What you need to know about Para-Dressage

October 4, 2010

The word "para" means to parallel or to be beside, and according to the United States Equestrian Federation, Para-Equestrian sports parallel able-bodied equestrian sports. At the 2010 Games these world-class athletes will be competing alongside other world-class athletes for the first time in the history of the World Equestrian Games.


Canadian para-equestrian Ashley Gowanlock. © Mary White, Lone Oak Equine Photography

Para-Dressage became an FEI regulated discipline in 2006 and the sport is the only equestrian discipline included in the Paralympics. para-dressage will be the Para-Equestrian discipline featured at the 2010 Games. The other Para-Equestrian discipline recognized by the FEI is driving.

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, including Freestyle tests, in front of a group of judges.

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. 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.

At the 2010 Games

The para-dressage World Championship will take place over six days of the Games. All athletes will ride three tests in the competition; the Team Test, the Individual Championship Test and the Freestyle test. Each grade has a specifically developed set of tests and riders will complete the specific tests for their grade.

After riders complete the Team Test and the Individual Championship Test, the top three riders' total score from each nation will be added together to determine the team placing.

Riders will also complete Freestyle tests. Similar to standard dressage, riders design and choreograph an original test to be ridden to the music of their choice. They must use movements required in the individual test but can be creative about the placement of these movements within the 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.

Fan Etiquette

Just like many of the other disciplines, spectators watching the para-dressage competitions should be quiet observers when the athletes are completing their tests. After the athlete has halted their horse and saluted the judges, cheering is appropriate and encouraged.

Why should I watch para-dressage?

Para-Dressage riders are inspiring to watch, not only because they have overcome physical barriers to do what they love but also because both the athletes and the horses have the required talent to compete at the highest level of their sport.

If that isn't reason enough, this is the first time para-dressage has been included in a World Equestrian Games, so this is a historical moment for the athletes as well as the spectators.