Deauville, France - In four short years of hosting Deauville’s CPEDI3*, the French commitment led by Handi Equi’ Compet, to promote top level para-equestrian competition, attracted a deep field of 79 para-dressage riders representing 21 countries vying for honors and ranking points ahead of the 2014 AllTech/World Equestrian Games (WEG) to be held in Normandy, August 23-September 7, 2014. This was the official test event for the 2014 WEG, using all the same officials as the Games to help the organizing committee evaluate readiness. In the spirit of the FEI’s recognition and inclusion of para-dressage as the eighth discipline alongside traditional equestrian contests, Handi Equi’ Compet’s mission is to provide parallel opportunity, outreach and education about how athletes with disabilities can thrive and achieve with the partnership of the horse.
Americans Rebecca Hart and Margaret McIntosh traveled from the CPEDI3* held last month at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, FL both with their new mounts to meet the international competition. Hart, a two-time Paralympian last competed overseas as a member of the U.S. team in London but Deauville was her first foray into the sizable para pool typical at European shows.
Still getting to know her new mare, Schroeter’s Romani, a 2002 Danish Warmblood mare (Lobster-Manique, Come Back II. Hart reports she travelled and showed like a champ. In the highly competitive Grade II, Hart placed fourth in the Team test with a 69.4%.The pair finished out the competition with a top five finish in the freestyle with 69.75%.
“I got some good insight from our panel of judges and am looking forward to training over the next two weeks and then competing again at the CPEDI3* in Moorsele, Belgium. Amazing opportunity and awesome adventure with great people and horses!” posted Hart.
For Margaret McIntosh, competing overseas is a return that she describes as “more meaningful, for me, to the summer after Rolex when I took my Advanced horses to England to compete!”
An accomplished eventer, McIntosh took up para-dressage six months after breaking her neck in a fall four years ago. “It has been as awe-inspiring to compete with the top International riders in my Para Grade 1b as it was in 1998 to ride in the same division at Gatcombe Park with Mark Todd, Blythe Tait, Pippa Funnell and, of course, Bruce Davidson and the O'Connors.
Lee Pearson and Ricky Balshaw from the British Team, Pepo Puch (the Austrian ex-eventer) and Stinne Kastrup (a Danish woman with no legs) have all been as inspirational to me as the famous eventers were back ‘in the day.’ I am so lucky, 15 years later to be competing at this level again!”
While the venue in Deauville proved quite challenging for the para riders with distractions ranging from barking dogs to milling school children, McIntosh says she was delighted with her mare’s sensible composure as the Rheinland-Pfalz-Saar is just 8 years old. “Rio Rio handled it beautifully! While slightly preoccupied on Friday, Saturday's Individual test was brilliant, earning 66.44%, just .3 out of seventh place (cut-off for the Freestyle).” Both Hart and McIntosh train with Missy and Jessica Ransehousen at Blue Hill Farm in PA.
Lauren Barwick, a three-time Paralympian, earned the consistent third spot in the Grade II division with her aptly named chestnut Oldenburg mare, Off To Paris. Team score: 71%, Individual 70.4% and Freestyle 72.25%. Barwick also took fifth with her other mount, Ferdonia, in the Individual with a score of 67.9%.
Roberta Sheffield riding Bindro T, a 2006 Dutch Warmblood owned by Evelyn Little claimed third in the Individual Grade III test with 68.5%. She also piloted her second mount, Double Agent, to sixth place in the Team test: 67.57%. Led by Barwick, with Roberta Sheffield, Jody Schloss (1a) and Ashley Gowanlock (1b), the Canadian team placed fifth out of 10 countries competing in the Nation’s Cup.
While the British team and riders dominated at Deauville, along with a roster of European champions and medalists from London, upcoming CPEDI3* at Moorsele, Belgium, April 25-27, 2014 and the 51st “Maimarkt-Turnier” in Mannheim, Germany, May 2-6, 2014 will sharpen the focus with all eyes on Normandy.
For U.S. riders, the exposure is vital. The Para-Equestrian scene mirrors many issues familiar to the able-bodied U.S. dressage community. Europe boasts a high number of quality horses, a deep history and instilled level of riding, along with the geography that affords many convenient showing opportunities.
Where Europe truly excels is the simple acceptance and appreciation of equality through sport. Deauville also contested the emerging Para-jumping with teams. Hopefully, more U.S. riders competing overseas will help increase support and awareness that Para-equestrian is a viable, popular addition to the competitive landscape at home with the potential for wide appeal and impact.
The 2012 Paralympics in London marked a groundbreaking shift in spectator and media appeal. People’s stories of challenge and adversity are compelling and uplifting.
When the 2014 Alltech/WEG celebrates riding on the world stage, the arena will be one place where disability is embraced and ability triumphs.