The Paralympics Equestrian events take place at Greenwich Park from 30th August to 4th September with eleven medals at stake. Greenwich Park is the oldest Royal Park in London and forms part of the Maritime Greenwich area that has been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The horse has always played a vital role as a means of rehabilitation and recreation for the disabled and has been a Paralympic sport since 1996, although Para-Equestrian Dressage developed as far back as the 1970s, with the first events held in Great Britain and Scandinavia. More than 40 countries around the world now compete on a regular basis.
At the Paralympic Games, riders compete in three Dressage tests: a Team Test (with three to four riders per team), an Individual Championship Test, and a Freestyle Test, for which athletes choose their own movements and music. Horse and rider must be in harmony throughout the test with the overall picture being one of lightness and rhythm.
The competition follows similar rules as able-bodied dressage with the riders classified across five grades, depending on their level of disability. These grades ensure that the tests can be judged on the skill of the rider, regardless of their disability. The test for Grade Ia riders is restricted to walk movements, whereas the Grade IV tests can include lateral work at a canter.
The results of the Team and Individual Championship Tests are then added together to make the Team score, with the best three scores making up the team total. Individual medals are also awarded on the merit of both the Individual Championship Test and the Freestyle Test.
Great Britain won gold in Beijing and will be strongly fancied to do so again next year. Lee Pearson has won nine Paralympic gold medals - winning all three disciplines in the three Paralympics he competed in between 2000 and 2008. He has also won six world-championship and three European titles. If he could take all three gold medals in London he would move one ahead of Tanni Grey-Thompson’s record of eleven golds at the games. Pearson has two remaining targets in his sights. Obviously winning Paralympic gold in front of his home crowd is the most important but he would also like to be recognised with a knighthood. He was appointed CBE in the 2009 New Years honours to go with his MBE and OBE. However, he feels there is a discrepancy between the awards for able-bodied athletes and disabled athletes and a knighthood would go some way to redressing the balance. It would be a brave man that would bet against him achieving both.