Riders with intellectual impairment

British Dressage are proud to be involved with Virtus and SportExcel, signposting a classification eligibility and competition pathway for riders with intellectual impairment.

Virtus is the global organisation that governs, advocates, organises and promotes many elite sports for athletes with an intellectual impairment. SportExcel UK lead and manage the eligibility of British athletes for inclusion within Virtus in the UK and are recognised by UK Sport as well as being a member of the British Paralympic Association. They evaluate whether an athlete is eligible for registration and therefore able to compete with Virtus.  

Equestrian sport is one of the newest additions to Virtus, with Dressage making its debut in 2016. The competition environment is mixed with opportunities for virtual and in-person competing both nationally and internationally. Levels can range from Europeans to Worlds culminating in the prestigious Global Games. Athletes ride a mix of FEI Para Grade III & IV Novice and Intermediate tests with the minimum age for competing at live Virtus competitions being 14 years old. Athletes of any age can compete in the virtual competitions which are hosted three times per year.


To compete with Virtus you will need to be classified. This is different to the classification that you would have with British Equestrian who would grade you according to your physical disability. There are different types of competitions available depending on the level that you compete at:

1. UK Level Classification

This is for athletes starting out in the sport or those who have not yet reached national or international standards. Applications at National level are approved by SportExcel and then referred to Virtus for ratification. UK level classification exists to support athletes as they progress towards international levels. Athletes will be eligible for II1 and/or II2, or II3 (see below for more information on eligibility groups) and from this may choose which class to enter.

2.  Virtus International Classification

This is for athletes who are progressing on the performance pathway or have reached national or international standards. Applications are evaluated by SportExcel to ensure an application is complete before submitting to Virtus.

All classification applications must go via SportExcel and each application is evaluated separately.

Eligibility groups

  • II 1:  Athletes with an intellectual disability; eligibility requires evidence of IQ - full scale low IQ of 75 or under, evidence of limitations in adaptive behaviour, a measure of how learning disability affects daily life and the ability respond to life changes and environmental demands. Evidence of age of onset must be before 22 years of age.  
  • II 2: Athletes with an intellectual disability and significant additional impairment – some athletes who have an intellectual disability may also have additional impairments or syndromes, for example Downs Syndrome. This category was created to allow fairer competition for those with additional physical or sensory impairments. Athletes will need a formal diagnosis of Trisomy 21 or Translocation Down Syndrome or a diagnosis of LL1 and meet the minimum criteria for additional impairment according to the Virtus FAST assessment. This is only a national eligibility.
  • II 3: Athletes with Autism. A formal diagnosis of Autism or ASD carried out by qualified practitioners, using accepted diagnostic techniques. Both the ICD and DSM 5 definition of Autism are accepted. II3 athletes cannot also have an intellectual disability. If they do have an intellectual disability, they should apply under class II1.

Evidence for each element of each class needs to accompany classification applications for both UK and international levels. The criteria is the same for both levels, but different evidence can be accepted. You can find a flow chart linked to classification eligibility in the Virtus Rulebook below.



The SportExcel UK have an Eligibility Application form and accompanying guidance notes that explain the eligibility. 

The form will have a checklist clarifying the evidence that you require for that level of classification, which may be something that you already have, if you have had an official diagnosis previously.  If you do not have any of the evidence that is required and are eligible to apply, then SportExcel can help you find a suitable health professional to get the evidence that you require. Please note all costs involved are the responsibility of the athlete as well as timelines for application and competing. By applying there is no guarantee that eligibility will be approved.


Competition opportunities

Once you have your eligibility confirmed, you will be ready to compete! You will need to decide which level to compete at dependant on your riding ability - there are two levels of competition at Virtus:

  • Performance – the performance level tests are taken from the FEI Grade lV for II1 and II3 riders. For II2 riders, the Novice and Intermediate tests are used from FEI Grade lll. They include walk, trot, canter and lateral movements. They are open to eligible athletes who can walk, trot and canter. The performance tests are used for national and international competitions. Qualification to ride at international live competitions is gained from achieving scores from the video competitions and are ridden in a 20x40 arena.
  • Development - The development level tests are taken from the FEI Grade ll Novice and Intermediate tests and are ridden in a 20x40 arena. These tests are developmental and more encouraging than the ones used for performance level. They include walk, trot and some lengthened strides.

Virtual competition

Virtus run an online competition series throughout the year consisting of three opportunities to film your test and have it scored by an FEI judge. The first and third tests in the series feed through to the Virtus four-year cycle of competitions. The second test, whilst not a qualifier, is a good opportunity to practise for the next test in the series and will be scored by an FEI judge. See here for top tips on filming your virtual entry


Competition Dates Level FEI Tests Qualifying score Qualification
Virtual 1 1 January - 31 January. Results: 28 February Performance II 1 & 3: FEI Grade lV Novice B & Intermediate A. II 2: FEI Grade lll Novice B & Intermediate A 58%  
Development II 1, 2 & 3: Grade ll Novice A & Intermediate A  
Virtual 2 1 April - 30 April. Results: 31 May Performance II 1 & 3: FEI Grade lV Novice B & Intermediate A. II 2: FEI Grade lll Novice B & Intermediate A 58% Regional Games
Development II 1, 2 & 3: Grade ll Novice A & Intermediate A  
Virtual 3 1 October - 31 October. Results: 30 November Performance II 1 & 3: FEI Grade lV Novice B & Intermediate A. II 2: FEI Grade lll Novice B & Intermediate A 58%  
Development II 1, 2 & 3: Grade ll Novice A & Intermediate A  


The Regional Games are held in-person and are once every two years. They are designed to identify talented athletes from across the world and prepare them for World and Global Games. The calendar for competitions will rotate on a 4-year cycle as below.

  • Year 1: Open European Championships 2024, 15-19 July 2024 at Sparsholt College
  • Year 2: World Games 2025, venue TBC
  • Year 3: Regional Games 2026, venue TBC
  • Year 4: Global Games 2027, venue TBC

Global Games

The Virtus Global Games are the world’s biggest sports event for elite athletes with an intellectual impairment. The 6th edition that took place in 2023 in Vichy, France and were the first ever to include live Dressage competition. After five years of virtual competition, dressage achieved its spot at the highest level at the Virtus Global Games. Two British Dressage riders, Christopher Bradley and Georgina Maton, represented the UK. Whilst you are allowed to compete on your own horse, some athletes rode borrowed horses which makes competing internationally more affordable. If you get to this stage, these options will be discussed with you by your Team Manager.

Read more about the games from Oliver Peace and Christopher Bradley who are experienced Virtus competitors!


Selection for international competitions

For more information on the selection process see the Sport Excel UK Selection Policy below:


Have more questions about the games? Take a look in our frequently asked questions document or email Amanda Rodgers, who is part of the the Virtus Equestrian Committee, at virtusdressage@gmail.com