I think the para-equestrian sports are wonderful. I truly admire the riders who are able to overcome adversity and be able to ride, compete and not have to abandon their love of horses and riding. However, I have a question. If a rider has the ability to ride in regular competitions, why are they allowed to compete in para-equestrian classes? Doesn't this take away opportunities from disabled riders who cannot compete against those with no problems? The current Chronicle mentions para-equestrian riders who also compete in regular shows.
Also as a para-equestrian (I drive) but this is true of riders, there are not enough (for riding) and not any for driving Para-equestrian competitions to get ready for International competition. Therefore to get competitive experience and to just improve one must enter whatever type of competition they can. With the WEG this year including the Para-equestrian riding there have been more opportunities for para-equestrian riders to compete in para-equestrian events. But they are still few and far between.
Also as was said every para-equestrian is graded and then like grades compete against like grades.
I think it's great that you are curious. I completely understand your question. Even though I am disabled, I wondered the same exact thing. I have dispensations so I can compete at regular shows, yet I am given a little wiggle room to allow for my disability. A dispensation certificate gives me no advantage over other riders. Instead, it is intended to prevent me from being put at a disadvantage.
My dispensation certificate states the following: Salute with only a nod of the head, ride with my whip in my right hand only (I asked for this b/c I have very limited use of my left hand and try as I might, I cannot effectively use a whip with my left hand & I usually drop it. I did not want a judge to admonish me for keeping my whip in my right hand in a case where I may need it on the left side) and finally, wear a brace on my left hand/wrist.
I have not been certified as a para-equestrian for a few reasons. First, I do not have the money to travel to a "grading". Second, even if I am graded, I do not have and cannot afford a horse capable of competing in the tests I would have to compete in as a para. Third, I have a nice youngster I plan to bring up the levels. I won't compete her much because of finances, but making her into a rideable and correct dressage horse is my main goal at the current time.
I may eventually be graded, but for now, I am happy doing what I am doing.
I'd love to get involved more in para-equestrian stuff (mainly to meet more riders with disabilities!) but I'm nowhere near good enough/don't have an appropriate horse to ride at the level I think would be certified at, so I don't see the point right now. I wish there was something between therapeutic riding and the super high level horses competing at the top of the para ranks. It doesn't seem like there's a middle ground at all.
There is something in the middle, NatalieA. Depending on what's offered in your area. there may be local or regional para shows to haul to (the east coast has a large number), and that's also why you'll find many of us at the local dressage schooling shows and/or local USDF stuff.
Like any competitor, you take opportunities where you can. It's also nice to show off, if you will, at (how to say this? mainstream?) shows, and be able to break people's stereotypes of riders with disabilities just by being there and doing better than some of them
I was fortunate enough to be competing in the para world when even for the biggest international competitons, the host nation sought out suitable (min 3rd level) horses to use during the show. I believe this was the case through the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics, not certain about the Sydney games. At that point, no one needed the stellar, "let me take out a 2nd mortgage and go shopping in Europe" type horse, because in fact, the competitive playing field was even more level since nearly all were on borrowed horses to compete, a feat in itself. I miss that.
At this point, though, while the qualification process hasn't changed in and of itself, the logistics of being a participant at the international level certainly have, so most of us hang around at the appropriate and affordable depths, just like anyone else working up the levels with big dreams.
Another take on the original poster's original question: most of us (ideally!) train at home at a level above the one we choose to show at. USDF competition is a way for para riders to work a bit ahead of what may be expected of them in para competition, in the same sort of way.
The middle ground is actually very elusive for many para-equestrians. It is easy to find a Therapuetic riding program and to start back riding at one of them. But it is takeing the next step as you become more independent in your riding that becomes difficult. After my accident in 1991 I started back riding at a TR center, it was a great place. I still had my horse at home, I had a custom saddle made and a ramp built and I started to ride at home with help from friends I did this for a while. I have various contraptions that help me get on a horse, a lift that hooks into a bumper hitch etc, that would enable me to ride somewhere other than home. Still it was a lot of work, but needed for that elusive middle ground if I was to ride anywhere but home. So I gave up riding.
I have been found at an Appaloosa breed show showing a yearling in halter and lunge line:-)
Then, of course, I started driving, this I did on my own. The best part of driving was once in the carriage I was like everyone else, no need to worry about falling off the horse:-) I solved the get in the carriage issue with a special carriage and I only need 1 person to go along with me and they don't even need to be a horse person. I then just started out at local shows.
Getting appropriate horses is always a challenge, but you start with what you have that is safe. I've competed many a time with borrowed horses and ended up purchasing 2 that I borrowed. I thank the people willing to loan quality horses everytime I drive.
A bit of a ramble this morning.. and not sure how on topic.