What’s para-riding?

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Para-riding is an equestrian sport for people with disabilities, allowing severely disabled riders to compete. Para-equestrian sport began in Europe in the 1970s and has since expanded to include dressage, driving, jumping, and other equestrian sports. The Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) oversees para-riding internationally, with riders categorized according to their level of disability. Para-riding horses are among the best athletes in the equine world and are trained to work with their riders. The sport is recognized by the International Paralympic Committee and other Paralympic governing bodies.

Para-riding sport is a form of equestrian sport practiced by people with disabilities. Many disabled athletes are able to maintain their position in competitions designed for the able-bodied, but para-riding also opens up the world of competition to severely disabled riders, allowing them to compete in a serious and focused environment. Many athletes who participate in para-riding are quite talented and some are considered among the world’s elite equestrians, regardless of their physical condition.

While athletes with various disabilities have been riding and racing for decades, the first organized form of para-equestrian sport arose in Europe in the 1970s for dressage. As interest grew, para-riding expanded to include driving, jumping, and other equestrian sports. Paraequestrian dressage continues to be a particularly important part of the sport, with competitions taking place all over the world.

Internationally, para-riding is supervised by the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), which has set the standards for the sport, along with other equestrian sports. Riders are categorized according to their level of disability, some are encouraged to compete in able-bodied and para-riding competitions, while others compete exclusively in the para-riding arena. Paraequestrian competitions have different classes, some of which are designed to be easier for people with severe disabilities; for example, a dressage test could be done at a walk, without demonstrations of more demanding gaits.

Because paraequestrian athletes have physical disabilities, they are allowed to use a variety of aids to help hold their posts and control their horses. They also endure grueling and intense training focused on strengthening the bond between rider and horse, with para-riding horses being among the best athletes in the equine world. In addition to possessing all the characteristics of working horses at the elite level, including flexibility, agility and grace, these horses must also be able to work with their riders, alert for subtle cues that might signal a rider in distress.

Disabled equestrians value the ability to compete in the para-equestrian arena, traveling to events around the world to show their horses and meeting like-minded individuals. The level of disability in paraequestrian sports is incredibly diverse; everyone from amputees to people with cerebral palsy can be seen competing in para-riding. This field is also recognized by the International Paralympic Committee, as well as a number of other bodies that govern Paralympic sport.

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