The Dilemma

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, So, it’s Saturday afternoon. You bought your horse in from the field at about 10:30 that morning, but decided not to ride until late because of the weather being too hot. When you bought her in she was perfectly sound, but now you’ve tacked up, mounted up, taken three strides, and can’t ignore the fact that she is hopping lame. So now you have the dilemma. .having gone back to the stable, untacked, and done a fingertip search of her legs and feet, it’s clear that she’s very lame, but there’s no obvious cause. You think you should get the vet out, but it’s coming on 5p.m., now, it’s Saturday, and your vet is on emergency call outs only. What should you do?

Is this really an emergency? Yes, there’s obviously something wrong. However, your horse is bright, interested, eating, and full of cheek.

Just very, very lame. All those magazine articles that you have read, and all those Vet Talks you have attended over the years, in which the message is very clear, “if in doubt get the vet out”, run through your mind; But then though, you vividly remember the times you have been stood in the stable with a desperately sick horse watching the clock till the vet arrives. This is not one of those times. What to do for the best?

You could turn her out, and observe her, then call the vet out on Monday if she’s no better. She is very lame though, so something is definitely wrong. After all this is the first time she’s ever been lame since you’ve had her, and she must be in pain. What if you leave it until Monday, and the vet says, you should’ve called us sooner, we could’ve done something then?

This was the quandary I found myself In yesterday with Florence. I did call the vet to ask their advice, expecting them to tell me to do something to tide us over and that they would come and see her on Monday. In fact, because she was lame in walk, they decided it would be a good idea to come and take a look at her Then . However, The poor emergency weekend duty vet, was having such a busy day, that she didn’t actually get to us until gone 10 o’clock last night! She was exhausted!

The vet is of the opinion that Florence is lame on her front right leg. However, like me, she was unable to find an obvious seat of pain. Therefore, she has prescribed a short course of anti-inflammatories, and asked me to keep her on box rest for a few days. Hopefully that’ll do the trick. This means that, as Madame gets very upset when she’s left in the stable on her own for any length of time, Breeze is confined to barracks as well. .

. Mind you, when I went to feed them first thing this morning, there couldn’t have been two more content horses.

I had a lesson booked on Tuesday, and was planning on entering my first ever on-line Dressage competition next week.

Oh well, the best laid plans. So long as it really is nothing serious.

Taking Stock.

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It’s incredible to think that last week marked the 4th Anniversary of Magnum and Sapphire joining us here. What an adventure the last 4 years have been! I still have to pinch myself from time to time to make sure this is really happening. OK, it hasn’t all been plain sailing, sadly Magnum, Sapphire and Leonie have all taken their final journey, now it’s Florence and Breeze who greet me in the mornings, but, whisper it quietly, I’ve never been so happy..

Flo and Breeze seem very settled and content, and, again whisper it quietly, are glowing with health.. We must be doing something right.

Hal and I have started to have lessons at home. Having our own school is a blessing. However, do to Breezes propensity for laying down on the job, we are both riding poor, long suffering, Florence. . We’ve had two lessons so far. It was supposed to be more, but a stupid tandem accident, and the uncharacteristically hot weather (this is Devon in July, it’s supposed to be raining, not wall-to-wall sunshine and 28°), have been cramping our style for the last couple weeks. However, Hal is already trotted Florence, whilst I am working towards doing my first online dressage competition.

Despite her evident lack of desire to do any work, Breeze is proving to be a total sweetheart. She is lovely to handle on the ground, and has the kind of personality which makes it very difficult to get cross with when she is messing around. She’s a gentle soul and very easy to love.

Since Leo left us, quite a few people seem to have an opinion as to whether or not we are going to get another horse, or even whether we should. Some people asked the question. Other people tell us what we should or shouldn’t do. . Although I have to admit that it annoys me when, without being asked, people presume to tell me what I should or shouldn’t do, I am touched that so many people care. Yes, there will be another horse. As long as I am able to look after them properly, there will always be another horse. Mot yet though. Mostly because we can’t afford it right now, but also because, despite what Breeze might say, both our girls are rideable, so we don’t need another riding horse. Sadly, Hal’s back problem prevents him riding as much as we anticipated he would, and if truth be told, the whole Leonie situation has seriously damaged his already fragile confidence.

Florence and Breeze are an easy going pair, and for now Hal and I are just enjoying having these two lovely mares in our lives. Who knows what the future holds? For now I’m quite content with what the present has to offer.

The Invisible Equestrian, part 2 –

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Yesterday I started to write a post about Florence and my niece Hannah, but then I received a phone call that made me so angry that I’ll burst if I don’t get this off my chest!

