Hong Kong, China, September 7, 2008 -- The American Paralympians take to the center stage tomorrow at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Sha Tin at the Hong Kong Jockey Club. Twenty-eight countries will be represented, 11 of which are fielding teams.
Leading off for the U.S. in the first team spot will be Barbara Grassmyer riding her own wonderful mare, Mibis. Grassmyer, who is Grade III, will go down the centerline in Sha Tin's main arena at 7:54 a.m.
Grassmyer, who was born with Aperts Syndrome, has been forging a partnership with Mibis for four years. Grassmyer and the 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare were most recently third at the 2008 U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF) Paraequestrian National Championship and represented the U.S. at the 2007 World Championship.
"I'm very excited to be representing my country for the second time with my horse," said Grassmyer, who lives in Placerville, Calif. "She's improved, we've been doing lots of training. I've been working on moving her more off my seat and leg. She's a lovely mare, the best horse I've ever owned."
Rebecca Hart is second to ride for the USA at 10:24 a.m. Hart, who is Grade II, will ride Norteassa. At 23, she is one of the younger riders in the competition. This Erie, Pa., pair enters their first Paralympic Games on a roll, having recently won the 2008 USEF National Paraequestrian Championship (which also served as the selection trial).
"The first Paralympics I went to I watched," said Hart, who was born with Familial Spastic Paraplegia. "But I wasn't behind the scenes. The dynamic with our own country and the other countries is really, really awesome. It is great to work with everyone on an individual level and work with everyone together to represent the USA."
Lynn Seidemann rides in the third slot for the U.S. Team; she will ride Rhett at 7:24 tomorrow evening. A Grade 1b, Seidemann is paralyzed from the belly button down as a result of a skiing accident. She represented the USA at the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games, winning a silver medal in the individual freestyle competition.
From Coppell, Texas, Seidemann has two kids, ages 11 and 16, and works full-time at Microtune, Inc when she's not representing her country.
Rhett, a 10-year-old KWPN gelding, is owned by Kathryn Groves.
The final team member, Robin Brueckman will ride tomorrow evening under the lights at 10:24 p.m. Brueckman will ride Radetzky a 7-year-old Trakehner gelding in the Grade IV class.
From Sumerfield, N.C., Brueckman suffered a fall on ice and developed reflex sympathetic dystrophy in her right leg as a result, requiring that she ride without stirrups. Bruekman brings a sparkling resume to this year's Games. She has already picked up medals at both the 2003 and 2007 Paraequestrian World Championships and has trained two horses to Grand Prix.
Rounding out Team USA is Keith Newerla. Newerla is riding Walk On The Moon as an individual in the Grade Ib class. From King of Prussia, Pa., Newerla represented the U.S. at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens. He has cerebral palsy. This year he has been forming a new partnership with David O'Connor's Walk On The Moon.
The 11-year-old Irish Thoroughbred gelding has also been a very successful event horse and show jumper but only started on the road to his first Paralympic Games in 2008.
When he first purchased Walk On The Moon, O'Connor had these Olympic Games in mind for himself and the young event horse. But the individual eventing gold medalist from the 2000 Olympic Games now serves as the USEF president and retired from top level competition in 2004--Walk On The Moon got to make the trip to Hong Kong anyway.
Newerla and Walk On The Moon compete on Tuesday evening in the first round of individual competition.
Paralympians compete in dressage and are classified by grade according to the severity of their disability ranging from Grade Ia - Grade IV. Grade Ia is the most severe.
All 71 horses passed the horse inspection yesterday, and the U.S. horses looked especially fit and well, thanks to chef d'equipe and coach Missy Ransehousen, Dr. Stacey Kent, assistant coach Sharon Schneidemann and all the grooms and support staff.