History of Para Equestrian Dressage

History of para equestrian dressage

Para equestrian dressage has been part of the Paralympic Games since 1996 and what’s more, it’s the second biggest equestrian event in the world, the Olympic Games being the first.

The para equestrian dressage is governed by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports or FEI as they’re commonly known. In addition the sport operates under the same rules as conventional dressage but with riders “graded” according to their functional riding abilities.  

How are riders “graded”?

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 1 is actually split in to two grades:

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 2 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 3 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 4 riders have an impairment of one of two limbs or a visual impairment.

What dressage tests are ridden?

Grade 1a will ride a walk only test; Grade 1b will ride a walk test that will include some trot but not medium trot; Grade 2 will ride a novice level test that will exclude canter; Grade 3 will ride a novice level test; Grade 4 will ride will ride an elementary/medium level test.

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. 

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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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