I have been a member of the British Horse Society for a very long time, since i was 18 in fact. . I am, or at least I was, proud to be a BHS member. I honour their welfare work, am grateful for their campaigning, especially around access and rights of way and road safety, I am reassured by the insurance that my horses and I gain from my membership, have sought their advice on more than one occasion… you get the picture. On the whole if you are at all horsey, then the BHS is the organisation for you. They do appear to have one massive problem though. . They have an appalling attitude toward the disabled, and in particular blind and visually impaired people.

“Hang on, that’s not fair! What about the Accessibility Mark? ” I hear you all shout. Well, yes, anything that empowers disabled people to ride get’s my vote. Here’s the thing though, and it’s a biggy. They should be doing it anyway, it’s been the law since 1995, when the disability Discrimination Act hit the Statute Book. That’s right! Under the terms of the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act, and subsequently the Equalities Act 2010, those providing goods and services required to make reasonable adjustment to cater for the needs of people living with disabilities. Therefore the accessibility mark is an accreditation that shows riding schools are finally doing the things that they should have been doing by law for the last 28 years. It’s a bit like giving a restaurant an extra Michelin star because the kitchens meet the minimum health and hygiene standards required buy law.

Regardless of what you actually think about the accessibility mark though, it would be expected that the organisation to whom this award was accredited, would insure that they themselves met their legal obligations when it comes to disability access and reasonable adjustment. Frustratingly, when it comes to the BHS, this is not the case.

It has been a very long time since I have had enough useful vision to be able to read print. In very many cases this problem is overcome by the reasonable adjustments that variety of organisations put in place. I am fortunate enough to be able to read Braille, albeit extremely slowly, I am reasonably computer literate and use a variety of screen reader programs, One of which I am currently using to enable me to write this blog, I am of course also able to listen to audio tapes and CDs. Therefore I am reasonably open-minded as to ways in which organisations communicate with me or send me literature. Print however is an absolute no-no. You might as well not bother.

As a member of the BHS, I am in receipt of the quarterly members journal ‘British Horse’. However, whilst when I was younger, and able to read the printed word, it was eagerly anticipated, it has been a very long time since I have been able to read it. Over the years I have regularly asked BHS if they could provide me with a version in an alternative format. Sadly though my requests always seem to be ignored, overlooked, passed on. Somebody would look into it for me, somebody would get back to me. Nobody ever did. Until last year that is, when I really thought I struck gold. A lovely man called Dave prints, Who at the time was the incumbent editor of British horse, started to send me copies of the magazine by email as Word documents. Result!

This happy and proud member of the British for society has enjoyed a whole year of the British horse journal. Sadly Mr Prince retired earlier this year. I wish you a long and happy retirement, and I’m truly grateful for your help with getting an accessible format of the journal to me. However, it would appear that since Mr Prince retired, my accessible British Horse is mo more.

Yesterday I received a phone call which told me that I would no longer be receiving my accessibleversion of British horse. Not only that, but I was told that Mr prints should not have been sending me the magazine in Word document format because, and I quote, “It breaks security protocols”. Security! Really! How?

Now here’s the thing. The professional organisation to which I belong, Federation Of Holistic Therapists, also have a members quarterly journal, which, at their own instigation, they send to me as Word documents attached to an email. They’ve never mentioned security protocols, they just do it. My bank sends me my bank statements in braille, my credit card company sent me my statements as an audio disk, my pension company sends me an email with a link to an accessible website. My mobile phone company email me my monthly bill., The hospital emailed me about appointments, my vet both emails and texts me about appointments and emails me my bill, The wildlife trust to which I am a member Sensley the journal recorded on CD, even the Inland Revenue write to me in braille, but the British horse society cannot send me their journal in an accessible format because it breaches security protocols. What utter rubbish!

The truth is that the British horse society have an arrogant patronising attitude towards disability. They view those of us living with disability A’s ‘Less than’. . We are to be indulged and pitied. We are not to be treated as equals. Why would somebody who is disabled, especially somebody who is blind, be genuinely interested in, or have any knowledge of, horses for equestrianism? We are expected to shut up, put up, and be grateful for any crumbs that are thrown our wayi. t’s not good enough!

It’s time British Horse Society clambered down from it’s ivory tower, dragged itself into the 21st century, and met it’s legal obligations.

