare Jolene Hill. And although Katrine Kristensen brings forward a new ride in the 14-year-old Quaterback gelding Gørklintgaard’s Quater, this pair will be ones to watch in grade II, with some serious scores on their record this year.

    Belgium also showed their hand in Tokyo and look set to be in the mix this year, while Germany and France cannot be ruled out among the World Championships para dressage riders.

    Expect to see familiar nations pushing for the podium, but the order in which they will finish is anybody’s guess. One thing is for sure though: Britain will be up there.

    World Championships para dressage medal predictions

    World Championships team medal predictions for the para dressage competition

    World Championships para dressage riders: individual favourites

    Tobias Thorning Jørgensen

    You’d be brave to bet against this young man continuing his run of championship form, especially on home soil with his beloved grey mare Jolene Hill. This pair have never been beaten in international grade III competition, and scored a personal best of 84.35% when winning their second individual gold medal of the Games in Tokyo last year. How much higher can their star rise with the support of a home crowd behind them?

    Sophie Wells

    Don Cara M, aka “Donnie”, has had to step up to become Sophie’s top horse in the past year, and he came of age at the Tokyo Paralympics. The pair are almost unbeaten internationally in 2022, with straight test scores around the 75% mark and freestyle scores close to 80%. Few would bet against them being on the podium.

    Michèle George

    Belgium’s Michèle and the 12-year-old mare Best Of 8 proved unstoppable in Tokyo, with double grade V gold, and she looks set to be Britain’s Sophie Wells’ strongest rival in Herning. Michèle’s scores have been growing all year, with over 80% in the freestyle and consistent mid-70s in the straight test. Michèle brings plenty of experience and showmanship to the arena – she could score big.

    Sir Lee Pearson

    Having blown everyone – including Lee himself – away with their success in 2021, Lee and Breezer have continued their run of good form as the horse has matured into the horse his rider (and breeder) always knew he could be. He is still uber sensitive and can be reactive, but his record speaks for itself: two wins in Deauville in April were followed by a hat-trick at Hartpury CPEDI in July. This pair are on fire right now.

    Roxanne Trunnell

    The USA rider swept the board in grade I ranks at the Tokyo Paralympics, winning double individual gold on Dolton, as well as team bronze, and setting a new Paralympic record as she did so. However, this year she brings forward a new ride in the six-year-old Floriscount stallion Fortunato H2O, whom she had been riding for just six weeks before being shortlisted for the World Championships. Their only international outing together so far has been the USA team selection event at Tryon in June, but three wins and a score over 73% means that despite their fledgling partnership, Roxanne and “Fish” should not be ruled out of the medals in Herning.

    Natasha Baker

    With limited runs this year, quality over quantity has been key for Natasha and Keystone Dawn Chorus; they had a double win at Wellington Festival of Para Dressage in June with chunky scores, and although Natasha had to withdraw midway through Hartpury CPEDI due to illness, their win in the team test shows they are as strong as ever.

    Demi Haerkens

    While Sanne Voets may have been the queen of grade IV in recent years, her Dutch compatriot and fellow grade IV rider Demi Haerkens looks set to shake things up in Herning. This will be Demi’s first championship and she’s joining a team intent on retaining their world title from 2018 – and closure after being pipped by Britain to Paralympic gold in Tokyo. Demi and the 14-year-old EHL Daula have really made their presence known on the circuit recently, beating Sanne in the individual and team tests at their last two shows. Herning could see a Dutch showdown – get ready!

    Georgia Wilson

    Sakura and Georgia have been nudging at Lee Pearson’s grade II heels during the 2022 season, and were unbeaten at both Keysoe CPEDI shows over the winter. They competed as individuals in Tokyo, but will form an integral part of the British team in Herning.

    Rodolpho Riskalla

    It was at the last World Championships that Brazilian grade IV rider Rodolpho (below) burst into the limelight, winning his first medal with the same horse he’ll take to Herning, Don Henrico. This Don Frederico stallion is 19 now, but doesn’t show it – they scored 78% on their last outing. Rodolpho, who works for Dior in Paris, has spoken out recently about the importance of disability inclusion and opportunity in the workplace, and has become a well-known face in para equestrian, both in and out of the saddle.

    Michael Murphy

    As Michael and Cleverboy have got to know one another better, they have become more secure as a partnership and it definitely shows. After mixed results in Tokyo, this Irish partnership have posted plenty of wins and good scores in 2022, including a hat-trick at Hartpury. Expect big things in Herning.

    • For Horse & Hound’s full preview of the Herning World Championships, see 28 July edition of the magazine – order your copy online

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