Kronenbergen, 8 june 2023 – the schedule is approved, the invites are out: Peelbergen is ready to welcome the para dressage athletes during upcoming CPEDI3*/2*, a crucial step for the riders who hope to be selected for the European Championship and consequently, for the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games.
The event, set to take place from 16 till 18 June 2023, will gather top para dressage athletes from around the world, including two of the home crowd’s favourites, Sanne Voets and Rixt van der Horst. We had the privilege of interviewing these two athletes, who shared their thoughts on the competition and aspirations for Paris 2024.
Renowned para dressage rider and inspiration to many, Sanne will be taking her long time partner Demantur to Peelbergen. With an impressive track record and a Rio 2016 gold medal in the pocket, Sanne’s eyes are on Paris 2024.
“We have done quite some shows at the Peelbergen in the past already and we hope to ride here next year, in preparation for the Paris Games, again. It is nice to know there is a show with great facilities on the schedule and it’s a plus that the show ground is quite close to where I live.”
Rixt on the other hand, is taking on her new project Eisma’s Akuna Matata, a mare who joined her stable only late last year but hold so much hope for the future:
“The Dutch championship was our first show after a long pause. Right now we are busy building up the partnership. I think it’s getting better each day and I hope to show it in Peelbergen.”
Rixt, can you explain to us how the selection process works, what are the next steps on your Road to Paris?
“The show in Peelbergen is a must because it serves as a selection for the main appointment of the year, this time, it will be the European Championship. We now have three competitions for the coach to decide which riders will make the team: the Dutch Championship, the CPEDI in Peelbergen, then we have a little competition break before the third and last appointment in Deurne at the end of July. Then, the team for the European Championship will be announced. For the selections, consistency is key, Peelbergen is a good test for us, an international show with different judges can give the coach a good idea of where we stand on an international level.“
Sanne, how does this show fit in your calendar, after the NK and before Deurne, and contribute to your preparation for Paris 2024?
“Our outdoor season kicked off with the Dutch nationals just a week ago. The show at the Peelbergen is my next one. At the nationals, my horse Demantur RS2 N.O.P. and I were not at our A-game yet. My performance there was a good wake up call and since then training went really well. I hope we can show that progression at Peelbergen. Timing is great, not too long after the previous show and afterwards we have some time to recover and pick up again to work towards the third and final show that was appointed for us to get selected for the Europeans later this summer.”
Let’s talk about your horses, you are approaching this season with a very different background. Sanne, you are looking to confirm the bond with your long time horse Damantur, while Rixt you found yourself a new partner in Akuna relatively recently, and not without some obstacles on the way. Tell us more about these special horses.
Sanne: “Demmi is my special dancing partner! I rode him for over seven years already but we still have so much room for improvement left. He keeps amazing me with his power and elasticity and he has such a wonderful personality. The connection we have built over the years is something I value very much.He reminds me every day of finding that connection with myself. I strongly believe that that combination of soft skills, science and unconditional trust in and respect for one another is the fundament of our success and, even more important, of the joy we have in working together. Recently, I visited the Royal Equestrian Academy in Versailles and that left me even more motivated to work towards the Games in our own way, that focuses on our bond more than on results.”
Rixt: “I found Akuna a bit late at the beginning of last season, we had our first competition after only two weeks together and we didn’t have so much time to settle in and train. The hope was to use the winter season for that but unfortunately she needed some time off, so we started with her again this february and now it’s going really quick! She’s picking up good, gaining strength and condition and she is feeling better than ever. I feel like we just need some competitions to get in the rhythm but I am really looking forward to the next couple of years with her. She is a bit of a difficult mare, we sometimes call her ‘The lady’… but she also has a super sweet personality. It is even a bigger satisfaction to achieve something with her, I genuinely think she’s the best horse I’ve had so far.”
Rixt, tell us about what happened after Tokyo: how does it feel to find your way back to the podium in these important events?
It was a little bit of a tough period after Tokyo. We did not end the games as we wished, my horse got lame on the very last days and we could not ride freestyle, that was already very disappointing and she had a long recovery too so we really did not have the closure we wanted. It was really difficult to accept it was over after you worked so many years, to know it just ended like that and you have to start everything again. But It was also nice to have a little break and take some distance from the sport. I think I needed it, also mentally, I had the chance to see how it would feel and then make the choice: do I come back and look for another horse or do I just stop with the top sport? I believe it was a normal thought after a moment like that but then it just came to me: I got to try again, it’s not over yet, I have to do it one more time.
After Tokyo, my mare Findsley went back to the owner as it had been arranged but still it was a bit of a setback. We had worked together for four years and that’s a long time to build up the partnership. With the sport growing so fast, you need such a good horse to be on the podium, and I think Akuna can be that horse.
Sanne, you have an impressive track record, when thinking of Paris 2024, do you feel any pressure after so many wins and with expectations being high? How are you dealing with that and what motivates you to keep going?
“After winning gold at two consecutive Paralympic Games, one in Rio2016 and two in Tokyo2020, we are very eager to win some more at our next Games of course. But we take the road step by step, and most importantly: in a way that suits us. That is one of riding in a gentle and light way, really working together with your horse and with his well-being always as first priority. I work hard every day to be the best rider I can be for my horse, so I can do justice to all his qualities!”
Thank you Sanne, Rixt! We are beyond curious to see what the future holds for both of you.
As we witness the sport growing and the bar being ever so high, it becomes clear that this competition is a pivotal moment on the journey to Paris 2024. Here at Peelbergen, we are looking forward to welcoming spectators, enthusiasts, and the media to celebrate the spirit of para dressage. We will keep up to date with Sanne and Rixt’s journey and results during the CPEDI in Peelbergen.