It won’t be long before the 2008 Paralympics are underway in Beijing. A 3-hour flight away in Hong Kong, however, 73 riders from 28 nations will take to the arena at Sha Tin for Para-Equestrian dressage (also known as Para-Dressage).
Few people even know that there are equestrian sports in the summer Olympics, let alone the disciplines and their formats. I’m sure that exponentially fewer are aware of the Paralympics, and especially the Para-Dressage. Since I’ve been volunteering at a therapeutic riding facility and working intimitely with physically and mentally disabled children and adults, I’m probably more aware than most. And I am absolutely thrilled that there is international competition and recognition for riders with disabilities. I love the fact that just about anybody is capable of getting on a horse and enjoying the experience if they’d like. And I love that people with disabilities who may not be able to do other physical activities can ride — and build wonderful relationships with horses.
Because of some limitations, the format for the Paralympic equestrian competition varies from that of the Olympic equestrian events. Dressage is the only disciple included. It looks something like this:
About The Paralympic Riders
The Paralympics are open to riders age 16 and up and, like the Olympics, is one of the few sports where men and women compete as equals. Riders who qualify to compete must have a measurable physical or visual impairment. They are rated according to their disability profile and classication, receiving a “Grade,” and then are judged against other riders who have been given the same Grade. The Grades are Ia, Ib, II, II, IV with Ia being the most seriously impaired and Grade IV the least. The athlete’s condition can be caused by illness or accident, and common conditions include multiple schlerosis, cerebral palsy, amputation, paralysis and blindness.
Riders with similar levels of impairment can compete together. The competition within each Grade is then judged on the skill of that rider on the horse regardless of the rider’s impairment. Due to the lack of change in most disabilities, riders tend to stay in the same grade throughout their riding career, although on occasion athlete’s conditions can improve or deteriorate, thus their grade changes.
Riders who are physically impaired are allowed to carry or wear formally documented and approved compensating aids to compete, while riders who are visually impaired or blind can make use of authorized audio aids.
In the 2008 Paralympic Games, 73 athletes from 28 nations will compete in Para-Equestrian Dressage. Among them, 12 nations will compete in team competitions.
- Grade Ia: 13 athletes
- Grade Ib: 15 athletes
- Grade II: 18 athletes
- Grade III: 11 athletes
- Grade IV: 16 athletes
About the Paralympic Horses
The horses used in the Paralympic Games must be a minimum of 6 years of age. Some riders train their own horses, though some require help as they cannot ride for long periods of time. Horses are not always owned by the riders. In fact, many top level Dressage horses combine a career in able-bodied and Para-Dressage, or move to Para-Dressage when they retire from the able-bodied sport.
Paralympic Dressage Format
Para-Dressage riders perform two tests for individual competition: a Championship Test with set movements determined by the International Paralympic Equestrian Committee, and a Freestyle test which is set to music and must include several set movements (also defined by the IPEC). The test should clearly show the unity between rider and horse as well as rhythm and harmony in all the movements and transitions.
The Paralympic equestrian competition also includes a team test. Teams consist of 3-4 riders from the same country, with at least one rider who is a Grade I or II. The team’s final score is a combination of the best three performances in the Team Test and the individual Championship Test. If a team consists of four riders, the least successful total score is excluded from the final score.
There is also an optional competition called the Pairs Freestyle to Music in which two riders compete together as a pair in a Freestyle Test.
Riders in Grades Ia, Ib, II, and III compete in a 20×40 meter arena. Grade IV riders perform in the standard 20×60 meter dressage arena.
Medals are awarded for each Grade in the Individual competition, as well as one team set of medals.