Sir Lee Pearson CBE is an 11 times Paralympic games gold medallist having represented British para-equestrian sport at the 2000 Sydney, 2004 Athens, 2008 Beijing, 2012 London and 2016 Rio Games. His interest in para-equestrian dressage began when he watched the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics. Over the course of his career he has won 30 gold medals at European, World and Paralympic level.

Para Equestrian Lee Pearson photographed as Zeus by Claire Newton

Early life

David Lee Pearson was born on the 4th of February 1974 with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita which meant that the muscles in his arms and legs grew as scar tissue in the womb. From the moment he was born he faced many challenges, from nurses being terrified of giving his mother the news of his disability to fighting to attend a mainstream school as a child before openly coming out as gay aged 20. 

When he was just a boy, he made his first public appearance in 1980, when he was famously carried up the stairs of the British Prime Minister’s residence of 10 Downing Street by Margaret Thatcher after having been awarded a ‘Children of Courage’ medal. 

Growing up on a small holding in Staffordshire, his parents bought him a donkey because his legs were encased in plastic from the hips to the heel, so he couldn't pedal a bike.

I had a donkey called Sally that I used to call my BMX bike…. As a child I wasn't a very good horse rider, I thought falling off was normal and I would just get back on again. I didn't realise you weren't meant to fall off.

Life as a Paralympic athlete

Lee discovered Para Equestrian dressage while watching the Atlanta 1996 Paralympics on TV:

I didn't even know they had equestrian, and I just thought maybe I can do that, if I can learn this sport of dressage.

He also saw it as a way out of the office job he had done for six years, saying:

I am actually allergic to paperwork.

The result of his riding assessment shocked Lee:

I thought I was quite able bodied because I drove, I was working, clubbing and they put me at that stage into the most disabled category. I was horrified.

Lee’s career achievements were recognised at the Rio 2016 Paralympics when he was chosen as the ParalympicsGB flagbearer for the Opening Ceremony, leading the team into the Maracana at his fifth Games.

In July 2016, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) listed the competition between Lee and Austrian dressage star Pepo Puch as one of ‘50 unmissable events.’

Lee runs his own dressage yard in Staffordshire and shares his passion by teaching many other athletes around the country. Although Lee’s disability means he rides a walk-trot test in para competitions, he has trained horses up to grand prix level, such as Blue Circle Boy, who won three golds at Athens.

In 2020, Lee took on another huge challenge and became a foster father, something he had been considering for many years. 

On Friday, 18th June 2021, British Equestrian and the British Dressage para selectors confirmed Lee, with his own horse, Breezer, as one of the 12 para dressage athlete and horse combinations to be submitted to the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) as nominated entries for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. 

The Paralympics for me is the only place where disabled people have the opportunity to change public perception… We were a very ignorant country years ago, but we are not anymore – I know that when I get an able-bodied child coming up to me and saying: "You're my hero." And I think, how can I be a hero swinging around on crutches? You know that the world is a better place when people can come up to a severely disabled person and say: 'Well done, you are an inspiration.'


In 2010, Lee shared his sporting philosophy in a Channel4 interview:

Control the controllables. That's from my sports psychologist. People get fed up in life about different things, but there's no point getting fed up about something you can't control. 

In February 2021, Lee told BBC Sport:

I am a strong character but the only thing that makes me emotional was being voted the flagbearer for the Great Britain team at the opening ceremony of the Rio Games in 2016…... It wasn't about me, it was the message we sent out to other countries. I was interviewed a lot about it and I really tried hard in my own way to say I was flattered because I am 'alternative' and this was something that was chosen by the whole of the GB team. I hope it sent a message out to other nations where diverse sexuality is oppressed and still not accepted and where sometimes you can even be put to death.

Going on to say:

I've broken most bones since I started riding aged eight…. I've broken my back in four places, broke my collarbone, ripped all the skin off one side of my face, been unconscious twice, had to be airlifted to hospital by Midlands Air Ambulance - so don't try to tell me it isn't masculine.

Paralympic sport, and the British team in particular, can be very proud we are a strong group of unique characters. 

When The Netherlands’ Nicole Den Dulk was asked “If you could have dinner with anyone, who would you like to eat with?” in a 2018 interview, she replied:

That’s a tough one. It’s a bit cheesy but I would say Lee Pearson. He is such a nice guy and, at competitions, we don't really have the time to sit down. I would love to follow him at his place for a day to see how he does it all and be on top for so long. We have a great friendship and I sincerely love him. 

Watch Lee try sailing with Paralympian Helena Lucas MBE and return the favour, introducing Helena to horse riding.

Achievements and awards

Paralympic Games

Lee won three golds for team, individual and freestyle at the Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 Summer Paralympic Games, setting an equestrian world record by being unbeaten at three consecutive Games. 

London 2012 saw him win three more medals, team gold and individual silver and bronze in the Grade Ib competition. 

At Rio 2016 Lee’s medal count rose again with another gold and silver in the individual competition.

Watch Lees’ gold winning Individual Freestyle Grade 1B test.

Other sporting events

In 2003, he became the first disabled person to win at the British Dressage National Championships, competing against 2,000 non-disabled riders to take the Elementary Restricted title. 

By April 2021, Lee had won 14 World Championship titles.

Other awards and recognition

In 2001 Lee was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), for services to disabled sports, followed in the 2005 New Years Honours list with Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to equestrianism and to disabled sport and in 2009, Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to equestrianism and to disabled sport. 

Further recognition came in 2017 when his achievements and contribution to equestrian sport and charity work saw him receive a knighthood in the New Year Honours list.

It’s great for Paralympic sport as well because no other competing Paralympian has ever been knighted and certainly no other competing rider in equestrian sport either…. I love the recognition, not just for me but for all my support too. It does take getting used to though, but I’m still just Lee. 

Paralympic Heroes Past & Present - The artist Clare Newton photographed many GB Paralympians veterans and current champions which led to an exhibition in 2017. Lee was involved in this project, for his portrait he was photographed as Zeus.