The United States Para-Equestrian Association (USPEA) includes every equestrian discipline that is practiced by athletes with physical disabilities. Each rider or driver competes under the eighth discipline, The Para-Equestrian discipline, of the United States Equestrian Federation.
In June 2010, the USPEA earned its 501 (c)(3) status which has encouraged supporters to help supply funding to the Para-Equestrian Team as a recognized affiliate of the United States Equestrian Federation(USEF). Three months later in September 2010 the USEF High Performance Para-Equestrian Dressage Team made history with their debut at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ held in Lexington, Kentucky.
The USPEA is a recognized affiliate of the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) and provides programs, clinics, and competition opportunities for athletes with physical disabilities. Riders compete under the USEF rules during their national competitions and FEI rules during international competition.
In the Para-Equestrian discipline, each rider or driver is classified according to his or her functional ability. Trained physiotherapists and doctors who evaluate muscle strength, coordination, throughout the athlete’s body, assess Para-Equestrian athletes. The athlete is then given a functional profile that indicates the grade in which they can compete. The competition within each grade is judged on the functional skill of the rider or driver and not the level of disability.
After applying the selection criteria, considering the horse and rider combinations, their rankings and scores at the trials, and a team is selected. Riders are ranked into Grades, which have been created to allow riders with the same abilities to challenge each other. The five Grades include Ia, Ib, II, III, and IV. Grade Ia represents the more severely impaired riders and Grade IV represents the least impaired riders. For a comparison to regular Dressage, FEI Para Equestrian Grades Ia and Ib are equivalent to USDF Intro Level, FEI Para Equestrian Grade II is equivalent to USEF Training level, FEI Para Equestrian Grade III is equivalent to USEF First Level, and FEI Para Equestrian Grade IV is equivalent to USEF Third Level.
Most nationally recognized horse shows such as United States Dressage Federation Shows will permit a para-equestrian to compete and be judged at each horse show. The rider will then earn points towards national points and rankings.
The primary focus of the USPEA programs are to provide clinic and competition opportunities for athletes with physical disabilities. Many of our USPEA athletes were first introduced to horses through their therapeutic riding programs. The therapy program objectives are to introduce riding to improve balance, joint mobility, coordination, muscle tone and posture to ease symptoms of a wide variety of disabilities. It is a well know fact that horse’s gaits parallel that of the human.
What makes USPEA so special is that a person with a disability can compete in an exciting and well respected sport as an elite athlete and be judged on their abilities. A Para-Equestrian has the opportunity to reach the highest level of their sport including National Championships, World Equestrian Games, and the Olympics.