The FEI Dressage and Para Dressage European Championships 2023 will take place in Riesenbeck, Germany from 4 to 10 September. This will be the 31st edition of the Dressage event that dates back to 1963, and the 7th for Para Dressage, which was first held began back in 2009.
Located in a woodland area of the Münster region, Riesenbeck is the European base of the Longines World Equestrian Academy. With its magnificent grass stadium, all-weather arenas, modern riding hall complex, and stabling for 336 horses, it provided a perfect setting for the successful 2021 FEI Jumping European Championship, and is set to welcome Europe’s Dressage and Para Dressage stars this time around.
There have been many changes in the sport of Dressage since Switzerland’s Henri Chammartin and Wolfdietrich won the first official individual European title 60 years ago in Copenhagen (DEN) where 16 riders from eight nations lined out. But the one constant has been the extraordinary supremacy of German riders whose formidable record includes claiming 22 of the 40 individual medals, and 25 of the 29 team titles on offer down the years.
Dorothee Schneider (Faustus), Helen Langehanenberg (Annabelle), Isabell Werth (Weihegold OLD), and Jessica von Bredow-Werndl (TSF Dalera BB) joined forces to pin Great Britain into silver and Denmark into bronze at the last European Championship in Hagen (GER) in 2021, just two months after winning team gold at the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games where von Bredow-Werndl set a new Olympic record in the Grand Prix Special before going on to win the Freestyle.
She was unstoppable again in Hagen where she added both the Grand Prix Special and Freestyle medals to her haul of loot, and although she dropped out of the number one slot in the world rankings while having a baby last summer, she bounced right back to the top again just as soon as she returned to action, taking the FEI Dressage World Cup™ title 2023 in Omaha, USA this April with the brilliant Dalera.
In her absence, Team Germany had to settle for bronze at the FEI Dressage World Championship in Herning, Denmark last year, but that was plenty good enough to claim one of the five qualifying spots up for grabs for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
All of the top five finishing nations were from Europe, so the gold medallists from Denmark, Great Britain in silver medal spot, Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands won’t be chasing down the three further Olympic places on offer to teams in Riesenbeck, and neither will the French who, as hosts, are automatically qualified.
Tussle at the top
Now in its 7th incarnation since the inaugural event in 2009 hosted in Kristiansand (NOR), the FEI Para Dressage European Championship has consistently delivered unforgettable moments and showcased the exceptional abilities, trust, and communication of both equine and human Para Dressage athletes across the continent.
Great Britain was the nation to beat in the first few editions, taking the team title and claiming more than half of the individual and freestyle titles on offer across the five Grades from 2009 to 2013. Other strong nations such as Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark were also often on the podium during these early years, claiming some titles, but it was in 2015 that a clear wind of change swept across the Para Dressage landscape, when Great Britain claimed just two of the ten individual European Championship titles, a stark contrast from previous years.
They still had the stronghold on the team title, but that would also slip away in 2019, when the Netherlands took the top spot on home soil in Rotterdam for the first time, marking a new chapter in the championships’ captivating narrative. This was unchartered territory, which the British fought hard to undo at the next major event – the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games – only to relinquish it once again to the Netherlands at the World Championships in Herning last year. All eyes will be on the European Championship this year to see which nation has the upper hand.
Paris 2024 will also be on the minds of those teams that have yet to qualify, with the top ranked team, not already qualified through the World Championships in 2022, set to earn a coveted team slot for the Paralympic Games next year.
The stage is set for Europe’s best Dressage and Para Dressage partnerships to carve their names alongside the distinguished list of previous champions on the Roll of Honour when the FEI Dressage and Para Dressage European Championships 2023 gets underway in three months’ time.