Without meaning to, I’ve already learned a lot this year. My development as a horseperson continues apace, but I’ve discovered that the wider equestrian world is also changing. Through engaging with other blogs and websites, and putting together a piece for a guest blog (more details on that hopefully in the near future), I’ve become aware of all sorts of goings on within equestrianism.
Para-dressage has been part of the Paralympic programme since 1996, but realistically it’s the tip of the iceberg. As the FEI currently only governs two para sports (dressage and driving), it will be a long time before any additional para-equestrian sports could make a case for inclusion in the Paralympic programme, but the next steps are coming.
I was already aware that British Showjumping were taking steps to increase participation and awareness within Para-jumping, as well as running a programme for coaches to expand their skills and assist with the growth of this sport. What I didn’t know was that competitions have taken place previously, but I stumbled across some great video footage. What I saw had me cheering with excitement: below is a video of blind rider Karen Law competing with the help of a guide horse and rider. I hadn’t expected to find anything to do with visually impaired riders, and I thought this was fantastic.
Another FEI sport which is developing as a para sport is reining. I haven’t yet been able to find some video – though the USEF did respond fantastically quickly when I tweeted them to ask, even though the answer was no – but there are some great pictures here. I also live in hope that reining and other anti-helmet disciplines will soon change their opinion on this issue, but I’d suggest nobody hold their breath!
Equestrianism, like many other sports, still has a long way to go in terms of being fully inclusive and diverse, but it’s also ahead of the curve in a lot of ways. It’d be great to see the FEI push forward with para sports within the equestrian community – many exciting things could happen!
Although I have already seen Para-dressage within competition at London 2012, I really appreciated these photos which Wiola shared recently – the photographer has captured some beautiful shots and for me it’s definitely a series of photos which displays the relationship between horses and riders just as much as the fact that the athletes have disabilities.
Dressage has had some good and bad press recently: Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro continue to raise the bar, whilst Andreas Helgstrand has reportedly lost sponsors after photos taken at a demonstration appeared to show injuries to one of his horses caused by abuse of spurs and the bridle. Most riders won’t go as far as abusing training aids or employing the use of methods such as rollkur, but most riders will insist that some degree of mouth contact is necessary in order for the horse to not work like a giraffe.
“Free riding” has become very trendy, and it’s not always employed in the best way, but my favourite example at the moment is this.
Commenters on YouTube have been quick to point out that the horse will most likely have been trained using a bridle, and that the rider probably doesn’t always ride like this, but it remains as an example of what can be achieved. There is obviously a vast gap between bridle-less and rollkur, with much space in between for sensible and correct use of bridles – I’m not advocating that everyone burn their bridles and never put a bit in their horse’s mouth again, but I remain impressed by what other riders are willing to try.
If I can tear myself away from the source of fascination that is the internet any time soon, I might even be persuaded to see what I can do without a saddle…