Laying Down on the Jov

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It turns out that Ben’s Mum, Helen, is a very good rider. She used to ride as a child and In her teens, but life, and motherhood, took her in a different direction. However, Ben’s interest has gradually lured her back into the saddle.. She began to have the occasional lesson with Melissa. Occasional morphed into regular. Then, a couple of months ago, she had a go on Breeze. . One go became two goes… Well, you get the picture. It’s a win win situation as far as I’m concerned. Helen gets to endulge her newly rekindled love for riding, Ben gets to share something with his Mum, and Breeze gets some much needed exercise. What’s not to like?

The trouble is, Breeze doesn’t see it that way. Vreeze is a real sweetie to handle, and, although she can be a dominant bossy boots towards other horses, doesn’t have a nasty bone in her body. However, she is very resourceful, has a will of iron, and, as far as she’s concerned, came here to retire. She also has a few tricks up her sleeve from her trekking centre days. I know from personal experience how easily she can slam herself into reverse, and how quickly she can go backwards.

So far Helen has been treated to; Breeze refusing to approach the mounting block. Helen took the block to Breeze instead.

Breeze going to the block, but then swinging her backside out just as Helen is on the point of mounting. Hellen is remarkably agile, and has mounted from all sorts strange angles. By and large Breeze now stands quietly at the block for Helen to mount..

Breeze is not above putting in the occasional fly buck. However, Helen always picks up on the massive, telegraph like signals that Breeze obligingly sends before doing it.

It really does seem that Breeze has to argue and complain as a matter of principle, but Helen is always ready with a counterargument; or at least it did until last weekend.

Last Saturday afternoon Breeze’s inventiveness surpassed all expectations. She stood to the mounting block nice and quietly whilst Helen got on and adjusted girth and stirrups. She then did some very nice work both in walk and trot, all the time with what seemed to be a happy relaxed smile on her face. Ben, slowing to halt, and looking like she might want to have a wee, she slowly and gracefully sank to the ground. Helen calmly stepped off her, expecting her to roll. Not a bit of it! Breeze just lay there with an expression on her face which clearly said “beat that!”.

Helen responded bye waiting for Madame to stand up, taking her back to the mounting block, and hopping on her from the strangest angle yet. She then made her to5 more minutes work, during which there were no more issues.

On Sunday Helen came and rode Breeze again and produced some of the best work they have ever done.

I truly believe that, whilst neither of them would admit it, they are both secretly enjoying the challenge.

Freak Show

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It’s been one of those weeks. It’s been frenetically busy, and I have come out of it feeling completely wiped out. . Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t all been doom and gloom, but there have been some challenges that I would rather have not had to face. There has been an unacceptable amount of focus, negativity, an, for want of a better word, prejudice, aimed at me , as blind , for my personal comfort, and not enough recognition of the whole person. I haven’t had much opportunity to shake It off by playing ponies.

An example of this happened on Thursday, when Hal and I spent a, mostly, enjoyable time at the Royal Cornwall Show. It isn’t the worst thing that happened this week, but it’s a prime example of the sort of thing that I, and countless other blind and visually impaired people, especially Guide Dog owners, and, I imagine, wheelchair users, have to deal with on a daily basis. . It’s also the most horsey related example of the week. . We

Are thinking about buying a trailer. So we thought Royal Cornwall Show would be a good place to d

Some research. Enter the idiot from Newgent Horse Boxes.

The conversation went like this.

Hal. Aha, horse boxes!

Me. Ooh, what make?

Hal. Newgent? Ring any bells?

Mee, squeezing between two closely parked trailers. No. Oh the ramp isn’t down. There’s no room back here.

Man, strolling over. Hello, can I …

ooh what a lovely dog!

Me. Shame the ramp isn’t down I’d have liked to gone inside

Man. Is it OK to say hello

Be, removing Quincey’s harness. What size horses will this take?

Man. Are you interested in horse boxes then?

Hal. Yes, we haven’t had one before so we’re just doing some homework

Man. Is he a collie? That’s unusual.

Me. He’s half collie half Golden Retrieber. So I’d be able to put 2 16.2’s in here?

Man. Hmm I think so. Yes, I think you can carry some quite large horses in here. You have horses then?

Hal. Yes, my wife is horse and. Is the floor aluminium?

Man. So do you ride then?

Me. Yes. What did you say oh say the floor was made of?

Man. Aluminium. So are you partially sighted or blind then?

Me. Totally blind… and what about the ramp, actually, is there a front ramp? Are they wood or ally?

Man. You must have excellent hearing

Me. Not really. What did you say the ramp was made of?

Man. Oh, aluminium. There’s no wood anywhere in the construction. The sides are some kind of composit

Me, tapping side of trailer. Oh I see

Man. You can really tell by doing that! You really do have heightened senses don’t you

Hal. So how much is one of these?

