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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Welcome to the Paralympic Games!

Go Team USA! Athletes and support staff gather for a group photo. Photo courtesy of Wes Dunham/USPEA.
Many people are aware that the 2012 Paralympic Games commenced yesterday with the opening ceremony. Fewer seem to understand that the Paralympics are always held in the same venues as the summer Olympic Games, which conclude a short time before the Paralympics begin.

For 2012, that means horses and riders are in Greenwich Park, site of the 2012 London Olympic equestrian events. In the Paralympic Games, dressage is the sole equestrian sport. Paralympic competition is for athletes with physical disabilities.

Paralympic-level dressage, like its able-bodied counterpart, is governed by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI). Para-dressage horses and athletes undergo the same level of scrutiny (veterinary inspections, drug testing, and so on) as those at the Olympic Games, which wrapped up earlier this month.

In some ways, para-equestrian competition is more complicated than "regular" dressage competition. First, before they can participate, riders must undergo a process known as classification, in which specially trained officials assign them a "grade" based on the severity of their disability. Grade Ia riders are the most profoundly disabled, and Grade IV riders are the least.

Naturally, each grade has its own FEI tests. The Grade Ia tests are walk-only. Grade Ib includes trot. Grade IV, the most challenging, includes walk, trot, and canter; shoulder-in and half-pass in trot; simple changes of lead; collected, medium, and extended paces; and half-pirouettes in walk.

Team USA 2012 Paralympic Games chef d'equipe Missy Ransehousen jogs Lord Ludger, owned by Jessica Ransehousen and ridden by Rebecca Hart, at the veterinary inspection. Photo by Lindsay Yosay McCall.
Before yesterday's opening ceremony, the Paralympic horses underwent the veterinary inspection. There are 77 horses at the 2012 Games, from 27 nations. There are fifteen teams and nineteen individual competitors.

All four of the US entries passed the veterinary inspection. They are:

Lord Ludger (pictured), a 20-year-old Oldenburg gelding owned by Jessica Ransehousen and ridden by Rebecca Hart, 27, Unionville, PA (Grade II)

Bonifatius, a 14-year-old Hanoverian gelding owned and ridden by Dr. Dale Dedrick, 57, Ann Arbor, MI (Grade II)

NTEC Richter Scale, an 18-year-old Shire-cross gelding owned by Kai Handt and ridden by Jonathan Wentz, 21, Dallas, TX (Grade Ib)

Western Rose, a nine-year-old Oldenburg mare owned by Wesley Dunham and ridden by Donna Ponessa, 51, New Windsor, NY (Grade Ia).

Competition Gets Under Way 

Paralympic equestrian competition opened today with FEI Para-Equestrian Team tests for Grades II and Ib. Team USA's Rebecca Hart on Lord Ludger finished a strong fourth in the Grade II test with a score of 69.095 percent. Teammate Dale Dedrick on Bonifatius was nineteenth with 60.286 percent. Topping the leader board were Natasha Baker of Great Britain (76.095), Britta Napel of Germany (72.571), and Lauren Barwick of Canada (72.095).

There was another strong US showing in the Grade Ib Team test: a fifth place for Jonathan Wentz and NTEC Richter Scale (70.364 percent). Finishing ahead of Wentz were the legendary nine-times Paralympic gold medalist Lee Pearson of Great Britain (74.682); Josef Puch of Austria (73.636); Joann Formosa of Australia (71.955); and Katja Karjalainen of Finland (70.909).

On deck for tomorrow: Team tests for Grades IV (9:00 a.m. London time), III (1:15 p.m.), and Ia (3:45 p.m.).

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