Ready for Rio: Equestrian, 16 facts

By Jillian Clarke | Sept. 23, 2014, 2:35 p.m. (ET)

Donna Ponessa
Donna Ponessa competed at the London 2012 Paralympic Games and is hoping to represent Team USA once again in Rio.

The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games are less than two years away! Saddle up and learn 16 cool facts about Paralympic equestrian:

1. Paralympic history
Paralympic equestrian was first seen in the Atlanta 1996 Paralympic Games. That year, 16 countries participated in nine medal events for the sport.

2. Dressage discipline
The only discipline performed at Paralympic Games is dressage, which is split into three types of events. The team test, individual test and the freestyle test to music. Teams of three or four riders can compete in team tests.

3. Classifications
Classifications for Paralympic equestrian range from I to V, with athletes in the IV class having the most ability. A Grade is a category by which athletes are categorized by reference to an activity limitation resulting from impairment.

  • Grade Ia: Mainly wheelchair users with impairment of all 4 limbs, may be able to walk with an unsteady gait, however trunk and balance are severely impaired.
  • Grade Ib: Mainly wheelchair users with poor trunk balance and or impairment of function in all four limbs, or no trunk balance and good upper limb function, or moderate trunk balance with severe impairment of all 4 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 four limbs, severe arm impairment. May need a wheelchair for longer distances or due to lack of stamina. Total loss of sight in both eyes, or intellectually impaired.
  • Grade IV: Impairment in one or two limbs or some visual impairment.
  • Grade V: Ineligible for Paralympic Games

4. Judging
Judges score athletes based on horsemanship skills of commands for walk, trot and canter. Athlete classifications determine the type of dressage movements athletes must perform. Scores are given based on both the horse’s and athlete’s performances.

5. Medals
Paralympic equestrian athletes put in a lot of time and hard work and so do their trusty counterparts. Since a rider and his or her horse are considered a team, a medal is awarded to the horse and rider combination for this particular sport. Medals are given for the team, individual, and freestyle tests.

6. Dressage history
Dressage was used heavily by ancient Greeks for war purposes. Dressage commands allowed warriors to train their horses to respond accurately and quickly during battles. Horses played a different role during the original Olympic Games held by the ancient Greeks. Horse races and chariot races were common as opposed to the dressage events that are performed in today’s modern Olympic and Paralympic Games.

7. Dressage definition
Dressage is derived from a French term that is commonly translated as “training” and is pronounced “drə-ˈsäzh.”

8. Horse facts
What are male and female horses called? Male horses not used for breeding are called geldings, while male horses used for breeding are called stallions. Female horses are called mares. Most horses used for the dressage discipline are warm-blooded breeds, and there are more than 50 types of breeds that are considered warm-blooded.

9. Participants
Both men and women can compete together in Paralympic equestrian events. Teams can also be mixed gender.

10. Term to learn
Trot­- A command given to a horse that begins a two-beat gait. The four types of trot, which are the collected trot, extended trot, medium trot and working trot, determine the pace.
Halt- A command that informs the horse to come to a complete, balanced stop.
Rein back- The command to make a horse walk backwards in a straight line.

11. Appropriate attire
Athletes participating in Paralympic equestrian must wear the appropriate attire. This may include a short riding coat paired with a tie, choker or stock tie, light-colored pants (called jodhpurs), boots, gloves and a helmet. Equestrian outfits should also be conservative in color.

12. London 2012
At the London 2012 Paralympic Games, there were 11 medal events for Paralympic equestrian. A total of 27 countries participated in Paralympic equestrian at the Games.

13. Participating countries
Since the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games, the number of participating countries for equestrian has gone down by one country each Games. The highest number of participating countries for equestrian came in 2004 when 29 countries competed.

14. Great Britain’s reign
Ever since equestrian first appeared in the Atlanta 1996 Paralympic Games, Great Britain has landed at the top of the medal standings board. With a total of 44 medals, 23 of them being gold, Great Britain has a strong hold on the top spot.

15. Team USA
Team USA has not medaled in Paralympic equestrian since winning a silver medal at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games.

16. Where to watch in 2016
All Olympic and Paralympic equestrian events will take place in Deodoro at Brazil’s National Equestrian Center, which was built in 2007 for the Pan and Parapan American Games. The complex will be upgraded and expanded to accommodate more spectators. For the Paralympic Games, there will be approximately 14,000 spectator seats available.

Visit the U.S. Equestrian Foundation website for more information about para-equestrian.