Man. Hmm, I think it’s about £6000.

Me, losing the will to live. Do you have a brochure?

If ever a man came across as not knowing anything about, or not having any interest in, his product, it was this chap. Frustratingly, this act of hyjacking of a situation by asking irrelevant , and sometimes extremely personal, questions about my Guide Dog, or my eyesight, happens on a daily basis. If I sat next to you on a bus or train, and, on noticing your wedding ring, exclaimed at the top of my voice in tones of total amazement, “your Married!?”, you would, rightly, be very offended. If I then went on to ask you if your spouse was ginger/blue-eyed/black/fat… too you would think I was both rude and weird. So why do you think it’s OK to do this to me? Likewise, if a salesperson kept asking you questions about your gender/sexuality/religion/cultural background/ethnicity.. you wouldn’t be very impressed. However, I’m routinely expected to grin and bare the inevitable barrage of sometimes intimate questions about my blindness, and am accused of having an attitude problem if I complain. This is something that impacts on every aspect of my life, but, oddly, actually tends to be less prevalent in the horse world.

Later on we came across a company who had Ifor Williams horseboxes. What a contrast! The man here knew his product inside out, and really wanted to sell it too us. Nothing was too much trouble, and, best of all, it was the trailer, not me or Quincey, that was the star of the show.e

4 Years!

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It’s 4 years ago today that Hal, Quincey and I moved to Albert’s Bungalow. 4 Years! In many ways it feels like we’ve always been here, but in many ways it also feels like we’ve only been here 5 minutes.

I still love living here . I still think this is one of the friendliest places I’ve ever beeen. No, it’s not perfect, but nowhere is. Yes, there are some challenges, but isn’t overcoming challenges what makes life interesting? OK, in an ideal world a couple extra acres of grazing and some off road riding wouldn’t go amiss, but now I’m being greedy.

I still have to pinch myself regularly. My own little yard, and now with my own school – your having a laugh aren’t you?

I’m definitely living the dream.

Don’t give up on yours

Feeling Guilty

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It’s not very often that I have to put my hands up, and confess that my blindness, together with my stupidity, is the direct cause of a problem for my horses. Yesterday though, well, let’s just say the buck stops squarely with me, and I’ve never felt so guilty. Anyone know the best way to apologise to a horse?

Since Leo left us, Florence and Breeze have been rubbing along quite nicely, and a general atmosphere of peace and tranquility has prevailed. Breeze is quite a dominant little soul, whereas Florence likes the quiet life, and rarely, if ever, rocks the boat. I get the impression that Breeze May have had to compete for resources In the past. She’s a real sweetie to handle, but, oh my word, can she be aggressive toward other horses, especially when there’s. Food involved! She has mellowed since she’s been with us, but nevertheless… She doesn’t actually chase other horses off their feed, but she has a large personal zone around her, and if another horse steps into it while she’s eating, well let’s just say, she’s got a powerful kick!

Ideally you wouldn’t feed your horses whilst they’re all in the field together, but this Is the real world

, and needs must. Usually with Florence And Breeze it’s not that much of a problem. Hal and I, and even Ben for that matter, are mindful of Breezes need for space, and together with the fact that we need to make sure that Florence, and nobody else, gets Florence is medication, they get fed comfortably far apart, and are closely supervised

Last night I got it very wrong, and poor Florence ended up bearing the brunt. For some reason I missed judged where both horses were in relation to each other. Thinking that Breeze was further to her left than she actually was, rather than dropping Florence his food on the far side of the water trough as usual, I dropped it a few feet inside the gate. Disaster! Breeze was actually only just on the other side of the gate. Poor Florence had only just dropped her head and started eating, when, with no obvious warning, Breeze let fly, and gave her both barrels squarely and firmly on the backside. It sounded like a gun going off! Remarkably, after I had repositioned Florence’s feed back to its usual place below the water trough, both horses carried on eating like nothing had happened. Thankfully Florence does not seem to have any nasty after affects, although I’m sure she must have one hell of a bruise. I was so horrified, and felt so guilty that my stupidity and carelessness caused this to happen, that it was all I could do not to burst into tears. I won’t make that mistake again.

Something New Every Day

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A wise man, or indeed it could have been a wise woman, once said that you never stop learning where horses are concerned. How right they were.

Two weeks ago I finally started having lessons again. At the moment I’m going over to Melissa’s and having lessons on dear old Goldie. , but I intend to start having lessons on Florence soon, she just needs to be a bit fitter. . She’s not the only one!

