The equestrian sport first appeared in the Games of the II Olympiad in 1900, and didn’t reappear until 1912 at the same game. Until 1948, only men were allowed to compete until the ban was lifted in 1951 that allowed women to compete with the men in dressage. Gradually, more sports such as cross country, jumping and driving became popular, and it the equestrian sport has evolved into a massive industry that involves hundreds of shows a year, each encasing a different aspect of the sport. Para equestrian however, did not appear until the 1996 Paralympic games (a year before I was born!). It was divided into four grades with 61 riders competing. What a time to be alive! Since then, the sport has grown increasingly popular and is one of the most watched events at the Paralympic games today.
Now, you’re probably wondering, Al, you’re rambling about this sport, but what is it? Good question! The purpose of para-equestrian is to provide everyone with a physical disability the equal opportunity to be involved in a competitive sport. Fun fact: many disabled individuals excel at sports that are designed for the able-bodied, but this sport in particular allows for those individuals with more severe disabilities to excel as some other sports might not allow for them to compete. Para-equestrian is based on a classification system, i.e. what your disability is and how much your body allows you to do. It is separated into 5 groups or grades, and everyone in the specific grade competes against each other to keep the competition fair. A person missing both legs isn’t going to compete against someone missing only one of their legs; it wouldn’t right.
Now that we’ve talked about the sport and have an understanding let’s talk about how to get started.
1. Learn how to ride a horse properly!
This is no joke! I knew how to ride a horse with two legs (aka my prosthetic on), but learning with only one was a little trickier as my whip became the replacement for my missing leg, which was something I was not used to doing. Luckily, I learned fast, and I’m well on my way. Make sure you train consistently and more than once a week. You want to stay in shape and well ahead of the game. Practice makes perfect.
2. Get Classified!
Until you know what grade you are, you won’t be able to practice the tests that you will be performing. Most coaches, if they’re experienced enough, have a good guess about what
you’ll be and you can work from there. If you get classified a low grade, don’t worry, you can always move up!
3. Find a barn!!
As I stated in last weeks post about how to get started in horseback riding, the same is true here. This is important because this is where you will be training, and getting better in your sport and why it’s important to be consistent. Having one trainer, they’ll be able to keep track of your progress and keep track of you in your sport. This will be good for the little things that need to be fixed in your riding as you continue to learn the basics of dressage and competition riding.
4. Learn your tests!
This can not be said enough! Your tests will make or break you in this sport. Once you get classified, this is your most important priority! When I’m not at the barn, I have cones set up
in a room in my house with the letters on it, so even on the ground I can continue to practice my tests and get them imbedded into my brain! As you learn the basics of them, your coach can help you even further with the small stuff that judges will be looking for!
5. Learn the ins and outs of Competitions!
You’re going to need a team of people that are there to help you! The competitor is responsible for everything that has to do with them, the care of their horse and everything in between. Make sure you have everything planned ahead of time so you’re not scrambling to get everything taken care of last minute. As well, have any and all documentation on you and your horse in hand at all times! Any licenses, medical history, passports, or anything will give them more info on you and your horse regarding your sport. While you might’ve sent a copy to the people at the show, they could always lose it, so it’s important to have all of the info with you too.
6. Start Competing!
You’ll never know until you try!! Go for it! The good thing is, if you end up at the bottom, you can only get better from there! Relax, have fun, enjoy it! This is an awesome time in your life! But, be focused, set your goals and know what you’re going after. You’re not going to do yourself any good by just guessing and playing around with the sport. Be committed and have a plan about how you’re going to make it happen and the tools you’ll need to make your plan happen!
And just like, that you’re on your way to a successful para-equestrian career! Hooray! As, you get higher in the rankings and onto more grueling competitions as well as international competitions, these things won’t change!! Yes, more steps may be added, but this will get you started in the right direction!