By Daniel Etchells

Great Britain's 10-time Paralympic gold medallist Lee Pearson was among the athletes at the Forum ©Getty ImagesA first ever Para-equestrian Forum has been held in Essen, with athletes and experts from 22 countries joining to tackle various key issues facing the sport. 

The two-day International Equestrian Federation (FEI)-sponsored event gave delegates the opportunity to engage in the future direction of Para-dressage, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary at Rio 2016, and discuss the wider backdrop of Para-equestrian sport.

Meeting the challenges of developing into Asia, South America and the Far East, and opening up the sport to young athletes across these regions and globally, were also key topics at the Forum.

"The FEI became one of the first international sports governing bodies to regulate global Para-sport alongside its seven able-bodied disciplines when Para-equestrian dressage joined its ranks in 2006," said Trond Asmyr, FEI director, dressage and Para-equestrian dressage.

"We have come a very long way since, and this Forum, which has welcomed almost 100 athletes and experts, produced extremely lively and helpful debates as we focus our efforts on further growing Para-equestrian sport worldwide.

"Everyone was immersed in the discussions - our athletes, officials, event organisers and our National Federations - giving us a valuable 360-degree view.

"Our Technical Committee went straight into session to tackle key areas raised during the Forum, which will now become an essential bi-annual event."

The two-day Forum gave delegates the opportunity to engage in the future direction of Para-equestrian dressage ©FEIThe two-day Forum gave delegates the opportunity to engage in the future direction of Para-equestrian dressage ©FEI

Craig Spence, the International Paralympic Committee's director of media and communications, tackled the future of Para-equestrian dressage within the Paralympic Movement, giving delegates useful tips on raising the profile of the sport, working with volunteers, using social media and putting the spotlight on athletes.

Sport-specific discussions ranged from increasing the number of international judges and Para-equestrian dressage team drop scores to latest classification news and compensating aids, while delegates also enjoyed a display of the up-and-coming sport of Para-reining.

Several high profile athletes attended the Forum, including Great Britain's Lee Pearson, who has won a record 10 Paralympic gold medals.

"The Forum was created with a genuine desire to listen and for two-way discussion," he said.

"Everyone is passionate about our sport.

"We all want the best for it, and want it to be people and public-friendly, and fair.

"I enjoyed the Forum, because it was real.

"The fact that the Forum will be bi-annual also puts a little pressure on to look back on what we asked for."

Para-equestrian dressage has been part of the Paralympic sport programme since its debut at the Atlanta 1996 Games.

Great Britain are the most successful nation at the Paralympics, having achieved a total of 45 medals, including 23 gold.

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 Inaugural Para-equestrian Forum to begin in Essen