One of the great things about Melissa is her open mindedness. I’m not sure if she’s ever net anyone who is blind before me, let alone give them riding lessons, but that hasn’t stopped her pushing me. She’s even had me jumping!

This week we introduced my Riding School mount, a rather gorgeous 16hh Palomino mare called Goldie, to my Talking Letters. Bless her, she didn’t turn a hair. It must be very confusing for a horse, suddenly being inside a ring of visembodied human voices, all shouting letters at the top of their voice. Frankly it amazed that any horse will put up with it. While Breeze won’t even enter the school with them running quietly, it seems that Florence, and mow Goldie, are prepared to give it a go. This means that I cam concentrate on what me and my mount are actually doing, rather than worry about where we ‘re going quite so much.

I’ve had another new horsey experience this week too, but this time with Florence. Bizarrely, despite having had Flo for 2 1/2 years now, and even though this area could rightly be described as horse infested, I have never yet another horse while out riding Flo. Until Saturday that is. . So, when, on Saturday, Hal told me that we were about to pass to who were approaching us, I had no idea Florence was going to react. So I sat up, gathered up my Reims, put my leg on, and said “Good girl, walk on!”. I needn’t have worried. Bless her, she just carried on as if they weren’t there. Now even dear old Magnum would have let me down in the circumstances. He would always walk past the other horses, then when my guard was down, throw in a U-turn, and start walking behind them.

. It didn’t how prepared I was, or how hard I tried to ride him forward, when 16.3hh of ex riding school, Irish Draught, decides it’s time to joithe back of the ride, there’s nothing 5ft 3 of overweight, under fit blimd can do about it. You can take the horse out of the Riding school, but you can’t take the Riding school out of the horse. It could be a bit embarrassing really.

We met them again later. This time in a much narrower lane. Once again Florence was the epitome of politeness. She’s such a lovely horse..,n

Crisis! What Crisis?

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Oh dear, this year is really testing us. . It’s already May, and, while I had so many plans, all I seem to have done so far this year is lurch from crisis to crisis. . To be honest, Florence and Breeze are the least of our problems, but I’d really like to be doing a lot more with them. . The weather has, of course, been, and continues to be, a major problem, but that’s the same for everyone.. .. I did manage to get them turned out overnight. A couple of weeks ago we had a brief spell of unseasonably warm sunny weather, and they were increasingly reluctant to come in in the evenings. . So, even though we had hardly any grass, on Friday 13th April they stayed out. So now it’s gone cold, wet, and windy again.

Sadly, last week, we lost Hal’ sDad. It wasn’t really a huge shock. He was 92 and had been ill for a while. It’s still a big thing for Hal and his sisters to contend with though, especially as their Mother died a few years back.

We have also had a very poorly dog on our hands this week. On Thursday night Ripley, my 12-year-old retired guide dog, was very very sick in the night. I discovered this by that tried and tested method known to all blind people who own cats,dogs, and small children, The world over, I stood in it! Now, Ripley being sick is not actually that big a deal. He is half labrador, and generally has the Constitution of the cast iron dustbin , and some of the most disgusting eating habits. Usually he is able to throw up royally, and then say to him self, “that’s better, what’s for dinner?”. Unfortunately though, this time it hasn’t gone that way. He kept dry heaving, and throwing up bile, all day on Friday. So I didn’t feed him all day. On Saturday morning I offered him a scrambled egg, which he refused and then started heaving again. Q trip to Vets on Saturday morning, where an initial examination could find nothing wrong. He was given an anti-emetic, which did stop his trying to be sick. However he was extremely quiet, and again refused food on Saturday night. He was extremely quiet all day on Sunday, and again would not eat. In fact he just seem to be getting weaker and weaker. No change by Monday morning, so back to the vet, where he had x-rays, blood test’s, mouth and throat examination, and a rectal examination, nothing showed up as abnormal. In fact he has the profile of an extremely healthy dog. When we fetched him back from the vet on Monday he was still very heavily sedated, and so, whilst The vets helped us get him into the car, we had extreme difficulty getting him out again at home. We managed to actually get him out, but he collapsed in the heap behind the car in the garage. So there we stayed, One very poorly elderly retired guide dog, and one very worried dog owner, between the back of The car and the garage door, for about two hours, while he gathered together enough energy and compus mentis to walk into the house, and I convinced myself he was actually in the act of dying. It’s been a very hard week. In a strange way Ripley being ill has managed to distract from dealing with the death of Hal’s Dad, but it has been all encompassing. I have not felt able to do anything other than watching him like a hawk. I’ve been on absolute tenterhooks in case I need to rush into the bet or in case he made his final journey before we could get him there. I’ve hardly been near the horses since Thursday, and haven’t been able to concentrate on anything. There is good news though. He does seem to have turned a corner, and started taking in very small quantities of food. He is still very weak and wobbly though, is being extremely quiet, and he does seem to have become very old dog overnight. Hopefully though he is taking his first steps towards recovery. What is really concerning and confusing though, is that we can’t seem to find what is cause the problem. He hasn’t been anywhere Quincy hasn’t, Quincy is absolutely fine. The best money is on the fact that he may have eaten something that has disagreed with him, but what, and where did he get hold of it? It’s all very strange.

