The para’s horses will not be in the Opening Ceremonies today. They will be resting up in their stalls as on Wednesday the competition will begin. In the mornings the grooms take them out while the the air is cooler and give them some grass.
So….what sort of horse is the right sort of horse for the Paralympics? A steady eddy? A steady packer? There are some very disabled riders on these horses surely safety is paramount. No, not really. Steady packer horses are not what is wanted. These para’s horses have to compete on some of the biggest stages in the world. They must be show horses. The most important thing is that they are suited for the job of having a para rider. That means they may take all their cues from two whips if the rider is not able to use their legs. Their rider may not be able to balance well and so the horse will adjust for that . Horses suited to para equestrian can do those things.
These horses know their rider needs help. When I interviewed J.P. Hourdegbait,equine massage therapist for the USA Para Team, he told me that the horse of American para equestrian Roxanne Trunnell is not a Steady Eddy at 5all! He said: “the horse ridden by Roxy Trunnell is a very flamboyant and hot horse but with Roxy he is quiet and he is her guardian. He says “don’t mess with my rider”.
Roxanne is the highest ranked para dressage rider in the world as seen in the FEI Para Dressage World Individual ranking. She is in the most disabled category Grade 1. All of her test is at the walk. For this you must have a horse with an excellent walk. A walk that can score a 10 out of 10.
I have no doubt Roxanne knows how important Dolton is for her riding and success in competition. She recently put up a photo on Facebook and this is what the caption said. “No matter how good or bad the ride, always be thankful to your horse…..He never sets out to disappoint you, horses don’t think that way.’ This is something we all need to remember as riders, para or able bodied!
The para horses are not just ridden by their para riders. They will have a groom, assistant or trainer who will get on and give the horse some exercise. What they will do with the horse depends on what level the rider is competing at. The Grade 1, who only walk, will not need to be so fit. But the upper grades who have walk and trot in their tests, and canter in their freestyle tests, will need to be fitter. However….the person who rides the para horse must remember how the para rides the horse and ride it the same way. For example ,Lauren Barwick, on the Canadian Para Equestrian Team in Tokyo , cannot use her legs so she gives her aids by using a tap with two whips that she carries. The able bodied rider who exercises the horse must do the same or the horse will be confused.
Finally I have a story to tell you about a horse I met several years ago when I volunteered at a para competition. The rider was a Paralympian severely disabled with Cerebral Palsy. I spoke with his assistant who exercised the horse. I asked her what the horse was like. “He can be quite saucy with me but with his rider he is always calm. He looks after him. ” Years later when the rider died there was a memorial service for him and the horse was brought to stand at the side. The wife of the rider spoke about him and what riding and the horse had meant to him. As she was speaking the horse threw his head up and called out with a long whiny. It was as if he knew his rider was gone and he was saying good bye. I have to add that the rider had left the horse to another para rider in his will so that horse is helping another para rider now.
The Para Equestrian events are being live streamed by the CBC. But at 2am! So I will not be seeing that unless they show replays later in the day. I hope they will! I salute the Paralympic Equestrians and wish them the very best of luck.