At the Paralympic Games, the only equestrian discipline is dressage. Although there are records of people training horses for war several centuries BC and the sport has been part of the Olympic programme since the 1910s, the competition for people with disabilities is relatively recent.
The first equestrian dressage competitions took place around 1970 in England and Scandinavia. Nearly 15 years later, the sport featured for the first time at the 1984 Paralympic Games, co-hosted in New York and Stoke Mandeville, England. However, its limited popularity meant it did not return until the Atlanta 1996 Games.
In 2006, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) transferred responsibility for the discipline’s rules to the International Equestrian Federation (known by French acronym FEI), which helped to make it more popular at competitions such as the 2007 World Championships, held in Hartpury, England, which brought together 132 athletes from 34 countries.
Equestrian dressage events are open to athletes with five different classes of disability, classified as follows: Ia and Ib (people who use wheelchairs, with no or little balance in the trunk, impaired functions in all four limbs, but good functioning in the arms); II (mainly wheelchair users or people with severe locomotor impairment in the trunk); III (people with moderate unilateral impairment and total loss of sight in both eyes); and IV (impairment of one or more limbs or some visual impairment).
Depending on how participants are classified, they will perform different dressage routines with their horse. At grade III, for example, they walk, trot and gallop. During competitions, male and female riders compete together without gender distinctions. Another characteristic of the sport is that not only do the riders receive medals, but also the horses.
Whether in individual or team competitions – the latter with three or four riders per team, one of whom must belong to grade I or II – competitors must execute three routines, including one in freestyle (in which athletes perform their movements to music), demonstrating their horsemanship. Performance is assessed by a jury, and the rider and horse with the best score win.