The road to the Para-Dressage arena of the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games is now just 500 days long.
The Paris 2024 Paralympic Games, which will run from August 28 to September 8, will see the para-dressage competition take place at the iconic Château de Versailles from September 3-7, with 78 athlete and horse combinations from around the world eligible to compete for 33 medals awarded across the Team, Individual and Freestyle Events.
A total of 15 slots are available for the Para-Dressage Team competition, with each qualifying nation eligible to send up to four athletes each to Paris, for a total of 60 athletes.
France, as the host country, directly qualified for first slot while seven countries – the Netherlands, Denmark, USA, Great Britain, Belgium, Germany, and Italy – secured their ticket to the Paralympic Games through the ECCO FEI World Championships 2022 in Herning (DEN).
The FEI Para-Dressage European Championships, which will take place in Riesenbeck (GER) in September 2023, will provide another opportunity for the top ranked team from the competition (not otherwise qualified) to secure a place in Paris.
Four other slots will be filled by the highest-ranked teams from Asia, the Americas, Africa, and Oceania, while the two highest ranking teams on the FEI Paralympic Team Ranking List will also qualify.
A further 18 individual athletes will also be eligible to compete. These will be the top three ranked athletes from the FEI Paralympic Individual Ranking List in Europe, Asia, Oceania, the Americas, and Africa. Finally, three individual places will be allocated by the FEI and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).
The Para Dressage competition starts with the Individual Medal Test and qualifier for Freestyle Medal Event, known as the FEI Para Grand Prix A, which is where the athletes in each Grade perform a set routine of movements around the arena.
This is followed by the team competition – the FEI Para Grand Prix B – where three athletes from each Nation, declared by the Chef d’Equipe, ride the Para Grand Prix B routine in their Grades. The cumulative scores from each athlete forms the overall team score.
On the last day of the competition, the top eight Athlete/Horse combinations in each Grade perform their Grand Prix Freestyle. This is always the most popular day of any Para Dressage event, giving the athletes the chance to express themselves through their own choreographed routines.
Ones to watch
The team medal will likely be the most hotly contested of the Games. It has been won by Great Britain at every Paralympic Games since Atlanta in 1996 (the first Para Dressage competition of the Paralympics). At the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Great Britain won by less than one percentage point, but then failed to make the podium at the FEI Para Dressage Championships in Herning (DEN) in 2022.
The Netherlands, who are the current European and World Champions, will be desperate to add a Paralympic title to their collection. They will face stiff competition though, not just from Great Britain, but also from Denmark and the USA.
Individually, The Netherlands Sanne Voets (Grade IV) will want to add more golds to the two she won in Tokyo, as will Denmark’s Tobias Thorning Joergensen (Grade III), Belgium’s Michelle George (Grade V), and Great Britain’s Lee Pearson (Grade II). Great Britain’s Sophie Christiansen is hoping to regain a place on her team to compete in Grade I, where she will face tough competition from Paralympic gold medallist Roxanne Trunnell (USA) and Rihards Snikus (LAT)
Also hoping to compete, and regain the titles she last won in Rio in 2016, is Great Britain’s Natasha Baker. “I’m so, so excited for Paris,” she said. “Tokyo was a very different Games, with no crowds, and no friends and family. So being able to ride in such an iconic venue, with everyone there, would just be amazing.”
Baker faces one additional challenge to her qualification though, as she is due to give birth to her first child later in April. “I have a great team around me,” she added, “and the timing of the baby couldn’t be better. I’ll have 16 months to get back to the high standard I need to qualify and be selected. But it would be lovely to compete knowing the baby is in the audience!”