FEI European Championships in Jumping, Dressage & Para-Dressage
- Venue: Herning, Denmark
- Date: 20-25 August
Coverage: Reports on BBC Sport website and BBC Radio 5 live; highlights on BBC Two on 26 August at 1040 BST
After a spell of injuries and bad luck, British para-dressage rider Ricky Balshaw hopes that a horse called Sid can help change his fortunes to land a European title.
The 26-year-old from Shropshire started working with Sid, whose show name is LJT Engaards Solitaire, late last year and the pair have been selected for the European Para-Dressage Championships which start on Wednesday in Herning, Denmark.
It is a welcome return to the GB squad for the Beijing silver medallist, who suffered a broken back in a fall from a horse in 2011 and missed out on the London Paralympics the following year.
"I was gutted to miss out on a home Paralympic Games, but I have a fantastic horse now. If I had gone to London, things might not have panned out the way they have," Balshaw told BBC Sport.
"I feel so lucky to have this horse. He is a gentleman, he is lovely around the stables, lovely to ride and a pleasure to work with.
"I had tried a lot of suitable horses before him who just weren't right for me, but I gelled quickly with him and we get on really well.
"He is arguably the most talented horse I have ever had. His movement and expression are fantastic and his trainability is second to none. He has done so much in such a short space of time and that is great for the future. I love him to bits and look forward to making that relationship stronger."
Ricky Balshaw facts
- Born: 10 November 1986
- Lives: Shropshire
- Grade: 1b
- Born with cerebral palsy and started riding aged four
- Made international para-dressage debut in 2002
- Won individual freestyle silver at Beijing Paralympics on Deacons Giorgi
- Individual silver medallist at 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky, US, on Academy Award
Sid was bought for Balshaw in Denmark by the Lady Joseph Trust charity, which supports many British para-dressage riders and Balshaw - who has cerebral palsy and competes in the Grade 1b category - hopes the pair can start their journey towards the Rio 2016 Paralympics on a good note.
With Balshaw earning selection for the category ahead of 10-time Paralympic gold medallist Lee Pearson, his main challenge in Denmark is set to come from Austria's Pepo Puch, who represented Croatia in eventing at the 2004 Olympics but was left paralysed after an accident in 2008.
Puch then represented the country of his birth at the London Paralympics, winning freestyle gold ahead of Pearson.
"I've had some good results with Sid in France and at Hickstead, but I am keeping grounded," Balshaw said.
"I know I have upped my game but my rivals will have too. Because I have had the horse such a short time, doing well would be a great achievement and if we don't do well we can just put it down to experience.
"Sid is only eight and this competition will be the biggest he has competed in. I don't know how he will react to the situation but if we achieve the ultimate aim of being selected for Rio, he will need to be used to big atmospheres."
Balshaw will be joined on the team for Denmark by London gold medallists Sophie Christiansen, Sophie Wells and Natasha Baker, as well as Anne Dunham, who won Paralympic golds in 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008.
As well as the individual competitions, four of the five riders will compete in the team competition, where GB are unbeaten at Paralympic, World and European Championships since the first para-dressage competition in 1996.
Balshaw said: "As the run goes on there is more pressure, because nobody wants to be on the team which doesn't win the team competition.
"Even though we are a young team, we have a lot of experience. To be selected for any GB team for a major competition is very tough - I am really proud to have been selected."