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  • Writer's pictureFran Cleland

People power wins the day after EA reverses para dressage team decision

ABOVE: The decision's reversal has been a boost for para dressage riders everywhere. This group is pictured at the Boneo Park summer dressage championships. Picture: ONE-EYED FROG PHOTOGRAPHY

EQUESTRIAN communities are always hopeful of publicity but it’s doubtful our para dressage riders would have liked the attention they received last week when it was announced by their sport’s governing body Equestrian Australia that they had no chance of bringing home a medal from this year’s FEI World Championships.

“ … the National Selection Panel was directed by EA High Performance to the edict that its program is “committed to funding only genuine medal contention combinations to attend the 2022 FEI World Championships …”

This meant that although the para team was ready and waiting for the go-ahead to plan their trip to the event in Herning next month, they were suddenly not going anywhere.

Historically, horse groups are not known to stick together and are very prone to self-interest within their disciplines, but in this case, when Julia Battam, who has for a long time been heavily involved in para riding, placed a petition on to overturn the decision it gained 14,850 signatures in 36 hours.

The people roared – 15,000 voices raised, texts, messages, emails and phone calls and suddenly, the Australian para riders are heading for the world championships after Equestrian Australia’s board backtracked and changed its mind.

The publicity over the initial decision not to send a team and subsequent reversal went international with the major equestrian publications British Horse and Hound and Eurodressage picking up the story. In Australia it even made the big daily papers, the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s Herald Sun, which are not known for their interest in equestrian sport.

News the EA had backed down broke last Wednesday night during an online forum being run by Equestrian Life.

Host Roger Fitzhardinge was speaking with Maree Tomkinson, Julia Battams and Rozz Ryan when the chairman of Equestrian Australia Mark Bradley announced the original decision would be overturned.

He said while the board backed the team administering the program, they had asked the selection panel and the high-performance director, Chris Webb, to reconsider.

“I am pleased to advise that the three (qualified) riders have in fact been selected to represent Australia at the World Championships,” Mr Bradley said. “I’d like to congratulate those in our community who stood up and made it very clear their views on the subject with all the right motivation.”

Julia Battams, who created the online petition said she was “thrilled and thankful”.

“It’s such a great victory for our riders and the thousands of people who came out and supported them,” she said.

ABOVE: Di Barnes is one of the riders who qualified. Picture: ONE-EYED FROG PHOTOGRAPHY

Dianne Barnes, who will join Emma Booth and Lisa Martin as Australia’s representatives said “the whole para community has had a win with this decision”. There are still questions being asked, and EA still needs to clarify the situation.

Mr Bradley’s comment that “the board’s decision took into account a number of factors including that the combinations had met the selection criteria, the importance of our organisational values of inclusion, and the significant support from our members” has generally been accepted. However, his following comment that “although it means there will be less Federal Government funding available come Paris 2024” made it seem that the non-selection of the World Championships Para riders were the sacrificial lambs. Time will tell.


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