The Ins and Outs of Para Equestrian Dressage

ins and outs of para equestrian dressage

The Para Home Internationals for Dressage were hosted at Vale View Equestrian last weekend.  Want to know more about how Para-Dressage works? Read on...

How does para-dressage work?

Para-Dressage, similar to standard dressage, requires riders to complete dressage tests that are designed to assess their communication with the horse. The tests are completed in an arena surrounded by letters, which are used as markers for required movements and patterns.

According to the FEI, rules and regulations for competition venues and testing are governed by the same principles as other disciplines, and the formula for the shows is the same as standard dressage shows. This means that riders will complete specific tests in front of a judge and be assessed in the same way.

How are riders classified? 

For para-dressage, riders are classified based upon their functional abilities. Doctors and physiotherapists evaluate a rider's muscular strength and/or coordination and determine that rider's functional profile. This profile decides the "grade" in which the athlete will compete.

There are five grades in para-dressage, Ia, Ib, II, III and IV. Each grade is comprised of different functional profiles, which allows the athletes of those profiles to compete and be judged fairly on their abilities:

Grade Ia riders are usually wheelchair users with impairment of all four limbs. They may be able to walk, but this is usually with an unsteady gait due to difficulties with balance and trunk stability.

Grade Ib riders are similar to Grade Ia in that they are mainly wheelchair users. They must have poor trunk balance and/or impairment of all four limbs. Some riders will have both, but some will have just one of the two listed impairments.

Grade II riders are often wheelchair users. Riders in this grade can have severe impairment involving the trunk but with good or mild upper limb function, or can have severe arm impairment and slight leg impairment, or can have severe degree of impairment down one side.

Grade III riders are usually able to walk without support but may require a wheelchair for longer distances. Riders can have moderate unilateral impairment, moderate impairment of all four limbs, or severe arm impairment. Blind riders compete in this category but must wear blacked-out glasses or a blindfold. 

Grade IV riders have an impairment of one of two limbs or a visual impairment.

Saddles, bridles and boots may be modified according to riders' physical or mental impairments. And, just like any other discipline, para-dressage riders have to qualify to compete at the Games.

How is it scored?

Scoring is the same as standard dressage. Riders receive marks from judges based on how well they have completed required movements and how accurate they perform the test. The scores range from zero to 10, with zero meaning nothing of the required movement was performed and 10 meaning the movement was excellent.

In addition, para-dressage riders also receive collective marks for gaits, impulsion, submission and the rider's position. After the rider has finished, the judges' marks are added and converted into a penalty score. The rider with the lowest score after all three competitions will be the winner.

Why should I watch para-dressage?

Para-Dressage riders are talented, capable riders.  They’re an inspiration to watch because of the enormous physical barriers they have overcome to do what they love and enjoy.  

Where can I find out more?

The Riding for the Disabled Association has a super website packed full of useful information and tips.

Also, British Dressage has some useful information on their site including a Talent Pathway for para riders.

We'd love to hear from you!

Are you a para rider or do you know someone who is? If so, why not send us an email today telling us a bit about yourself, how you got involved in para riding and your riding ambitions. We'd love to hear your story! 



Kim Horton

Co-Founder of EQUUS and a keen equestrian, when Kim's not at her desk she's with her horse, Waldo.

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