Irish dressage rider Dane Rawlins is to make a legal challenge on behalf of himself and team-mate James Connor against Horse Sport Ireland’s (HSI) decision not to send a dressage team to Tokyo.

There has been speculation about Ireland’s ability to field a competitive trio since Judy Reynolds announced earlier this month that she was retiring Ireland’s top Grand Prix horse, the 19-year-old Vancouver K, while Kate Dwyer revealed she is pregnant and had been advised not to travel by her physician.

However, Rawlins said other riders on the high performance program only learned that a firm decision had been made against dressage participation when reading the HSI website last night. This named the Irish jumping and eventing teams, dropping news about dressage at the end of that statement.

Rawlins says that he, Connor and Heike Holstein would like to make up a team, having striven against the odds during the pandemic to maintain their form and obtain the Olympic Minimum Eligibility Requirements (MERs). Not all of them have, though, obtained the slightly higher scores required by HSI to merit selection for what would have been Ireland’s first team appearance in Olympic dressage. While HSI hasn’t publicly announced the necessary scores, riders have reported that 68% is the minimum threshold.

The decision was made by HSI’s Dressage High Performance Director Johann Hinnemann who, being based in the US, has not seen all the riders compete in person since the pandemic, says Rawlins.

The HSI statement says that after “key” riders dropped out, Hinnemann advised the HSI Board that two combinations had not met the specific criteria he had set. Hence “he is not in a position to nominate these combinations.” The statement adds: “This difficult decision was founded on rational performance considerations and an informed technical position of our retained dressage expert Johann Hinnemann.”

Rawlins and Connor consulted a lawyer this morning (June 22.) If their appeal is rejected, they may take it to a higher court, but time is not on their side.

Yesterday (June 21) was the deadline for riders to meet the MERs. Next in line for Ireland’s team place is Luxembourg. If Luxembourg cannot take it up at this late stage, Belgium would be offered the slot. One individual dressage place may be offered back to Ireland when the FEI has finished assessing overall take-up in the next week or so. If so, HSI will “avail of this position.” It would most likely be offered to Holstein.

Reynolds, Holstein and Anna Merveldt ‒ who is also unavailable for Tokyo ‒ won Ireland’s Tokyo place on the basis of their performance at the 2019 European Dressage Championships.

New Zealand has already returned its individual places for dressage and para-dressage, for similar reasons to Ireland’s.