So that’s bad weather, Snow, trying to resolve Leone’s problems and then losing her, my mum having to go into care, losing Hals dad, and coming very close to losing Ripley. Somebody wants told me that God doesn’t send you more than you can cope with. I don’t personally believe in an . all-powerful divine creator, but if I’m wrong and there is a God, I really think he may have got me mixed up with somebody else. I’ve had enough now. Please can I just be left in peace to play with my ponies? Preferably in some nice sunny weather.

The Invisible Equestrian – Blind Riders UK #BlindRiders.

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This week, team GB is para dressage riders have been competing in France. Once again they won both individual and team medals. Nobody can deny that these talented equestrians deserve every accolade that they get. After all, can anybody remember the last time that team GB is para Olympic dressage riders did not come hoe with some gold? Each and everyone of them is just amazing, and I am in total admiration of the talent and ability, but have you ever noticed anything about para dressage…?

As regular followers know, I have a relatively rare genetically inherited condition that has caused me to very gradually go blind over the course of my life. I have never seen properly, and have been totally blind for about 15 years now .I have also been completely horse obsessed since birth.

I started having lessons when I was nine years old. Believe me it took a lot of pester power to get to that stage. My weekly lessons were the highlight of my week. When my parents finally accepted that this was not a phase, and they bought me my very own riding hat, I felt like a Million Dollars. I am sure that my parents must have told them, but nothing was ever made of my eyesight problems at the local riding school. I learnt to walk, trot, canter, jump, and even gallop. I was soon helping out at the riding school at weekends on the hope of getting free rides, and would groom and tack up the horses, and even lead other people who were just starting to learn to ride. Like all the other children who helped at the stables, I had my Particula favourite pony, and dreamt of having a pony of my own. I couldn’t see in the dark, and so found going into the stables and tackroom difficult, and because of my tunnel vision I would occasionally walk into things or knock them over,but I really don’t remember my eyesight problem being a barrier to me learning to ride and look after ponies back then. . This was in the 1970s though, and the total killjoy that is Health and Safety had not really been born yet. There was a big noticeboard outside the office of the riding school, that bore the legend “Patrons ride at their own risk”.This was a very good riding school, approved both by the British horse society and the Association of British riding schools, and was therefore fully insured and had fully qualified well-trained members of staff, there was an expectation that its clients understood that horse riding is a high risk activity, and that accidents happen. There was also an understanding that, people were able to make their own decisions about whether they wanted to take the risk and get on horseback or not, and, as long as they were wearing appropriate clothing, which included A hardhat, it was never deemed dangerous for anybody to have a go.

Going to special education boarding school at the age of 11 did cramp my style. I was not allowed to go riding at first. I would still ride at the weekends during school holidays and half terms though, and, when I was a little bit older, and my school privileges allowed me to be out of the school grounds more often, I started riding at a very small local riding school. This was actually my introduction to riding in the Minaj, boy was that a new experience, I also did a fair bit of jumping there to. . Again, my eyesight problems were fully explained to the instructors, and again, apart from then counting me in to jumps, it was never an issue. In fact I believe that the main instructor really seemed to enjoy the challenge, and soon several of my fellow pupils also began having lessons there.

Apart from not being able to Study for or take the BHS qualifications, , and the fact that I could not actually work with horses, which is really all I’ve ever wanted to do with my life, I never experienced any problems, discrimination, prejudice, negativity or other barriers to my horsey aspirations until the ’90’s. Then suddenly, somebody flipped the switch, and being blind and wanting to ride became A huge problem. . By then I had my own horse, so going for rides and lessons at a Riding school was a rarity. However, I began to notice awkward pauses on the other end of the phone if I mentioned my lack of eyesight. People would tell me that they had to check with their insurance, they would promise to get back to me, and never did. Sometimes they’d just say mo, which I suppose is more honest. If I did manage to get booked in, they would usually put me on the oldest, most knackered nag on the yard, which to be honest I don’t really mind, or they would insist on leading me, which I think is just insulting.

