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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Power to the Para-Equestrians

I quit complaining (mostly) about how hard it is to ride dressage after I watched the para-equestrian dressage riders at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

My errant left shoulder? That right hip that can have a mind of its own? Shaddup already, I told myself. These elite para-equestrians are good--better than some of you able-bodied folks reading this, I'll wager--and they are physically disabled.

Many of these accomplished riders' disabilities are fairly serious. Some, they were born with. Others were the result of accidents or injuries. Some para-equestrians are missing limbs or are confined to wheelchairs when out of the saddle.

Think about it. Could you ride if you had only one leg? Only one arm? Poor motor control? And yet these equestrians are literally set free when they're on horseback, and they turn in dressage tests and freestyles that are seriously difficult. No "gimmes" or pity here.

For the first time at the US Equestrian Federation Dressage Festival of Champions, the competition this year includes the selection trials for the 2012 London Paralympic Games. It is a treat to see, as we did at the 2010 WEG, our nation's best dressage riders competing at the same venue as our nation's best para-equestrian dressage riders.

Para-equestrians are classified into grades, or levels of disability, in official classification events in which they are evaluated by a physiotherapist or specially trained physician. The grades range from IV (the least disabled) to I (the most disabled, subdivided into walk-trot and walk-only divisions). The International Equestrian Federation (FEI) governs para-equestrian dressage.

2012 US National Para-Equestrian champion Rebecca Hart on Lord Ludger. Photo by Lindsay McCall.
At Gladstone, NJ, at the Festival of Dressage Champions, Grade II rider Rebecca Hart, of Unionville, PA, earned her fifth USEF National Para-Equestrian Dressage Championship title--and presumably, although the team hasn't been formally named yet, a trip to London. Hart rode Lord Ludger, a Holsteiner gelding owned by dressage Olympian Jessica Ransehousen, also of Unionville.

The reserve champion was last year's champion pair, Grade Ib competitor Jonathan Wentz, of Richardson, TX, riding NTEC Richter Scale, a Shire-cross gelding owned by Kai Handt.

In third was Donna Ponessa, New Windsor, NY, a Grade Ia competitor riding Western Rose, an Oldenburg mare owned by Wesley Dunham.
Paralympic hopeful and third-placed 2012 US National Para-Equestrian championship finisher Donna Ponessa is all smiles at the press conference. Photo by Lindsay McCall.
A team of four dressage riders and horses will represent the US at the 2012 London Paralympic Games. The four horse-rider combinations and two alternate combinations will be named July 16, according to US Para-Equestrian Association PR manager Lindsay McCall.

We salute all of our talented para-equestrians and the owners of their wonderful mounts!

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