Creating a para dressage World Cup and Nations Cup series could help the sport evolve and offer more opportunities for riders, stakeholders have agreed.
The topics were among items discussed during a sport structure session of the FEI online para dressage forum (18–19 January). The session, attended by 118 delegates, considered issues including how the sport could be developed, proposals around new test names, and introducing rider age rankings. The final session, on 28 January, will consider classification structure.
Bettina de Rham, FEI dressage, para dressage and vaulting director, shared some of the lessons learnt from vaulting, which went through a “similar” change of rules and sport structure in 2011 with the aim of growing the discipline, recognising the athletes competing at the highest level and opening the door to new international-level athletes.
“We saw a significant growth in numbers; events grew by 300%, we saw more continents organising events and we had a great increase in the number of registered athletes. This offered increased opportunities in officiating for our officials so we could have a better education system for them. All in all, this saw a great improvement in the quality of performances at the highest level, which were much more recognised,” she said.
“In addition to this, today vaulting has a World Cup with finals organised together with jumping, dressage and driving. These finals and World Cup series ensure the athletes and the discipline have great exposure. Para equestrian is already in the Paralympics but I still think there is a lot we can do to put our discipline under more spotlights.”
Ms de Rham said the para dressage technical committee will work on a proposed format for a potential World Cup series and said the committee will “benefit” from the learnings of other disciplines, adding that it is “paramount” to have a format that is not too long, to fit well in the sports programme of an indoor event.
David Hamer, FEI para equestrian committee member and British Equestrian head of performance pathways, discussed proposals around the introduction of a Nations Cup series, which he believes is the “next evolution” of the sport.
“We’ve got some great lessons to learn from the series in showjumping, eventing and dressage, and it’s a fantastic opportunity to raise the profile of the sport by having a formal team competition series,” he said.
“It gives us opportunities not only to look at sponsorship but media attention as well, which can only be good for promoting the profile of the sport and the riders and countries participating.”
Mr Hamer added that a Nations Cup series would give riders who are new to championships an opportunity to ride in a team competition and gain experience in big atmospheres, before they go to Europeans, World Championships or Paralympics.
“There is a massive area here that we could use to test new combinations, that could be riders on younger horses and younger or developing riders coming through, their first exposure in a proper team environment,” he said. “It has a massive opportunity for developing and educating our combinations for championships.”
“If we go up to a CPEDIO4* status we’re raising the bar; at the moment our bar is at three-star and raising it to four-star gives us much more opportunity to test our established combinations and promote the level of technical skill and ability of those competing at a Nations Cup. It could be that the qualification criteria mirrors what we have at Paralympic Games, which we have raised for Paris 2024, so it will be the next step in building the sport for the future where we can use the atmosphere and environment a Nations Cup will provide.”
Feedback from the delegates around launching a World Cup and Nations Cup series was positive, with Paralympic medal-winning rider Sanne Voets stating she believed a World Cup would bring “a lot of opportunities” for the sport and riders and would like to see it embedded in the existing format and events for the dressage World Cup.
British FEI five-star para dressage judge John Robinson said he believed a Nations Cup would increase the profile of para dressage and increase inclusivity in the sport. Dani Fraillon, chair of Equestrian Australia’s high performance para equestrian panel, said a Nations Cup and World Cup would increase the opportunity for para riders to have a voice.
“We need to look at who we have in the sport who can be champions of it, which would give us enormous opportunities for sponsorship and furthering the sport,” Ms Fraillon said. She added that she also works with Australian wheelchair tennis player Dylan Alcott, and that what he has done for his sport had been “extraordinary” in raising the profile of quad and wheelchair tennis, by speaking about the sport to people who would not necessarily know about it.
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