To be honest, as a horse owner, I really feel that I’ve experienced far more positivity and support than I ever have have negativity, or direct prejudice or discrimination. Perhaps that’s why it is so hard to deal with when it does happen. By and large, when I do encounter discrimination, either in the horse world or life in general, it is rarely as a deliberate act of blindest hatred. It does happen, but it’s extremely rare. Usually it’s either because people have little understanding of the law, and their legal obligations towards people with any form of disability under the terms of the disability discrimination act on the equalities act. They often ” Believe that by letting me ride they will be in validating their insurance, , or Breaking health and safety legislation. Neither of these is true, unless of course the insurers also contravening the equalities act. Sometimes people discriminate against blind riders because they believe they are protecting them. I have lost count of the amount of times over the years I have been told I can’t do something, or can’t fully take part in activity, because it is too dangerous. Apart from being a little bit patronising, this is probably one of the most non-sensible reasons for stopping somebody who is blind doing anything. Yes I’m fully aware that horseriding is a high risk sport. However, when you are blind, just going to the shops is a high risk activity. Try crossing the road when you can’t see. I’m sorry, but if you are going to prevent blind people from taking part in activities because it is too dangerous, then most of us wouldn’t be allowed to get out of bed in the morning.OK, I understand that, unless you are actually living with some form of sight loss, or have a close family member or very good friend who is blind or visually impaired, you really do have no way of knowing what blind and visually impaired people are capable of achieving.However, surely when you are dealing with somebody who is an experienced person when it comes to being blind or visually impaired, you should be led in your judgement by what they want to achieve, and what they believe their capabilities and limitations might be, not impose your own prejudices on to them, no matter how well meaning you think you are being.

I’ve lived with my condition for 51 years now, and I’ve learned to,grudgingly, accept that being on the receiving end of prejudice and discrimination is just another part of life’s rich tapestry. I get that some individuals believe that I am less capable because I can’t see. What I find more difficult to accept is when prejudice and discrimination are at an institutional level. Especially when that institution is discriminating against the very people it is supposed to support.

I have had very little to do with the Riding for the disabled Association. However, in 1999, and into 2000, I had a very long period of time off work with stress and depression. The horse I had at the time was becoming extremely old and had a few health problems, and as I wanted to have some lessons, I joined the RDA. I had heard that it was possible to take some stable management and riding exams through the RDA, and as my blindness had presented me from taking any BHS qualifications this was something I was very keen to pursue. I have absolutely no idea how anybody, regardless of their disability, Actually goes about taking these tests and qualificationS. If my experience is anything near typical, then it is an impossibility. I was briefly involved with two separate RDA groups, both ran at yards where I had previously ridden as a private client. The first was a very small group. The instructor, Who I am still in touch with now, was excellent, had a brilliant can do attitude, and basically believed that, regardless of what an individual’s disability actually was, they were capable of achieving. Potentially it may have been possible to really progress with this group. However, whilst the instructor was employed by the riding stables where the group was based, The group itself, as I understand is the case with all RDA groups, was run by volunteers. Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against volunteers, I volunteer myself, and the entire British charity sector would collapse without the armies of hard working, unpaid individuals who give their time freely to support others. Unfortunately though, this particular group of volunteers, with one or two noticeable exceptions, appeared to be run in Tiley to the benefit of themselves, and seemed to take very little notice of the needs of the people they were supposed to be helping. It seemed to be some kind of middle-class middle-aged genteel ladies afternoon out. Some of them hardly spoke to the riders they were supposed to be helping, The Group only ran during term time, bizarre when you consider that all the riders were adults, The group did not run if the weather was considered inclement, and the group closed down completely during the hunting season. I was so disappointed that I wrote to the headquarters of the RDA to complain. The reply I received more or less told me to shut up and be grateful. Firmly of the opinion that these shortcomings would be found only in that group, I joined another. The instructor at this group was quite shocked to see me coming through the gate as she had known me since I was a child. She told me that I did not need to be there. How right she was. Again run by volunteers, but this time by volunteers who were linked in some way to the Riders, this group was vastly oversubscribed. You would only find out if you were going to be lucky enough to ride that evening once you had turned up. This group was also extremely risk adverse. . Wants mounted, not only did they insist on having a volunteer lead your horse, but you also had to have a person walking one on either side of you in case you looked like you were going to fall off. No chance of cantering. You weren’t even allowed to handle the horses on the ground. The first time I tried riding there, I got severely told off for loosening my horses girth, Redding my stirrups up, and offering to put the horse back in its stable, once I had dismounted. Apparently this was far too dangerous a task for one of the clients to even consider attempting to do! God alone knows how they would react if they saw the things I do with my own horses. How on earth does anybody learn, progress, or even become a more confident individual, with such restrictions placed upon them? I very quickly decided that the RDA was not for me.

