The sport has come a long way since the first equestrian Paralympics 24 years ago. Polly Bryan looks at the growing quality and popularity of para dressage
In 1996, Britain’s Anne Dunham arrived at her first Paralympic Games in Atlanta, USA, where she dug her hand into a hat and drew out the name of the horse she would compete. That horse turned out to be Doodlebug, “a riding school pony who really did behave like a doodlebug in the arena!” remembers Anne, who won a bronze medal nonetheless.
A total of 59 disabled athletes from 16 nations, mounted on a motley bunch of horses, did battle for the medals in Atlanta, and in doing so, they cemented the status of dressage as a Paralympic sport.
In the 24 years since, the sport has changed almost beyond recognition; at the last Paralympic Games, in Rio in 2016, there were 76 riders representing 29 countries, all riding sleek, well-trained dressage horses – not a Doodlebug in sight. It was in Rio that Anne concluded her glittering career, adding a gold and two silver medals with spotted stallion LJT Lucas Normark to her hefty medal tally, but she still looks back fondly on her early Paralympic days.