Sports week: 10 things to know about para-equestrian


The 2020 Paralympic Games para-equestrian competition will take place August 26-30 at the Equestrian Park in Tokyo, Japan.

1. Atlanta 1996 saw 61 riders from 16 countries compete for eight individual and team medals. Great Britain topped the medal table with three gold, two silver and one bronze, followed by the United States and Norway. The British have dominated every Games since.

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2. Athletes did not ride their own horses before the Athens Games in 2004 (pictured below). As the sport developed from therapeutic riding, few competitors owned their own horses and therefore used horses borrowed for the Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000 Games.

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3. There are five levels in the sport, with runners divided according to the nature and extent of their impairment. All athletes compete together, including the physically disabled and visually impaired, as well as men and women. The level of difficulty of the test they take is relative to the grade assigned to them.

4. Grades I to III go up in the smallest dressage arena (20m x 40m) while grades IV and V go up in the larger one (20m x 60m), which corresponds to that used in Olympic dressage. Para-riders compete for two individual medals per level and one overall medal per team.

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5. Each runner takes one test, and there are three tests in a competition. Team and individual tests see runners performing a prescribed series of moves, while in freestyle runners can choreograph their own routines, incorporating a set number of “must have” moves. Grade I runners take their walk tests. Rank II riders can walk and trot, while ranks III and above can walk, trot, and gallop (although grade III can only gallop in the freestyle).

6. The judges only watch the movement of the horse, not the rider. They judge based on defined criteria known as training scales. These cover rhythm, flexibility, contact (between horse and rider), impetus (the flow of forward motion from the horse’s hindquarters), straightness (alignment of the horse’s feet) and collection (balance of horse and rider). Judges are seated at fixed points around the arena and mark out of 10 for the prescribed movements the horse makes during the test, which normally lasts between four and five minutes.

7. If he qualifies, Norway’s Jens Lasse Dokkan, the current grade I European champion, will be the only rider to have taken part in every Paralympic Games since the sport’s introduction.

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8. Horses are transported to the Games in specially designed crates on specially adapted chartered planes.

9. To help manage their impairments, riders can use a wide range of compensatory aids, including suitable saddles, reins, stirrups and boots. Visually impaired cyclists also use a caller – someone who calls out the arena positioning letters to help the rider know where they are.

ten. Horses in grades I to III can be supported by another, known as the “friendly horse”. The friendly horse goes to the arena with the competing horse, then stands outside the arena while it plays. This helps keep the competition horse calmer and more relaxed.


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