If you are going into “Olympic withdrawal” after the excitement of the equestrian competitions in Rio, fear not. There’s still one more event – and it's one of the best. The Paralympic Games featuring equestrian competition in dressage begins Sunday, September 11th.
Sport competitions for athletes with impairment have been around for more than 100 years. But it wasn’t until 1948 that these competitions became associated with the Olympics. The first competition was in archery for servicemen and women. The official Paralympic Games first took place in 1960 in Rome, Italy and, like the Olympics, is held every four years with separate summer and winter games.
At the Atlanta games in 1996, the equestrian sport of dressage was added to the Paralympic Games. More than 61 riders from 16 countries competed, mostly on borrowed horses. It wasn’t until Athens in 2004 that athletes started competing on their own horses.
While dressage is the only equestrian support at the Paralympic games, driving and reining are open to para-equestrians at World Championships
This year, the Paralympics in Rio will bring together 78 of the world’s best para-equestrian dressage riders. Like the recent Olympic equestrian events, the competition will be held at the Olympic Equestrian Centre in Deodoro. The travel arrangements for the Paralympic horses are exactly the same as it was for the Olympic horses.
There are a wide variety of impairments that qualify an equestrian to be considered a para-equestrian. These range from visual impairment to limb deficiency. To compete, each para-equestrian competes in a category based on their particular impairment(s). The lower the grade number, the more severe the activity limitation.
The Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), working with the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), has developed the following classifications for equestrian competition:
Grade Ia - Athlete have severe impairments affecting all limbs and the trunk. The athlete usually requires the use of a wheelchair in daily life.
Grade Ib – Athletes here have either a severe impairment of the trunk and minimal impairment of the upper limbs or moderate impairment of the trunk, upper and lower limbs. Most athletes in this class use a wheelchair in daily life.
Grade II - Athletes in this class have severe impairments in both lower limbs with minimal or no impairment of the trunk or moderate impairment of the upper and lower limbs and trunk. Some athletes in this class may use a wheelchair in daily life.
Grade III - Athletes in grade III have a severe impairment or deficiency of both upper limbs or a moderate impairment of all four limbs or short stature. Athletes in grade III are able to walk and generally do not require a wheelchair in daily life. Grade III also includes athletes having a visual impairment equivalent to B1 (very low visual acuity and/ or no light perception).
Grade IV - Athletes here have a mild impairment of range of movement or muscle strength or a deficiency of one limb or mild deficiency of two limbs. Grade IV also includes athletes with visual impairment equivalent to B2 (higher visual acuity than visually impaired athletes) competing in the grade III sport class and/ or a visual field of less than five degrees radius.
Eleven gold medals will be awarded at the Rio games. There will be a gold medal awarded each grade level for the Individual Championship Dressage Test and an individual freestyle test. There will also be a team competition medal awarded.
The United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) selected the following to represent the United States at the 2016 Paralympic Games:
Sydney Collier (Ann Arbor, Mich.), Grade Ib, and Wesley Dunham’s Western Rose, a 2003 Oldenburg mare
Rebecca Hart (Wellington, Fla.), Grade II, and her own Schroeters Romani, a 2002 Danish Warmblood mare
Margaret McIntosh (Reading, Pa.), Grade Ia, and her own Rio Rio, a 2006 Rheinland Pfalz-Saar mare
Angela Peavy (Avon, Conn. and Wellington, Fla.), Grade III, and Heather Blitz and Rebecca Reno’s Lancelot Warrior, a 2002 Hanoverian gelding
For more information on the United States Para-Equestrian Association (USPEA), click HERE.
US Para-Equestrian Association
US Equestrian Federation