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  • Writer's pictureFran Cleland

Gold, gold and more gold for Australian dressage riders

ABOVE: Sui Watts, Andrew Driffield and Sarah Sherwood after winning gold for Australia.

AUSTRALIAN dressage riders Andrew Driffield, Sarah Sherwood and Sui Watts have won the team gold medal at the Virtus Global Games in Vichy, France.

They followed their victory up the next day with two more gold medals and a silver in the individual competitions.

Sui won an individual gold medal in the Grade IV Novice A - II2 division and in the Grade IV Novice A - II1 division, Sarah who shared the mount Bonni with Sui, won an individual silver medal.

To add to an already amazing performance, Andrew won the individual gold medal in the Grade IV Novice A - II1 division.

Equestrian is one of the newest sports on the program at the Virtus Games, which is for intellectually impaired athletes, after being added in 2016.

This year is the first time riders have been able to compete live at the games, with the competition previously being staged as a virtual competition using videos.

Riders at Vichy had the added challenge of riding new horses supplied by the local organising committee with just three days to adjust.

Chairperson of Virtus Equestrian Uta Rindfleisch expressed her heartfelt gratitude towards the committee for not only organising the first offline para-dressage competition, but also for taking on the demanding task of sourcing suitable horses for the athletes who were not able to bring their own mounts.

“After five years of video competitions we are absolutely excited to finally meet our riders at a live tournament,” she said.


ABOVE: The Australians in France. (Click any image to expand)

The key to getting the Australian riders to Vichy was in no small way due to the generosity and “let’s just do it” attitude of Olympic equestrian Heath Ryan, who organised a very successful GoFundMe auction that raised more than $88,000 for the trip.

Andrew worked for Heath many years ago and even then had dreams of riding for his country.

Andrew, Sarah and Sui Watts travelled with their parents and had Sally Francis and Mary Longdon as their coaches.

The success of the Australian riders at the first live dressage competition at the games will inspire others to think about aiming for Virtus.

The eligibility criteria is as follows:

  • II-1 Intellectual Disability (IQ 75 or lower) includes Autism with ID

  • II-2 Intellectual Disability w/significant Additional Impairment (includes Tri21 Down Syndrome)

  • II-3 ‘High Functioning’ Autism (IQ 76 or higher and/or does not meet II1 Criteria)

Two levels of FEI dressage are offered. Riders must be able to complete one or both of the tests in a 20x40m arena. For all tests Halt in the first movement is skipped. There is no age limit. The tests for this year's competition were:

  • Performance Level – FEI Grade 4 Novice

  • Performance Level – FEI Grade 4 Introductory Test

  • Development Level – FEI Grade 2 Novice

  • Development Level – FEI Grade 2 Introductory

The bid process to identify the host of the seventh Virtus Global Games in 2027 has been declared open. Simultaneously, the search to find the hosts of the 2026 Regional Games in Americas and Asia/Oceania also began.

Surely Australia could run the Asia Oceania section? We have all the facilities needed.

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