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Greek Para Riders First Ever to Qualify for World Equestrian Games

Para riders Greece
Crete Riding Academy Director Marianna Grammatikaki with equestrian Dimitra-Eleni Pantechaki. Credit: Greek Reporter/Phil Butler

Two para riders have made history for parasport in Greece by becoming the first athletes to qualify in Para Dressage at the upcoming 2022 ECCO FEI World Equestrian Games.

By Phil Butler

Michalis Kalarakis and Dimitra-Eleni Pantechaki will compete against the world’s best in Herning, Denmark at the 9th edition of the games that run from August 6th to August 14th.

The Crete islanders will join top para-dressage competitors from 28 other nations, including several double-gold winning riders in the discipline. Kalarakis and Pantechaki, who began their journey as therapy for their disabilities, hope to pave the way for establishing a Paralympic team for Greece.

For these two athletes, the trail to world championship level horsemanship began as what’s commonly called “horse therapy.” Both athletes began a program years ago in Karteros, outside Heraklion, at the Riding Academy of Crete.

For those who are unfamiliar, Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT) and similar regimens are proven to create improved mental, physical, emotional, and even social development for individuals with various types of disabilities.

Para riders hope to bring medals for Greece

To find out more, we contacted the coach of the equestrians, Marianna Grammatikaki, who’s also the director of the academy where they train.

When asked about the program that led her proteges to this level of competition, Grammatikaki proudly attributed their success to the determination and courage of her students. However, she pointed out animal therapy’s effectiveness as a game changer for many. Her riding academy is currently one of the only programs in Greece offering “horse therapy.”

Para riders Greece
Michalis Kalarakis aboard Tony at the awards ceremony of AEF 2022. Credit: Greek Reporter/Phil Butler

We also talked with Michalis Kalarakis, who is hindered by quadriparesis and quadriplegia from cerebral palsy, about what 2022 means for him. Kalarakis, who’d begun his journey back in 2006 as a little boy, was scared of heights.

He told us his ultimate goal is not Olympic gold. Like his mentor/coach Grammatikaki, he sees these events as a process by which the therapy and the sport can be expanded to include many more who would benefit.

Likewise, Dimitra-Eleni Pantechaki, who was born with spastic diplegia, a type of cerebral palsy, sees the expansion of the Paralympic Equestrian sport as a greater good. Pantechaki, who’s a kind of self-professed workaholic, has attributed much of her success to her “stubborn” training regime.

She has been with Grammatikaki from a young age, as well. Looking at the images on her Facebook, alone and with her mentor, it’s easy to see the deep feelings this sport has instilled in her.

The WEG events run by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) take place every four years. In dressage and show jumping, the Denmark events are the first qualifying event for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.

For these trailblazing Cretan riders, Denmark is a chance to ride into Greece sports history and toward the fulfillment of even higher dreams.

For readers who would like to follow Michalis and Dimitra-Eleni, and their mounts Tony and Miss Olympia in the competition, here is the complete guide and schedule for the Para-dressage for seniors.

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