Kearney medal hope at European Para Dressage

  • 20 August 2013, 10:19

LIKE much of Paralympic sport in Ireland, the past two years have seen a surge of success in the Para-Equestrian sphere.

Helen Kearney has been at the forefront of the revolution, winning the nation’s first ever European Championship medal in Belgium in 2011. That bronze in Moorsele was a remarkable achievement, particularly for someone that had only taken up competitive riding three years previously.

Kearney and her Irish-bred gelding, Mister Cool proved up to the task though but that was nothing compared to what happened at the London Paralympics 12 months ago.

Operating in the Grade 1A classification, the Dunlavin native picked up individual silver as well as bronze in the freestyle test and her efforts, allied with those of James Dwyer, Eilish Byrne and Geraldine Savage helped propel Ireland to a team bronze medal by the incredibly minute margin of .008%.

While Kearney’s feats didn’t come as a surprise, the team success was unexpected. It creates a certain level of expectation and pressure going into this week’s European Championships in Denmark, as does the recent success of the Paralympic athletes and swimmers at recent world championships, and the cerebral palsy football team in reaching the CPISRA Intercontinental Cup semi-final.

“Of course it does but we are missing two of our London squad,” cautions team manager, Dara Kearney. “So if you like, we’ve a new team. Kate (Kerr Horan) is only 20. She has been to a few internationals but this is her first major championship.

“Rosemary (Gaffney) competed at the Europeans two years ago, while Helen and James remain from last year.

“They know each other very well at this stage though. They’ve had several camps together and been to a number of international shows. So there’s a very strong bond in the team and the others have been very supportive of Kate in particular and very good to help her.”

There are four grades of classification depending on the rider’s mobility, strength and co-ordination, with Grade 1 the most severely impaired and Grade IV the least impaired.

Para-Equestrian dressage is the only equestrian discipline that is included in the Paralympic Games, where it has been a regular fixture since 1996. In 2006, the Para-Equestrian sport joined the ranks of the other seven disciplines regulated by the world governing body FEI.

The FEI was the first, and according to their own website, is still the only international federation to govern and regulate a sport for both the able-bodied and disabled athletes.

This is the first time that the European Para-Dressage Championships will be held in conjunction with show jumping and able-bodied dressage competitions. It is fantastic recognition for the discipline and exciting for all involved but will present a number of difficulties too.

“It is a total new venture and it will be interesting as Para-riders, by and large, are used to a bit more solitude, so it will be different from that point of view and very difficult to prepare for.

“It would be a concern I’d have how the horses will react. Horses are horses and our horses wouldn’t be used to the same hustle and bustle as the international showjumpers.”

To that end, even though the stables weren’t scheduled to open until Sunday, Dara had her team’s equine stars landing at Herning on Saturday, to give them as much time to acclimatise as possible before the action gets under way on Wednesday.

There were logistical challenges too that didn’t present themselves last year, given the proximity of London. For a start, the Irish horses were travelling four days. It is an intangible what impact that might have.

“Don’t forget we’ve six legs” notes Kearney. “Most athletes have two.”

And you only need one to go wrong. Still though, there is plenty to be optimistic about what might unfold in the JYSK Arena.

“Helen is defending her medal from two years ago and her medals in London so all being well for her, I would be pretty hopeful.

“I would hope it’s good preparation for the World Equestrian Games in France next year and for the Paralympics in Rio in 2016.”

The full schedule for Irish athletes, including finals if they qualify are as follows (Irish time):

Wednesday, August 21

09:00 JYSK FEI European Para-Dressage Championship (TEAM)

Thursday, August 22

12:30 JYSK FEI European Para-Dressage Championship (TEAM)

16:10 JYSK FEI European Para-Dressage Championship (TEAM)

Friday, August 23

12:00 JYSK FEI European Para-Dressage Championship (INDIVIDUAL)

16:00 JYSK FEI European Para-Dressage Championship (INDIVIDUAL)

Saturday, August 24

12:00 JYSK FEI European Para-Dressage Championship (INDIVIDUAL)

Sunday, August 25

07:00 JYSK FEI European Para-Dressage Championship (INDIVIDUAL FREESTYLE)

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