Uruguay Hosts Inaugural FEI Para Dressage World Challenge: A Landmark Moment for Para-Equestrian Sport

Sat, 04/27/2024 - 10:19
The FEI Para Dressage World Challenge in Uruguay :: Photo © Jorge Chagas

-- FEI Press release

Recently, the first-ever FEI Para Dressage World Challenge in Uruguay successfully concluded, marking a significant milestone in the evolution of the sport both in the country and the region. The National Director of Para Equestrian Sports in Uruguay - Gustavo dos Santos - sheds light on the journey leading up to this historic event and its broader impact on the Para Dressage community.

Historical Inauguration of the FEI Para Dressage World Challenge in Uruguay

Reflecting on the inspiration behind hosting the event, dos Santos stated; "For several years, we have been developing the discipline of Para Dressage in Uruguay and in the region. We had been considering the possibility of the discipline having a [FEI World Challenge] format like classical Dressage. We were thrilled when the FEI included our discipline in this format, and we did not hesitate to nominate our country to organise the first event in Uruguay."

Uruguay's hosting of the event made history as the first-ever country to inaugurate this Challenge format in Para Dressage, which sees athletes around the world being able to compete against international comrades from their own country. 

Challenges and Opportunities

Dos Santos acknowledges the issues faced during the organisation of the event: "The challenges were many in order to meet all the administrative and logistical requirements of the event in the two phases required by the format of the Series." 

Despite these difficulties - or perhaps in response to them - the feedback from the local equestrian community was overwhelmingly positive. Dos Santos highlighted the event's significance, saying, "It was a great opportunity for our [athletes and athletes] of the region. We requested the FEI to invite friends from South America to participate in this important event, offering [athletes] from other countries the chance to compete at a lower cost without the high costs of transporting horses internationally."

Evolution of Para Dressage in Uruguay

When asked for some insight into the development of Para Dressage in Uruguay, Dos Santos explains, "For more than 20 years, equestrian rehabilitation centres and horse therapy for people with disabilities have been successfully and professionally developed in our country." 

From there, a natural evolution of the discipline was born, including the establishment of the Federation of Equestrian Sports (FUDE) Dressage Secretariat in 2010, and the invaluable contributions from professionals such as the Director of the equestrian centre Professor Lydia Lercari, and international judge Lilan Ianone, both of whom have passionately shared their expertise and time. (FEI Solidarity has supported FUDE from 2017 to 2020 with a focus on growing Para Dressage in the region, appointing Canadian Para Dressage coach Clive Milkins to spearhead the project.)

Dos Santos also highlighted the inspirational role of high-performance athletes such as Argentinean athlete Patricio Guglielmelli, and his own experience as a delegate at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, speaking to the motivation that high-performance sport offers athletes around the globe. 

Solidarity in Para Dressage Development

Dos Santos expressed gratitude for the support received from the FEI Solidarity to help develop the discipline, stating, "Thanks to all the support [from FEI Solidarity through various development] projects in our country and in the region, we have been able to fulfil and materialise many dreams and expectations that at some point we saw as impossible to develop and professionalise Para Dressage." 

The scope of Uruguay’s project's contributions went even further, however, including training for trainers, classifiers, and judges, as well as the establishment of an annual competition calendar for national athletes, all essential components of a structured and successful sport development plan.

Achievements and Ambitions 

Dos Santos anticipates a positive impact on the Para Dressage community in Uruguay, stating, "This is a unique opportunity for our under-resourced [athletes] to compete and gain experience in an international event.”

Throughout the event, National Federations, with the guidance of the appointed experienced FEI Officials, were able to nationally classify their athletes before being judged in the Challenge as part of the two-phase format of the series.

He emphasised the event's alignment with broader goals of promoting inclusion in equestrian sports.

Reflecting on success stories, dos Santos became emotional, stating, "Over the years, there have been many incredible stories of athletes who overcame all kinds of adversity and have managed to succeed in the sport and in their lives." He expressed pride in seeing them progress from therapeutic programmes to independent riding, showcasing their resilience and determination.

Collaboration and Support in Organising the FEI Para Dressage World Challenge

Dos Santos acknowledged the collaborative efforts of local, national, and international stakeholders in organising the event. He highlighted the contributions of the FUDE Para Dressage Commission, the FUDE Board led by President Colonel Julio Sanchez, and collaborators such as the Escuela de Equitacion del Ejercito, the Club Hipico Uruguayo, and the Fundacion Sin Limites. Dos Santos also extended special thanks to FEI officials - often unsung heroes - Jana Kulichova and Arnaldo Conde Filho for their professionalism and support.

Dos Santos emphasised the event's commitment to values of healthy competition, enjoyment, love, and passion for Para Dressage along with the highest respect for equine welfare, ensuring a memorable experience for participants, spectators, and equines alike.

Future Plans for Para Dressage in Uruguay

Looking ahead, dos Santos shared ambitious plans for the growth and development of Para Dressage in Uruguay, stating, "We want to keep moving forward and galloping hand-in-hand with FEI Solidarity." 

He revealed plans to form a national Para Dressage team, with the goal of participating in future international events, including the Pan American Games 2028. Events like the FEI Para Dressage World Challenge are certainly on the path to this objective. 

FEI World Challenge series

The aim of the FEI World Challenge series is to offer athletes who under normal circumstances cannot take part in international competitions due to various factors (travel cost and distances, for example) the opportunity to compete internationally without having to leave their own country. These "hybrid" competitions are meant as a bridge between the national and first international level of competition and are meant to help NFs develop the various disciplines in their country. 

FEI World Challenges exist in Jumping, Dressage and Para Dressage, Eventing, Vaulting and Driving.

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