British Dressage launches new initiative to support riders with intellectual impairments

  • Written By: British Dressage
  • Published: Tue, 23 Apr 2024 13:14

British Dressage is proud to launch a new partnership with Virtus and SportExcel UK, to offer opportunities for those training and competing with intellectual impairments.

We are committed to breaking down any barriers to participation and ensuring that the sport of dressage is inclusive and accessible to all, regardless of an individual’s ability or disability.  However, the current Para Classification system focuses primarily on physical and visual impairments, and we want to ensure that there are equal opportunities available for those who have intellectual challenges to overcome too.

We are therefore delighted to form an association with Virtus and SportExcel UK, to signpost new classification eligibility and competition pathways for riders with intellectual disabilities.  Virtus is the global organisation that governs, advocates, and organises elite sports for athletes with an intellectual impairment, while SportExcel UK is the official British member of Virtus that promotes, facilitates, and supports talented athletes to train, compete and excel in national and international sport.

Equestrian sport is one of the newest additions to Virtus, with dressage making its competitive debut in 2016. The competition environment is mixed with opportunities for virtual and in-person competing both nationally and internationally, culminating in the prestigious Virtus Global Games.

As with para dressage, to compete across a range of levels and tests, riders require national and international classification, which we can now offer via SportExcel UK.  SportExcel UK is recognised by UK Sport and is a member of the British Paralympic Association.  Their vitally important role is to lead and manage the eligibility and classification of British athletes for inclusion within Virtus competition activity.

Classification and eligibility are assessed based on the level of intellectual disability and how this affects the individual’s daily life, as well as their ability to respond to life changes and environmental demands.  Other classifications consider Down Syndrome and Autism, with these categories defined separately to allow fairer competition for those with additional sensory and physical impairments. 

Eligibility with SportExcel UK then opens doors to Virtus competition, which is split into two categories: performance and development. Virtus run online competitions throughout each year, with both categories available at varying grades and levels. Competitions are judged by an FEI judge, offering the opportunity to integrate valuable feedback and learning into training and future goals. 

For those wishing to take on even greater challenge, the Virtus pathway also leads to Regional and Global Games. Regional Games are held in-person, every two years, and seek to identify riders from across the world and prepare them for the Global Games. 

Jason Brautigam, British Dressage CEO, commented: “We always say that everyone is welcome in dressage, and this new partnership reaffirms our commitment to ensuring that there are genuinely equal opportunities for all.  We need to break down any barriers that exist to participation, to ensure we are a truly inclusive and accessible sport.

“Thanks to the support of Virtus and SportExcel, we can now help riders with intellectual impairments reach their dressage goals.  With their knowledge and expertise, we can work together to open new pathways for riders already training and competing with British Dressage, as well as attract new people into the sport, who may have previously found the prospect too daunting.  We’re looking forward to working with SportExcel UK and Virtus as we strive towards greater equality and inclusivity, offering dressage opportunities for all.”

To find out more about intellectual impairment, Virtus and Sport Excel please click the button below.  


Key contacts

British Dressage 
Emma Bayliss 

British Dressage and Virtus Equestrian Committee 
Amanda Rodgers

SportExcel UK 
0203 633 6460