Para-Equestrian Dressage is the only Equestrian discipline that is included in the Paralympic Games, where it has been a regular fixture since 1996. With the idea of creating opportunities for all people with impairments to compete and achieve their goals in equestrian sport, athletes are classified according to the level of their impairment so as to provide for meaningful competition. In 2006, the Para-Equestrian sport joined the ranks of the other 7 disciplines regulated by the FEI, with national and international competitions for Dressage and Driving for individuals with an impairment.
There are plenty of opportunities for disabled riders to try dressage. Para equestrian dressage has been growing steadily for the last 25 years and ranges from grassroots to Olympic level, giving people with mild to severe disabilities the opportunity to train and to compete on equal terms. As a para dressage rider, you compete at a certain grade, based on your level of impairment, or against able-bodied riders if you choose.
Regional and national level training is available, along with bursaries to help those living in more remote areas. Further support for para dressage riders is on offer through British Dressage’s close links with the Riding for the Disabled Association and the Para Dressage Training Trust. The latter owns horses, which are loaned to up-and-coming riders.
It is this level of commitment and support to our para equestrian dressage riders that has led to their unprecedented success – Great Britain has won team gold at every Olympic, World and European Championship since the sport began, as well as racking up impressive individual medal tallies.
Our para equestrian dressage team continues to go from strength to strength, having dominated at the London 2012 Paralympic Games bringing home fourteen medals: five individual gold, five individual silver, one bronze and team gold, making it Britain’s most successful games ever.
To start competing, you will first need to be classified by a specialist physiotherapist, to decide which class you can compete in. There are five grades, from 1a, the most impaired, to IV, the least impaired – this means you can compete on equal terms against other disabled riders, or you can take part in able-bodied classes if you choose. Contact RDA Dressage and National Championships Secretary Sara Hadley or more information about classification on 01926 405 967 or send her an email.
To view the Para-Equestrian National Classification Policy, click here.
Para-equestrian dressage training is increasingly being organised alongside mainstream regional training, and usually costs £5-20 per session. To find out what is available in your area, speak to the British Dressage Regional Development Officer (RDO) or para representative in your area.
Para Coaches Pathway
British Dressage have a Para Coaches Pathway that produces a list of BD recognised Para Trainers. For further details about the Pathway please contact Rachel to view the Para Coaches Pathway click here.
Initially you may not need to become a member of British Dressage to compete, for example, if you enter restricted classes you can do so as a non-member with a class ticket. However if you wish to start climbing the ranks you will need to join as a member.
BEF Talent Excel Programme
The Excel Talent Programme aims to produce a pool of up and coming talented young riders across the England Regions who are not currently on the BEF’s World Class Programme.
Now in its third year, the Programme has been developed to extend the rider talent pathway below the UK Sport funded World Class Programme, to identify and nurture pool of up and coming riders who have the potential to go on and win medals in the future. It provides support to selected riders from the three Olympic and one Paralympic equestrian disciplines (dressage, eventing, showjumping and para-equestrian dressage).
Since its launch in 2011, the Excel Talent Programme has supported 48 riders, with 6 riders progressing to the World Class Development Programme during the 2012 intake. You can find more out about the programme here.
BEF Para Equestrian Entry Programme
Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA), British Dressage (BD) and British Equestrian Federation (BEF) are together, bringing Regional Para Dressage training to your local RDA centre!
This new training initiative supported by funding from Sport England will offer up to 2 training days a year in five England regions and will be taken by top International coaches. The aim of this initiative is to encourage young riders to make the next steps towards competing in British Dressage (BD) Para Equestrian competitions and entry onto the talent pathway. This programme will assist these riders to move onto the more advanced talent pathway schemes leading to the BEF Excel Talent programme. These regional training sessions will take place in R.D.A centres listed below that are able to host the training days and will offer an opportunity for riders from their own group and local groups to ride on these training days.
You can find out more here.
Intro Para-Equestrian Competitions
As part of the 2013-2017 British Equestrian Federation Excel funding from the National Lottery through Sport England, British Dressage (BD) and British Equestrian Federation (BEF) have introduced a new competition series of Para Equestrian Dressage Competitions.
This competition series has been introduce to help riders to ‘bridge the gap’ between competing at Riding for the Disabled dressage competitions and affiliated British Dressage competitions. The aim is to break down some of the perceived barriers that stop riders starting in what is now one of the best competition pathways in the World. The first steps are often the most difficult ones to take and the initiative will help riders to take those steps in to the British Dressage competition structure.
Riders do not have to be members of British Dressage to compete at these shows, but are encouraged to become British Dressage Associate member, which is free to join, as this means any results and scores achieved at these competitions will be listed on the British Dressage database.
You can find out more here.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to give it a go! There are lots of industry bodies available to help, guide and support you. If you’re starting out, contact the RDA (Riding for the Disabled) who will be able to talk you through the process from training to competing.