Para dressage

15 Jan
Para dressage
Riding for the disabled – creating that magical bond between horse and rider – a therapeutic experience.It is not clear when riding for the disabled became a specialized field, but history records people with disabilities riding horses as early as the days of the ancient Greeks. Orbasis of ancient Lydia documented the therapeutic value of riding in 600 B.C. Even then, it was acknowledged that riding was more than a means of transportation; it was also a way of improving the health and well-being of people with handicaps.

The first study of the value of riding as therapy was reported in 1875. French physician Cassaign used riding as a treatment for a variety of conditions, and concluded that it was helpful in the treatment of certain kinds of neurological disorders by improving posture, balance and joint movement, as well as psychological improvements.

At the turn of the century, England recognized riding for the disabled as a beneficial form of therapy and offered riding therapy for wounded soldiers at the Oxford Hospital during World War I. By the 1950’s, British physiotherapists were exploring the possibilities of riding as therapy for all types of handicaps. The British Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) was founded in 1969 with the enthusiastic support of the Royal Family.

Riding therapy was introduced in Scandinavia in 1946 after two devastating outbreaks of poliomyelitis. Lis Hartel, an accomplished horsewoman, was stricken with the disease. Although surgery and physiotherapy helped her to walk again with the aid of crutches, she was determined to ride independently again and began daily supervised riding sessions to improve her muscle strength and coordination. Liz Hartel brought attention to riding for the disabled when she won the silver medal for Dressage at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games. She and Ulla Harpoth, a physical therapist from Copenhagen, went on to use horses as therapy for their patients.

Recent Developments
Dressage competitions for riders with disabilities started in Scandinavia and in Great Britain in the 1970s. In 1987 the first dressage World Championship was held in Sweden, and we first took part in the Paralympic Games in 1996. In 1991, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) appointed IPEC (the International Paralympic Equestrian Committee) to run competitions and develop equestrian sport all over the world. This has been done very successfully, and in 2004/5 we had some 38 nations from five continents competing. This included events for Paralympic Riders at the Paralympics in Athens in 2004.
IPEC has now joined the FEI (the International Equestrian Federation, the governing body world wide for all equestrian sports) as Para Equestrian, their 8th discipline, moving governance from a general sports organisation (IPC) to one specialising in equestrian sport (FEI).


How it all works


The Paralympics offer two classes that riders can compete in – individual and musical freestyle. The tests vary according to the grade of the rider’s physical impairment. There are four grades, each with its own list of physical disabilities.

The following information is taken from the FEI Web site ( and explains the classification system.


Classification, or Profiling, is a fair means to a fair end.


In other words, classification of impairment is an attempt to ensure fair competition. The system for classification of impairment is simple and flexible enough to apply to all impairments. It is designed specifically for equestrian sport and is easily applicable to the rider or carriage driver.
Classification is a statement of fact; it is not a test.

The judgement of a rider or driver’s ability is the function of the competition, not of the classification. Therefore the purpose of the competition is to reward skill. Classification does not penalize those who have achieved a high level of skill.

The competitor’s mobility, strength and coordination are assessed in order to establish their Profile. People with Profiles of similar functional ability level are grouped into four competition Grades. The competition test for each Grade is compatible with the functional ability of people with the same potential.

Classification is carried out either by an I.P.E.C. or NDSA accredited physical therapist or medical doctor, with knowledge of the Profile system. However, classification for visually impaired or blind riders must be carried out by an opthamologist or optical doctor; and by a psychologist for riders with mental impairment. (Please note that under current I.P.C. sanctions, riders with mental impairment may not qualify for international competition, see I.P.C. website at for more info)


All equestrian competitors should be classified within six to twelve months before competing. Once a rider’s Profile and Grade are assigned, no change may be made to their classification unless there are significant changes in their impairment.

The Profile System for Classification was devised by:

Dr. Christine Meaden, M.C.S.P., Ph.D
Chief Classifier for the International Paralympic Equestrian Committee

Dressage for Riders with Disabilities

  • GRADE I:
    Mainly wheelchair users with poor trunk balance and or impairment of function in all four limbs, or no trunk balance and good upper limb function, or moderate trunk balance with severe impairment of all 4 limbs.
    Mainly wheelchair users, or those with severe locomotor impairment involving the trunk and with good to mild upper limb function, or severe unilateral impairment.
    Usually able to walk without support. Moderate unilateral impairment, or moderate impairment in four limbs, severe arm impairment. May need a wheelchair for longer distances or due to lack of stamina. Total loss of sight in both eyes, or intellectually impaired. Blacked out glasses or blind fold must be worn by Profile 36 riders.
    Impairment in one or two limbs, or some visual impairment







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Posted by on January 15, 2011 in Para-dressage


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