Every athlete heading to the Olympics faces enormous and complex challenges. It is the passion for your sport that carries you through these. This year I am one of those athletes.? Unique to my sport as an equestrian is the additional challenge that all horseback riders share of convincing a large independent-minded quadruped that it also wants to go to the Olympics, or at least wants the carrots enough that it will go along with the idea. My name is Rebecca Hart.? I am disabled.? I have Familial Spastic Paraplegia, a rare progressive disease that causes muscle wasting and paralysis from the midback down. Over the course of my life I have often been defined by this disability. The terminology has changed but the idea is the same.? I have been differently abled, a person with a disability, crippled, handicapped, handicapable, and physically challenged. This is, however, not what I call myself.? I call myself a para-equestrian, but first and foremost an equestrian. I was lucky enough to find my passion as a young girl.? I remember sitting on my first pony at a carnival and loving it. It gave me the freedom to be me; to be me as I saw me, able to move?beautifully, gracefully.? My poor father couldn?t have dreamed what was coming his way.? Every little girl goes through that horse crazy phase, right? Unfortunately for my dad, I seem to have missed the memo on it being ?just a phase,? because this phase was here to stay.? Over the last 20 years I have been cultivating my passion for horses.? I have learned and continue to learn about myself, my limitations, and my strengths. What started out as a therapeutic hobby has gone beyond my wildest dreams and turned into a full-blown international career, this year being particularly exciting as it is an Olympic/Paralympic year.? For those of you who may not be familiar with the term or discipline of para-equestrian, here’s a brief background. Para-equestrian is a new and developing sport in the United States and the rest of the world.? It is the eighth discipline recognized by the United States Equestrian Federation and the eighth discipline of the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), the international governing body for all Olympic equestrian disciplines.? Para-equestrian includes all equestrian disciplines practiced by people with physical disabilities.? ?Para? means parallel to able-bodied equestrian sports.? Many disabled athletes are able to hold their own in able-bodied competition.? In para-equestrian, each rider or driver is classified according to his or her functional ability and given a grade level in which they compete.? The competition within each grade level is judged on the skill of the rider or driver and not on the level of disability.? The primary focus of the para-equestrian programs are to provide clinic and competition opportunities for athletes with physical disabilities.? However, horses also provide a therapeutic benefit.? A horse’s gait mirrors a human gait and can help to improve an individual?s balance, mobility, coordination and muscle tone. What makes? para-equestrian so unique is that it gives athletes the opportunity to compete at the highest international levels of competition, which include the World Equestrian Games and the Paralympics. The Paralympics, not to be confused with the Special Olympics, is an elite sporting event held two weeks after the Olympics at the same venues, for athletes with physical disabilities.? Currently the only para-equestrian sport recognized at the Paralympic level is para-dressage. I personally compete in para-dressage–essentially ballet on horseback. As it ?takes two to tango,? let me introduce you to my dancing partner, Lord Ludger or ?LoLu.?? Lolu is a Holsteiner gelding trained through Prix St. George, the introductory level for international dressage competition.? LoLu and I have been together for about a year now.? LoLu is a slightly quirky, but incredibly talented individual.? He tends to run a little on the hotter side of life, but I love that about him. He brings his own kind of passion to what we do together. We are about four weeks out from the selection trials for the 2012 Paralympic Games.? I hope you will come along with us as we work to make the team and hopefully dance on to London!