Back to Rio: Your Guide to the Paralympic Games

The 2016 Paralympic Games kicks off tonight with opening ceremonies and para-dressage competition begins this weekend. Here’s everything you need to know.

First held in Rome in 1960, the Paralympic Games is held every four years in conjunction with the Olympic Games (a winter version is also held, in conjunction with the Winter Olympics). Welcoming athletes with a wide range of disabilities, the Paralympics offers 22 sports for athletes of varying classifications. The name “Paralympics” is a portmanteau of “parallel” and “Olympics,” indicating that the competition is held alongside the Olympic games.

Equestrian’s history at the Paralympics traces back to the 1996 Atlanta games, where 16 countries were represented. Para-equestrians compete in dressage, and the event is open to four impairment groups: amputees/dwarfism, blind/visually impaired, spinal cord injury/paralyzed/wheelchair users and traumatic brain injury/cerebral palsy/stroke.

Get inspired by watching these highlights from the London 2012 Paralympic Games:

Competition format

Much like dressage at the Olympics, riders will compete both individually and for their nation’s team. Individual competition is further broken down to a regular test and a musical freestyle.Unlike the Olympics, however, there is no qualification system for subsequent rounds: all riders will perform both the individual test and the freestyle.

The arena itself is somewhat smaller than the arena used for the Olympics, both for safety and for accessibility. Riders may use additional assistive devices, such as dressage whips, rubber bands and certain tack that would be otherwise illegal in competition.

Riders are classified based on their impairment and compete against other riders within their class: here’s a very basic rundown (click here for more information on classification)

  • Grade Ia: athletes with the most severe impairment, typically requiring a wheelchair in daily life, severely restricted control in arms and legs
  • Grade Ib: similar to Ia for athletes with severe impairment in varying degrees
  • Grade II: athletes with severe impairments in both legs or moderate full-body impairment
  • Grade III: athletes with severe impairment of the arms, moderate impairment of the body or may be short in stature. LEg amputees compete without a prosthesis. Severe visual impairments are considered Grade III.
  • Grade IV: athletes with a range of mild impairments in the arms, legs or body. Leg amputees compete with a prosthesis. Moderate visual impairments are also considered Grade IV.
Who is competing

Team USA consists of the following riders:

  • Angela Peavy (Grade III) age 20
  • Margaret McIntosh (Grade Ia) age 61
  • Rebecca Hart (Grade II) age 31
  • Roxanne Trunnell (Grade Ia) age 31
  • Sydney Collier (Grade Ib) age 18
When does competition take place?
  • Sunday, September 11: Team Tests for Grades III and Ib
  • Monday, September 12: Team Tests for Grades IV and Ia
  • Tuesday, September 13: Team Test for Grade II and Individual Championship Test for Grade III (medal)
  • Wednesday, September 14: Individual Championship Tests for Grades IV and Ib (medal)
  • Thursday, September 15: Individual Championship Tests for Grades II and Ia (medal)
  • Friday, September 16: Individual Freestyle Tests for all grades (medal)
How to watch

Some sports at the Paralympics will be live-streamed by Team USA; however, equestrian will be available only via on-demand after the competition. View Team USA livestream information by clicking here. Other events will also be aired by NBC and NBC Sports Network; view that schedule by clicking here.

Go para-equestrians, and go riding!

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