Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Historical day for Para-Dressage at 2010 Games

Historical day for Para-Dressage at 2010 Games 
Staff Writer
Para-Dressage riders made history Tuesday at the 2010 Games. As they rode their dressage tests, they became the first Para-Equestrian athletes to ever compete in a World Equestrian Games.

“It’s brilliant just to be involved in such a big event,” said Jo Pitt of the British team. “It’s bigger than the Paralympics for us. Just to be beside the other able-bodied athletes is really exciting for us.”para1

As athletes finished their tests and rode out of the arena, their faces reflected the pay-off of competing on the world stage. Some have undergone tremendous struggles to get here, not only with their own limitations, but also with their horses, who have to be just as fit and as trusting as any other horse at the Games.

“I hope other sports come see our sport,” said Lauren Barwick of Canada. “There are a lot of misconceptions.”

The misconceptions Barwick listed included the talent of the riders, fitness of the horses and quality of competition, which she said all measure up to athletes in the other disciplines.

“Once we get on the horse, a lot of time you don’t know what our disability is,” Barwick said.

From afar, you can hardly tell that many of these athletes are disabled. And, similar to other athletes at the Games, the riders are their own worst critics, finishing their tests and discussing what went wrong and what they could improve.

“The fact that Para was included, it feels natural, because it should be included,” said Kaye Marks, a spectator who is involved with the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association.para2

The sport has been gaining recognition since 1996, when it was included in the Paralympic Games. In 2006, Para-Dressage became an FEI regulated sport, meaning that the 2010 Games would mark its debut with the seven other disciplines competing in the World Equestrian Games.

“It feels a bit like the Paralympics,” said Gert Bolmer from The Netherlands. “It is nice to be a part of the whole team. It is really good promotion for our sport.”

Many spectators dotted the stands of the Covered Arena, and some came over just to watch these unique athletes.

“I am sure it has got to be a great accomplishment for them,” said Cathy McCord a visitor from Cynthiana, Ky. “We just watched the jumping, which was awesome, but this is just a whole different feeling. It does give you chill bumps, doesn’t it?”

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