Hot competition expected among para dressage riders at Tokyo 2020

Sanne Voets of The Netherlands on Demantur N.O.P. at the 2018 World Equestrian Games.
Sanne Voets claimed Freestyle Grade IV para dressage gold on Demantur N.O.P. at the 2018 World Equestrian Games. © Sportfot

The equestrian events of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games get under way on August 24, with a mix of seasoned riders and first timers from 27 nations going for gold.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Para Dressage’s debut at the Paralympic Games in Atlanta.

In all, there are 78 Para-Equestrian riders from 27 nations confirmed. Among them, one of the sport’s most enduring athletes, a strong contender for a ‘triple-triple’ and a Para-Equestrian legend going for a record number of medals.

Tokyo will be the seventh appearance at a Paralympic Games for 60-year-old Jens Lasse Dokkan (NOR) who is the only athlete to have competed at every Paralympics edition since Atlanta 1996, when Para Dressage was introduced. Currently ranked World No.5 in the FEI Para Dressage World Individual Ranking for Grade I, Dokkan goes into Tokyo with his mount Aladdin, following top-three finishes in all his competitions from 2019 to 2021.

As the current reigning World and European champion, Sanne Voets (NED) has her sights set high for Tokyo. The 34-year-old is looking to win the team, individual and freestyle competitions in Tokyo to give her the elusive triple-triple of golds at European, World and Paralympic level, a feat last achieved by Great Britain’s Sir Lee Pearson. Voets will be going for gold alongside her horse Demantur “Demmi” with a freestyle routine, developed in collaboration with top Dutch freestyle producer Joost Peters, and one of her country’s most popular bands, Haevn.

Known as the Godfather of Para Dressage, Lee Pearson is himself looking to add to his medal tally of 14 Paralympic medals – which includes 11 golds – the highest of any Paralympic Equestrian. One of the most recognisable faces in Para-Equestrian, Pearson made his debut at the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney where he won gold medals in the individual, freestyle and team.

Great Britain's Lee Pearson and Zion are leading Grade Ib after the first day of para-dressage competition.
Great Britain’s Lee Pearson, pictured on Zion at the 2014 World Equestrian Games. © Dirk Caremans/FEI

He won another three golds in Athens 2004 and then Beijing 2008, before a team gold, individual silver and freestyle bronze in London 2012. At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Pearson brought home a freestyle gold medal and an individual silver.

Paralympic debutants

Although equestrian fans will see some old sporting rivalries play out, there are several athletes who will be making their debut appearance in Tokyo.

One of these athletes is 26-year-old Sho Inaba, an emerging talent on the Japanese Para-Equestrian scene, who will be competing with his horse Exclusive. Inaba competed at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games in Tryon (USA) where he finished 14th in the individual test for his Grade. He has shown that he has what it takes to reach the podium, winning individual and freestyle medals at international competitions held in Gotemba, Japan, in 2019.

Currently ranked World No.1 in Grade III, Tobias Thorning Joergensen (DEN) was the breakthrough star of the 2019 FEI Para Dressage European Championship in Rotterdam (NED), winning gold medals in the individual and freestyle tests with his horse Joelene Hill, as well as team bronze. Joergensen is following in the footsteps of his mother Line Thorning Jorgensen who represented Denmark in Para Dressage at the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Paralympic Games.

Belgium’s Kevin Van Ham will make his debut following his impressive first major appearance at the 2019 FEI Para Dressage European Championship, where he placed fifth in the individual and freestyle competitions. Ranked World No. 7 in Grade V, Van Ham will be confident going into the Paralympics having topped the podium at the 3* international event in Grote-Brogel (BEL) in the individual and freestyle tests in June 2021.

Grade V para dressage gold medalist Sophie Wells of Great Britain with C Fatal Attraction. 
Sophie Wells of Great Britain and C Fatal Attraction at the 2018 World Equestrian Games. © FEI/Liz Gregg
Team favourites

While Great Britain’s Para Dressage team has enjoyed unrivaled success at every Paralympics since Atlanta, this year in Tokyo the USA are the hot favourites for team gold.

Lee Pearson will be reunited with his Rio 2016 teammates Sophie Christiansen, Natasha Baker and Sophie Wells to defend Great Britain’s team title. Wells, who will be making her third consecutive Paralympic appearance, has had a horse change and will now ride Don Cara M, with a fitness issue ruling out C Fatal Attraction.

The US charge is led by Roxanne Trunnell, who is currently the highest-ranked Para Dressage athlete in Grade I and in the FEI Para Dressage World Individual Ranking. Trunnell has won at every outing in the first half of 2021 and together with her horse Dolton, they have swept the Grade I classes at key 3* international events in the USA. Trunnell also served up a world record score of 89.522% for an FEI Para Dressage Freestyle Test. Trunnell will be joined by three-time Paralympian Rebecca Hart, as well as Beatrice De Lavalette and Kate Shoemaker who will be making their Paralympic debut in Tokyo.

Current World and European champions the Netherlands are also desperate to make it a hat trick at the Paralympics. The team includes the hugely experienced European champion Frank Hosmar, back-to-back World champion Rixt van der Horst, and Sanne Voets.

FEI Para Equestrian Committee Chair Amanda Bond said Tokyo 2020 is an opportunity to bring Para Equestrian to the forefront.

“Equestrian sport is unique, with its hallmark being the close connection between athlete and horse. This relationship is all the more special in Para Dressage as the two athletes really become one.

“I know I speak on behalf of the whole community when I say how thrilled we are to have this opportunity following some challenging times. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games are a triumph over adversity. I send my deepest and most heartfelt gratitude to all those who have contributed to making the Olympic and Paralympic Games happen, and to the people of Japan for welcoming the international sporting community to what has been billed the Games of Hope,” Bond said.

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