Major shows urged to help para riders win medals in Paris 2024

  • MAJOR show organisers have been called upon to help Britain’s para dressage riders “win gold medals in Paris” and bridge the gap between disability and able-bodied sport.

    Sir Lee Pearson and Natasha Baker both spoke of the challenges of preparing horses for the high-octane atmosphere of championships, imploring major UK shows to feature more para sport.

    Lee, who won triple gold in Tokyo, said having 10,000 people in the Equestrian Park, had spectators been allowed in, would probably have been “overload” for Breezer.

    “We’ve got to get him used to that for Paris,” he said, adding that he has visited retirement home Bagnall Heights, to try to get his horses used to spectators.

    “So if any of the big venues at home… can have us doing some displays, they’re going to be possibly helping us win gold medals in Paris. To go from no audience to 10,000 in three years is a big step for a sensitive horse, and they have to cope with the same environment as a grand prix horse.”

    Natasha agreed, saying she would like to see the Paralympic movement more in line with the Olympic equivalent, and people need to see disability sport to bring investment and growth.

    “We need to be at more able-bodied shows, We need to be more inclusive, we want that recognition that our able-bodied counterparts [receive],” she said.

    “They can’t be scared of us, the para dressage riders; we want to be put into the bigger atmospheres. I think we’re making steps towards that, but there’s still too much of a gap. I think our show organisers need to take more responsibility and include us more.”

    She added that para riders “want to be involved”, and accessibility will be key to bringing sponsors and owners.

    “That is going to open people’s eyes who maybe haven’t seen para dressage and think, ‘I really want to be involved’, or, ‘I’ve got a horse that actually isn’t going to make it to the next level [in able-bodied]. But you know what? They could go to Paris and win a medal,’” she said.

    Para dressage has been part of major UK shows in the past, and H&H contacted several organisers to ask about plans. Royal Windsor, the London International Horse Show (formerly Olympia), Your Horse Live and Hickstead all responded, with comments broadly suggesting this is in discussion.

    Your Horse Live has frequently featured para dressage.

    Event director Emma Bedford told H&H the interviews and demonstrations with para riders “never fail to amaze and delight our crowds”.

    “Your Horse Live is an event for horse enthusiasts whatever their age, level, physical ability, or discipline – everyone is welcome,” she said, adding that the common theme is we “all love horses” and want to learn to be the best riders we can.

    “We were determined that para riders and their horses would benefit from the same opportunities as all our riders, using our show as a training opportunity, which is particularly important for younger horses as this allows them to become accustomed to the lights and sounds of a 3,000-seater arena in a friendly, unpressured atmosphere,” she said.

    “Para riders and enthusiasts will always be an integral part of what makes Your Horse Live such a special event.”

    Hickstead director Lizzie Bunn congratulated the British team on their successful Games and told H&H Dressage at Hickstead under Dane Rawlins was a “huge supporter” of para sport.

    “Dressage on the main showground is still in its infancy,” she explained, adding that the Premier League show in May featured young horses and ponies, juniors and young riders in its first year, and para dressage is something the venue will consider again.

    A spokesman for HPower, which organises Royal Windsor and the London International Horse Show, said its programmes are “constantly under review”.

    “We sympathise with the wish to see more para sport in major UK shows,” she said. “There are certain drivers that help us form decisions on programme content – these include audience demand, available time and commercial commitments.

    “We have included para riders in our events, whether as a part of the commentary team or in a masterclass, and we recognise the importance of inclusion for the sport.”

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