Special-Needs Athletes? Not These Horses, Vets Say

Paralympic dressage horses often necessitate the same medical care as dressage horses for able-bodied riders.
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As the 2012 London Paralympic Games get under way, we’re hearing a lot about the human athletes and the physical obstacles they’ve surmounted to reach the elite level. But unlike at the Olympic Games, the equine athletes at a Paralympics tend to get less media attention. We set out to remedy that.

The Paralympics are for athletes with physical disabilities. Dressage is the Paralympic equestrian discipline, and riders compete in divisions (called grades) according to the severity of their disabilities.

Riders’ physical issues range from fairly mild to quite profound. That a rider can put a horse on the bit and execute a fluid, accurate dressage test despite (for example) lacking the use of an arm or a leg, or with pronounced weakness on one side of the body, is a testament to the skill of a Paralympic equestrian.

But what effect do the riders’ physical challenges have on their horses? After all, horse owners continually hear how an unbalanced seat or an off-kilter saddle can cause their mounts discomfort

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Written by:

Jennifer O. Bryant is editor-at-large of the U.S. Dressage Federation’s magazine, USDF Connection. An independent writer and editor, Bryant contributes to many equestrian publications, has edited numerous books, and authored Olympic Equestrian. More information about Jennifer can be found on her site, www.jenniferbryant.net.

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