What is involved in becoming a PARA Dressage Rider- Emma Sheardown explains all

Emma Hicksead-1G

The Sport of Para Dressage has played a big part in the Paralympic Games since Atlanta in 1996.

Here in Britain we are proud in the knowledge that our Para Equestrian team is the most successful in the world of our sport - holding an impressive 100% success rate in every Paralympic Games, World Championship and European Championships since Atlanta.
I am a firm believer that the reason for our continued success is down to the fantastic structure that we have in the UK from Grass Routes through to the various foundation, development and performance squads.
The introduction of PARA DRESSGE to riders like me comes in a variety of ways and many start their careers through the RDA, where riding is initially used as an extension of the riders' physiotherapy program.
As riders' develop the RDA offers the opportunity to experience and participate in the competitive side of riding, catering for all levels and abilities they give the rider the chance to progress. 
Riders ' will normally start by competing in Countryside Challenge classes, which are obstacle courses and then move on to Introduction to Dressage Classes; these can be ridden on or off the lead rein allowing the riders' to become familiar with riding in a test situation. 
Once the rider has become competent with the Intro classes they can move on to a whole series of RDA dressage tests that cater for a wide range of abilities and disabilities, from complex physical disabilities to learning disabilities to riders' with visual or hearing impairments. A relatively large proportion of our riders' come as a result of a becoming impaired by having life changing accidents, including riders' that want to get back into equestrian sports as a result of a riding accident.

Emma Hickstead-2G
The RDA and Para Dressage rider like all other para athletes are profiled according to their level of disability ensuring that riders' are never in the position of competing against those who are physically more able. Riders' are classified by two classifiers who are either doctors or physiotherapists, one of which has to be of another nationality if the rider is competing internationally. 
The process of classification takes place off horse and has nothing to do with the riders' ability on the horse. The rider is assessed for disability, movement and co-ordination.
There are five grades 1a. 1b, 2, 3 and 4. 

Grade 1a riders' are at the severe end of the disability range and grade 4 riders' have the least impairment. The level of tests in each grade are reflected accordingly, for example grade 1a riders' compete at' Walk only' due to their balance and coordination difficulties, Grade 1b and 2 riders compete in walk and trot, Grade 3 compete in walk, trot and canter and Grade 4 riders; ride a test equivalent to able bodied medium level and above.   
Each of the five grades has three levels of tests, the Novice test is ridden by restricted riders' and the Team and Championship tests are ridden by open riders'. Open and Restricted sections work in much the same as in able-bodied dressage. Riders' are also required to ride a Kur or Freestyle to Music, here the riders' choreograph their own floor plan according to grade requirements and produce their floor plan to appropriate music
Britain has a first class system for identifying and developing our young riders' - this is made possible by UK Sport and National Lottery Funding.

We have a clear pathway in the Sport for our riders' to progress - at the grassroots we have the BEF's Foundation Program, the Development Program / Squads, with clear opportunities for all of the riders' to aim to get onto the Performance Squad and Championship Teams.

Emma Hickstead-3G
Being part of the Development Program gives the riders' international competition experience from an early stage in their career.
As a rider on the Performance Squad, I commit to my riding and all the off-horse training that is involved on a full time basis. For my horse, Purdy's Dream (aka Eddie) he has a strict weekly routine which includes being ridden by me, as well as a more physically able rider, he is also lunged and gets one day a week off.
I ride Eddie four times a week, and do lots of off-horse work which is absolutely invaluable - this includes gym work which focuses me on my general fitness. I do Biomechanic work everyday, which includes various gentle exercises to help me with posture, movement and using my body in a correct manner.
The biomechanic work has made a huge, huge difference in my riding posture allowing me to use my aids much more effectively. Teresa Dixon my biomechanics coach works with me whilst I am riding and assess the areas that I need improve, She then devises exercises that I can use when off horse that will improve that particular area.
Unfortunately, I didn't make it to London 2012, but feel that I have got a solid team and training plan, I am now looking forward to next years' Europeans', the 2014 World Equestrian Games and of course Rio de Janeiro in 2016!
Get to know Emma Sheardown. Read more... 
Para Dressage Rider