GALLOWAY, NJ — Dr. Kerri Sowers, DPT, PhD(c), NCS, has been named to the Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI) Classification Working Group.

The FEI, founded in 1921, is the sole controlling authority for all international equestrian events in Dressage and Para-Equestrian Dressage, Jumping, Eventing, Driving and Para-Equestrian Driving, Endurance, Vaulting, and Reining. It establishes the regulations and approves equestrian programs at championships, continental and regional games as well as the Olympic and Paralympic Games, according to the FEI website.

Sowers, of Galloway, N.J., is an Assistant Professor of Health Science at Stockton University. She is an FEI Level 2 Classifier for para-equestrian sport and a USEF National Classifier, and she serves on the USEF Adaptive Sports Committee and the USEF License and Official PE Working Group. In addition to her experience as a classifier, Sowers is an accomplished dressage rider who has competed successfully through the FEI levels, according to the announcement by United States Equestrian Federation (USEF).

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Sowers obtained her DPT from Stockton University in 2008 and is currently completing her PhD in Physical Therapy at Nova Southeastern University. She is a board-certified clinical specialist in neurologic physical therapy by the American Board of Physical Therapy and continues to focus on neurological clinical practice at a variety of rehabilitation centers. Her research focuses on stress, fatigue, quality of life for individuals diagnosed with Primary Immunodeficiency, and on balance and movement assessment of para-equestrian athletes.

Sowers started riding at the age of 6 but in a western saddle and on a Paint horse. At the age of 10 she watched a video of Olympian Robert Dover riding a freestyle to “One Moment in Time” and that piqued her interested in dressage. “I was able to get serious about riding dressage when I got Kazan — he was a 4-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding — I was 16 at the time,” she said.

In 1997 she started riding with another many time Olympian, Jessica Ransehousen in Unionville, Pa. “Kazan and I were able to move up the levels together. We competed in the NAJYRC in 2001, had a team silver and individual bronze. We continued to move up to PSG/I1, and schooled grand prix when he was sidelined with an injury.”

A few years later, several para-riders started training with Ransehousen and her daughter Missy, who is now coach of the U.S. Para-Dressage Team. “They usually needed a groom and extra help with the horses at the shows, so I initially just helped to groom and handle horses. In 2005, I went back to school for my doctorate in physical therapy. At that time, I was grooming and helping at quite a few CPEDI shows. I brought Kazan out of semi-retirement for one of the para athletes to use in 2010.” Rebecca Hart went on to win the 2010 USEF Para-Equestrian Championship aboard Kazan.

“I also learned about classification during my time helping as a groom and owner, and a few people mentioned once I completed my PT degree, I could become involved in classification,” Sowers said.

Sowers will serve as one of two para-dressage classifiers at the World Equestrian Games to be held in September in Tryon, N.C.

Meanwhile, Sowers still competes although not as often since her schedule is so busy. She has a 13-year-old gelding she bought as a 3-year-old. He has shown through Prix St. Georges, the beginning of the international levels of dressage. “I am hoping to have a bit more time to get back out in the arena next year,” Sowers said. She also has two youngsters — a homebred mare, Haagen-Dazs, 6, and a 2-year-old gelding, Lexington TF, bred by Timbach Farm.

Sowers still has 28-year-old Paint horse mare but lost Kazan to severe founder just a few months ago.

According to the USEF: The FEI Classification Working Group is appointed by the FEI Para-Equestrian (PE) Technical Committee and determines whether an athlete has an eligible health condition or impairment to qualify for an FEI classification through a thorough review of application and medical documentation submitted by the athletes. The Classification Working Group has been established to oversee, on behalf of the FEI and the FEI PE Technical Committee, activities pertaining to the classification of athletes competing in para-equestrian dressage and para-equestrian driving.

The competitor’s mobility, strength, and coordination are assessed in order to establish their Classification Profile. People with similar functional ability profiles are grouped into competition Grades. The competition within each Grade can therefore be judged on the skill of the individual competitor on their horse, regardless of the competitor’s impairment.

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