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  • Writer's pictureFran Cleland

Para riders make first tentative steps towards Paris team

ABOVE: Di Barnes has her first qualification for the Paris Olympics: Picture: ONE-EYED FROG

PARA dressage riders have their heads well and truly turned towards Paris next year.

At the Dressage Spectacular at Boneo Park last weekend, both Dianne Barnes and Maddison Cooke gained the first of their necessary “minimum eligibility requirement” (MER) for a place on the team.

With two international judges – John Robinson (Britain) and Katherine Lucheschi (Italy) – and Australian Jane Ventura scoring, the competition was keen.

Ms Ventura said it was good to see combinations maturing and progress being made at each new competition.

All Australian equestrians are watching closely after last year when Equestrian Australia (EA) High Performance decided not to send any Australian para riders to the 2022 World Para Dressage Championships.

They relented after the groundswell of people offered the riders support and the subsequent performance of the riders at the championships has meant there is a keen interest in seeing a Para team in Paris.

Di Barnes rode at the World Championships and is building a real partnership with her new mount Sorena.

“It was a fantastic few days for all of the Para riders,” Di said.

“Jade Woodhead Butler runs the competition like a well-oiled machine with the opportunity to ride under international judges in the lead up the Paris Paralympics.

“For me personally I had a fantastic competition with each day building on my partnership ship with the lovely Sorena owned by Sharyn McCombe. The fun of the freestyle was a highlight for me.”

The standard of performance has risen and most scores in the whole event were above 60 per cent.

ABOVE: Bridget Murphy and Penmain Promise. Picture: ONE-EYED FROG

Bridget Murphy, with her pony Penmain Promise scored an excellent 66.482 in her Intermediate test, and was happy with the performance.

“It was a big step up for Macey, entering her first FEI competition in the Intermediate two-star,” she said.

“To say I'm proud is an understatement. After our setback last year, my focus for this comp was just to get to the other end with a happy pony, and we did that and more.

“It's always great to ride under international judges and the feedback they had for Macey was super encouraging.”

Riders competed in three tests – the Grand Prix A Test, Grand Prix B Test and the Grand Prix Freestyles.

The champions in each section were Stella Barton (grade one), Maddison Cooke (grade two), Kelly Frost (grade three), Dianne Barnes (grade four) and Melanie Diplock (grade five).

Para-Equestrian High Performance Leader Nick Hunter said it was great to get the ball rolling on Paris Paralympic Games qualification.

“The period for riders to post qualifying scores for Paris commenced on the first of January and the Boneo CPEDI was the first opportunity for most Australian riders to record a score,” he said.

“The Australian team’s score at Boneo of 473.829 was a solid start to the Paris campaign and gets Australia onto the qualification scoreboard.

“Next up is the Sydney CPEDI, where we hope the Australian team will build on the Boneo experience and step towards an even higher score.”

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