Dance of the Paralympics Dressage Horse and Rider

Thirty-eight-year-old dressage athlete Lee Pearson has won nine medals, including gold at the 2012 London Paralympics! Pearson admits his horsemanship did not come easy. He was born with arthrogryposis–also known as arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC)–a congenital condition characterized by joint contractures and weak muscles, which do not grow correctly in the womb. For Peason, his condition resulted in restricted movement in all limbs, and he has no movement in his ankles and knees. When he first applied to participate in the Paralympics, he was shocked at that category in which he was placed. He says, “I thought I was quite able-bodied because I drove, I was working, clubbing, and they put me…into the most disabled category.” When asked how he stays motivated, Pearson replies, “I’ve got a mortgage to pay.” He also adds, “It’s the love of horses that keeps me going, not the love of winning, even though I love winning. I just love the development of horses, getting into their brains, making them more athletic and powerful, responsive and…I’m rubbish at everything else.” He has not only won medals at the Paralympics–he also has 19 World and European Championship gold medals. At the British Dressage National Championships in 2003, he beat 2,000 non-disabled competitors. The win made him the only disabled athlete ever to have done so. Although he took Bronze at this year’s Paralympics and did not achieve his “12 by 2012” gold medal goal, he’s optimistic for breaking new records in 2016. More importantly, Pearson still loves his sport. “As a teenager I had horses, but I thought dressage was the most boring sport invented,” Pearson says, “I understand when people think dressage is boring, but while your standard horse is like driving a Fiesta, our horses are like driving Formula One cars. I can’t breathe without the horse reacting. You are training another being to become really responsive, and athletic, and powerful. And, I don’t mean to be cheesy relating this to disability, but, literally, you dance with another being.”