Rally Saturday 8th February 2014
Lecture: Para-Equestrian
Presented by Val Mayger

During our February rally at Transitions we were fortunate enough to receive a talk on Para-equestrian riding and competition. It is important to remember that at the essence of this discipline are riders, like you and me who ride horses for love and passion, and who do so despite their disabilities without complaint.

Para-Equestrians are those who have a visual and measurable disability. After the Spanish won Gold in the Basketball at the Sydney Para-Olympic games, and were found to have been faking their disability, intellectual disabilities are no longer to be counted.

Like in regular dressage tests, Para-Equestrians are measured via grades - 1A, 1B, 2, 3 and 4 - where 4 is for the least challenged persons and 1A for the most. Usually competitors in 1A are in wheel chairs or have cerebral palsy and do tests at the walk. They are judged on rhythm, thoroughness of the horse, and tracking, whilst completing movements such as serpentines and small circles.

The 1B stage movements then involve both trot and walk, and lateral movements, canter is included at stage 3 along with simple changes, and stage 4, half passes and Advanced dressage movements. Peoples with multiple sclerosis usually start off at stage three and down grade as it progresses. The blind may also be classified as they may have 'living markers' – people who say where they are at in the arena – to help guide them around their dressage test. Riders may be classified by a physio therapist or doctor who also needs to be a classifier.

Whilst competing, each Para-equestrian carries a PEID card which allows them to use compensatory aids. The PEID card may allow for such provisions as carrying 2 whips, permitting sitting rather than rising trot, and furthermore stipulating the prohibition of wearing tails or top hats, and requiring ties to be Velcro or elastic for easy release. However the quality of their gear none the less needs to meet the same standards as normal EA dressage requires of their competitors for safety.

Furthermore, strict rules are placed on who can ride the horses in the led up to, and at the competition. For grades 1A to 2 trainers may ride up to 30mins a day. All levels above this the trainer is not permitted to ride
To be selected for the Para-Olympics riders need to attend at least three events in the eastern states. Whilst the quality of this competition is fierce, one of the most challenging aspects of the competition is in fact getting the right horse. In the past at the Atlantic and Sydney Olympics riders were given a pool of horses to select from. However there was not necessarily a regulated standard of horse to be placed in the pool. Athens then set a new precedent and encouraged riders to bring their own horses. Horses selected today are mostly riding at Grand Prix in standard competition levels.

The end of the lecture was a reminder to all of us of our fortunate circumstances; we are not in permanent pain, or have any long term suffering. Para-Equestrian riders work with what they have and ride in spite of any physical challenge, without grievance or protest, instead they 'borrow freedom from the horses'.

- Notes taken by Emily Donders