The Paralympic Games took the stage in Rome in 1960 but were confined to athletes who were in wheelchairs. The Olympics were able to cater to more handicap-able athletes at the Summer Olympics in Montreal, Canada in 1976. Athletes with Cerebral Palsy could participate for the first time at the 1984 Summer Paralympics in New York. It was only at the 9th Paralympics hosted in Barcelona, Spain in the summer of 1992 where athletes of all disabilities could participate. The first time Para-Equestrian was seen on the main stage at the Paralympics Games when it was hosted in Atlanta, Georgia in 1996. It is also the only category that uses animals in the activities.
There are two categories to select from when participating in the Paralympics, where one is the Dressage and the other is Combined Driving. The rules for these two events are very similar to the conventional activities but are divided into different classes that are based on the functional ability of the athlete to ensure fair play and gender is not a factor.
The Dressage Event
The event is broken into 5 different grades which are according to the type of disability which can determine the extent of the activities that these athletes can partake in. The first three grades are hosted in an arena that is 131 ft by 66 ft in size. Grade 1 is a Walk Only event and Grade 2 tests both walking and trotting with the horses. Grade 3 tests walk and trotting but include Cantering with the opportunity to display Lateral skills in the Freestyle section. Grades 4 and 5 are in the bigger arena which is 196 ft by 66 ft where they can do all the above but include Canter Half-Pirouettes, a few sequence changes, and compulsory lateral work.
The Driving Event [Also known as Carriage Driving]
Carriage driving has high injury risk, especially for these athletes and thus the equipment has been adjusted to cater to these risks. With constant research and investment for techniques to reduce these sorts of occurrences, some solutions have been proposed. For example, the handles are attached with Velcro which can easily be detached if the rider does fall off. Everyone can achieve remarkable things but sometimes we forget. Having athletes like those who participate in the Paralympics is a true depiction of the power of determination and you can do it all!