Breaking the Mold - Para-Equestrians Gear Up at London’s 2012 Paralympic Games

The Agitos, symbol for the Paralympic Games, follows the Olympic rings. Opening Ceremonies August 29. Para-Dressage starts tomorrow.-
The Agitos, symbol for the Paralympic Games, follows the Olympic rings. Opening Ceremonies August 29. Para-Dressage starts tomorrow.-

Great Britain gets ready to rock it again as Para-Dressage kicks off the start of 2012 Paralympic Games competition August 30 at the stunning Greenwich Park venue. With 78 riders from 26 countries vying for medals, the evident quality of horseflesh and talent on display has raised the bar. Spectators holding tickets and viewing YouTube’s online coverage are in for a treat. There’s simply no better example of the human-horse rapport.
Led by top rider, Lee Pearson, the British Paralympic squad has owned the team title since the sport debuted in Atlanta 1996. Pearson, a dominant force in the Grade 1b division, having won three gold medals at each of the last three Paralympic Games, is an avid spokesman for promoting opportunities for the disabled in sports and life. See video here.

Groom Meagan Ferrari-Szarek ready to jog with U.S. Team member Dale Dedrick's Bonifatius. All Team USA horses passed inspection August 29, 2012.
Groom Meagan Ferrari-Szarek ready to jog with U.S. Team member Dale Dedrick's Bonifatius. All Team USA horses passed inspection August 29, 2012.

The U.S. is proud to be fielding a strong four member team: U.S. National Champion Rebecca Hart, Unionville, PA (Grade II), FEI top ten ranked Jonathan Wentz, Richardson, TX (Grade 1b), Dr. Dale Dedrick, Ann Arbor, MI (Grade II) and Donna Ponessa, New Windsor, NY (Grade 1a).

The Power of Parallel Vision
“It’s so inspiring to be around so many others, especially, my age who have laughed at disability and THRIVED,” says U.S. Paralympic rider Dale Dedrick, age 56.
While the Paralympic Games mirrors the identical international spirit as the Olympics, there is a palpable, profound energy that radiates around committed athletes that have surmounted life’s different obstacles.
It’s fitting that London hosts the dual 2012 Olympic/Paralympic events that fulfills the vision of Sir Ludwig Guttmann, a Jewish neurosurgeon who fled Nazi Germany. He initiated the idea of rehabbing disabled World War II veterans through sports at Britain’s Stoke Mandeville Hospital. His focus on discarded patients with spinal cord injuries started with throwing darts and progressed to archery that helped strengthen back muscles and postures for those in wheelchairs. Archery also provided a sport to compete equally with able-bodied athletes. He organized an archery competition for 16 patients held on the same day that London opened its 1948 Olympics.

Archer competes in 2008 Beijing Paralympics
Archer competes in 2008 Beijing Paralympics

 
Guttmann envisioned an integration of para-athletes that South African runner Oscar Pistorius, the first double leg amputee to compete in the 2012 Olympics, brought to reality. It also highlights the definition of “Para” doesn’t mean paralyzed but riding-being-living parallel to the able-bodied world. Technology and prosthetics advances are only creating new definitions and opportunities. This London Paralympic Games expects 4,200 athletes from 166 teams competing in 20 summer sports ranging from rowing, track cycling, swimming, wheelchair tennis, wheelchair fencing, wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, rugby and judo.

Guide to Para-Equestrian Grades
Para riders are classified by their permanent physical limitations, not riding ability into Grades IA & IB(most impaired), II, II, 1V(least impaired). Any adaptive equipment, such as modified reins, saddles or carrying whips, use of voice, must be approved for safety and fairness. 

Grades Ia and Ib: Mainly wheelchair users with poor trunk balance and/or impairment in all four limbs, or no trunk balance and good upper limb function, or moderate trunk balance with severe impairment of all four limbs.
Grade II:  Mainly wheelchair users, or those with severe locomotor impairment involving the trunk and with good to mild upper limb function, those with severe arm impairment and slight leg impairment or severe unilateral impairment.
Grade III: Usually able to walk without support. Moderate unilateral impairment, or moderate impairment in all four limbs, severe arm impairment. May need a wheelchair for longer distances due to lack of stamina. Total loss of sight in both eyes.
Grade IV: Impairment in one or two limbs or some visual impairment.

Team and Individual Championship Test scores are combined to make the Team score. Individual medals are awarded for each grade for the Individual and Freestyle Test.

Coverage: Para-Equestrian Team, Individual and Freestyle; Team test on Thursday August 30 and Friday; Individual Championship tests on Saturday and Sunday; Individual Freestyle tests on Monday and Tuesday. The International Paralympic Committee's website will broadcast five channels of live sport each day. Daily video content on U.S. Paralympics You Tube channel NBC Sports Network (Sept. 4, 5, 6 and 11 at 7 p.m. ET)  and NBC (Sept. 16 from 2:00 – 3:30 p.m.)




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