Column Horse International

Enige tijd geleden werd ik gevraagd om als gastcolumnist een column te schrijven over de aangepaste sport in het blad Horse International. Daar hoefde ik niet erg lang over na te denken. De publicatie duurde wat langer dan gepland, maar ik ben erg blij dat ik deze kans heb gekregen. Een scan van het origineel is vanwege de grootte hier te lezen. Omdat het ook dan nog redelijk lastig leesbaar is staat hieronder de tekst zoals gebruikt voor publicatie:

Road to London

With less than 250 days to go, also the Paralympic athletes are counting down towards London 2012. Paradressage is a Paralympic sport since the Paralympic Games in Atlanta in 1996. Back then all competitors had to ride horses provided by the organizing committee, mainly because there was no money to transfer all horses from abroad. It’s not hard to imagine this had a huge influence on the level of competition. For abled bodied riders it’s already difficult to compete after at best four days of training with a horse, let alone if you also need the horse to get used to your disability. I’ve experienced myself what it was like during the Sydney 2000 Paralympics. A horse was assigned to a rider by picking a number from a bowl, more or less a ‘horse lottery’. I was forced to change horses twice after the draw, ultimately starting the competition with a horse on which I only rode twenty minutes before. Despite all this I managed to win a medal in the freestyle, but being so dependent on a lottery at the most important championship is far from ideal of course.

Thankfully, Sydney was the last time everyone had to compete on borrowed horses. Since then practically every competition and all championships are held riding own horses. This gave an enormous boost to the level of our sport. When the tests ridden in Sydney are compared with those at the Athens Paralympics four years later, the difference is huge. Also the preparation for both was completely different. Before going to Sydney, the only thing we could do was to ride a lot of different horses, training to get used to a horse real quickly and being able to ride a test with it. For Athens it was a whole different story. Focusing on one horse and trying to get the best out if it and yourself, years of training and preparation for those three tests at the Paralympics. Exactly how it should be and what sport is all about.

Due to the FEI qualification criteria, the road to London is still uncertain for many countries. The number of starting positions for each country (so called slots) is determined based on the FEI Para Equestrian team ranking. This in itself makes perfect sense, but the way this team ranking is established raises questions. It is based on each team’s best percentage score at any qualifying competition. In practice almost all international competitions till January 2012 are qualifying competitions. This allows for a country which achieves a single high team score at some small remote competition without serious opposition to end up high in the ranking. In my opinion a result like that should not have the same value as a result obtained at for example the European championships, where all countries compete with their strongest teams. Furthermore I think a ranking should reflect achievements over a longer period of time, not a single competition.

The reason for this probably is to give countries that are unable to participate in many competitions better chances to qualify. On one hand this policy seems understandable to give as many countries as possible an opportunity, on the other it’s debatable if paradressage still needs measures like this. At the WEG in Kentucky for example, paradressage had more participating countries than regular dressage. Other measures taken like limiting the maximum number of riders per country to five seem more fair and effective. Unfortunately, to me it feels like that with the use of this ranking system a small piece of the lottery aspect we had in Sydney is reintroduced. While we were so glad to have left it behind towards the more mature and competitive sport it is today. I realize this can’t be changed for London anymore. Let’s hope it will for Rio 2016 while nonetheless all the best teams qualify for London, and the level of competition will reach yet another high.

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