Paralympics now done and dusted, I thought it would be a great time
to take a look back at the highlights of the Equestrian events.
The equestrian events were held in the manicured parkland of
Greenwich Park in south-east London. As I sat in my seat I was
breath-taken by the fantastic views of Canary Wharf, the City and
much of London's fascinating skyline.
I was lucky enough to get tickets to both the Olympic show
jumping as a graduation present and the Paralympic dressage.
Although watching Great Britain win silver in the show jumping
brought tears to my eyes, that was nothing compared to how I felt
when Sophie Christiansen took gold on the final day of the Paralympics.
The atmosphere throughout the whole afternoon was absolutely
electric. From chanting to clapping, to Mexican waves, the crowd
was simply going wild and I am sure by the end there wasn't a dry
eye in the crowd.
"So before we get started, what's the difference between the
Athletes are classified according to their functional ability
when mounted across five grades (Ia, Ib, II, III and IV). The
grading determines the complexity of the movements riders perform
with their horses during their tests, ensuring that the tests are
judged on the skill of the rider, regardless of their impairment.
Riders may use permitted assistive devices such as dressage whips,
connecting rein bars looped reins, and so on. Riders who have
visual impairments are permitted to use 'callers' to help them
navigate around the arena.
- Grade Ia riders are usually wheelchair
users with impairment of all four limbs. They may be able to walk,
but this is usually with an unsteady gait due to difficulties with
balance and trunk stability.
- Grade Ib riders are similar to Grade Ia in that
they are mainly wheelchair users. They must have poor trunk
balance and/or impairment of all four limbs. Some riders will have
both, but some will have just one of the two listed
- Grade II riders are often wheelchair users.
Riders in this grade can have severe impairment involving the trunk
but with good or mild upper limb function, or can have severe arm
impairment and slight leg impairment, or can have severe degree of
impairment down one side.
- Grade III riders are usually able to walk
without support but may require a wheelchair for longer distances.
Riders can have moderate unilateral impairment, moderate impairment of all
four limbs, or severe arm impairment. Blind riders compete in this
category but must wear blacked-out glasses or a blindfold. Riders
who have learning disability also compete in this category at
- Grade IV riders have an impairment of one of
two limbs or a visual impairment at B2 level.
Riders with just a hearing impairment or who have a visual
impairment at B3 or B4 level are not eligible to compete at a
Paralympic Games in Para-Dressage. Riders with recovering or
deteriorating conditions such as MS are eligible but must have been
reclassified within six months of a World Championships or
Paralympic Games to ensure their classification is correct.
What struck me as I watched each rider enter the arena is that
no rider is the same; each has a disability that despite having to
live with is still as brave and determined to aim for that gold
Lee Pearson and Natasha Baker
were just two of the riders on the British team to bring home
medals. I was surprised whilst listening to the commentary that a
lot of riders were left disabled because of some form of riding
accident, bike, car or even motorbike accident.
Whilst we cannot even begin to imagine what it must feel like
thinking you will never ride, let alone walk again, each and every
rider that entered that arena were all as inspirational as the last
and deserved to be there.
One rider that can empathise with all of them is Claire
Lomas, a talented event rider that was left paralysed
after a freak accident whilst competing at Osberton Horse Trials in
I caught up with Claire and found out her thoughts on the
"Everyone's achievement is fantastic, both in the
Paralympics and Olympics - I have equal respect for all of the
competitors, they are all amazing."
Many people I have spoken to have commented on both how hard but
enjoyable it has been to watch the Paralympics. One particular
person I caught up with said it was difficult the varying forms of
disabilities shown on television. When I asked Claire her thoughts
on this she only had positive things to say.
"I have only heard good reports to be fair. These are
active, determined, dedicated athletes and I think most people have
seen them as that."
Despite wanting to applaud and show my encouragement to each
individual rider, the crowd were told not to unless instructed to
by the riders. This was so it did not spook or startle the horses
in case riders weren't able to hold them.
Instead we were told to wave at the riders and if they gave us
an instruction to clap, then we could. Although we were able to
once they were back with their trainers and out of the field of
Whilst it was strange not applauding a rider that had just
performed a beautiful test, it simply emphasised the hard work and
dedication they had clearly gone through to be there.
I enjoyed how accessible the Paralympics were to everybody,
tickets were cheaper and for those that didn't already have them,
1000 more became available on the day, making it both more
affordable and available to everyone.
Tickets did not have reserved seats, instead you could chose
where you sat and if you wanted different views from throughout the
day you could move to another vacant seat. Initially I thought this
would cause a problem but thankfully I didn't hear any grumbles
bout the seating arrangements and I was lucky enough to get right
at the front where the parents of the riders were sat!
Deborah Criddle on Akilles, riding for Great
Britain took second in the Grade III individual test to start the
afternoon off with what was a fantastically ridden test that was a
pleasure to watch.
The crowd went wild on Criddle leaving the arena and British
flags were flying everywhere. The 46 year-old, who had her right
arm amputated in 2003 after losing the use of it in a motorcycle
accident in 1985.
In the afternoon the crowd were treated to an amazing ride by
Sophie Christiansen whose score was clearly
unbeatable and almost 11% above second place for quite some
Christiansen, 24, was born with cerebral palsy and had other
health problems including jaundice, blood poisoning, a heart attack
and a collapsed lung. She took up riding at the age of six through
Riding for the Disabled, and what had begun as physiotherapy
eventually became her life's passion.
When the last riders score was confirmed and wasn't a patch on
Christiansen's the crowd were mesmerised and stood to give her a
standing ovation as she departed the field of play.
The whole arena was covered with British flags and I would be
surprised if there was a dry eye in the whole of the crowd as they
all went wild.
Natasha Baker, Lee Pearson, Deborah Criddle, Sophie
Wells and Sophie Christiansen were all in their own ways
deserving medallists. Between them they brought home 11
medals, consisting of 5 golds, 5 silvers and 1 bronze.
The great, Lee Pearson has won nine Paralympics gold medals at
three successive Games, along with six world titles. He has a
remarkable 100 percent success rate in Paralympic competition.
Having been to both the Olympics and Paralympics I was
absolutely thrilled with how successful and well they were both
ran. The opportunity to watch our fantastic athletes compete and
even come home with medals in our home country was one I will never
forget. Wiping away a tear as I shouted, chanted and stood for
Christiansen to take her Gold I had no other feeling at that very
moment that being proud to be British.