I really don’t want to completely damn the RDA, after all, there are a great many people who benefit enormously from them. Let’s face it, our entire Gold medal winning para Dressage team owe their success in no small way to the RDA. . About that amazing and highly successful para Dressage team, and, for that matter, the entire para Dressage movement. Have you noticed something? Has it occurred to you that there aren’t any blind or visually impaired riders on any of the teams?

Let’s think about this. Take your mind back to Rio and the Paralympics. Team GB were incredibly powerful, and our blind athletes played no small part in this. We have vlind runners, blind swimmers, vlind cyclists, blind Judo, blind archers, blind football, we even had vlind skiers at the recent Winter Paralymics in Koria. No blind equestrians though.!any idea why?

Well it’s not because there aren’t any. I know 3 very hard working and talented blind riders who would be excellent team riders , and there are a great many extremely talented vlind riders out there who will sadly never reach their full potential if things stay as they are. Part of the provlem is the Grading system. In disability sport Grading is used to ensure a level playing field. People get graded according to their level of impairment with Grade1 being the most severely impaired and Grade I’ve being the least. Grading also relates in some way to the actual disability, e.g. CP1 relates to an athlete with extremely severe cerebral palsy and B1 to an athlete who is totally blind. This means that on the whole people with a similar kind and level of impairment will compete against each other. People with lower leg amputation run against other people with Lola leg amputation, paraplegics race against paraplegics, blind against blind. You never end up in a situation where a totally blind runner is racing against somebody who uses a wheelchair. Unless you are talking about para equestrianism that is. There is only one stream of grading in para equestrian. Grade 1, The most severely disabled riders, Who compete only in walk, through to grade 4, The least disabled, Who can compete in all three paces and are not allowed anyspecialised equipment. . all blind riders are automatically graded as grade 4.

. So you have competitors who are physically extremely fit and capable, but have no way of orientating themselves around the arena because they can’t see the dressage markers, , competing against people who have a small amount of physical limitation but perfect eyesight. It’s like a totally blind person competing in the hundred metres sprint against a person with an arm amputation. There really is no comparison.

Why is there no separation of grading in para equestrianism? It seems to me that it might be because, as has been my experience with the RDA, that the specific needs of blind and visually impaired riders have not entered sphere of consciousness of the people who make the decisions. It’s like we are an afterthought, and an inconvenience. If any other group was treated this way there would be hell to pay.

I consider myself to be extremely lucky. For me it’s all about the horse, and I am truly living the dream. There are a great many fully cited, able-bodied, riders and horse owners for whom having their horses at home, with their own little yard, seems completely unobtainable. I am not the most talented rider., and have no illusions that I would ever make a Paralympic team .However, I know quite a phew other blind riders, some of whom could be extremely talented if they had the right support network and coaching around them, and many of them are extremely frustrated with the status quo. Even if they do not see themselves as the next Sophie Kristiansen, like me, they want the opportunity to learn, progress, and have fun with horses. Unfortunately the majority of them are finding that The mainstream of turning them away because of their disability, whilst the RDA is either unable or unwilling, to facilitate the development as equestrians.

Blind riders are continually being overlooked, misunderstood, and discriminated against. It’s unjust and unfair A something needs to be done about it.

I have an absolutely amazing support network around me, but just occasionally it takes another blind equestrian to understand your frustrations, or suggest solutions to blind specific problems that you’re having. At these times being blind can be quite isolating. In order to combat this, last year I started the Blind Riders UK Facebook group,. This now has many members which include blind riders, parents of blind children who ride, and other supporters.I also have several friends via Twitter Who are blind riders, and it is becoming increasingly obvious, that barriers are being put up in the way of them enjoying their riding, Learning to look after horses, and competing. Sadly it would appear that as a group blind riders do not exist in the majority of peoples consciousness. Therefore I have now started a new Twitter feed @BlindRidersUK. Although run solely by myself, , The aim is to gather together as many blind riders as possible, and spread the word that we are out there and that we can and do ride, and that we can and do look after horses, that we want to be taken seriously, we want to, compete, own, and have fun with horses, in exactly the same way as everybody else who loves horses does.

Hearts are never won, and mines are never changed, by screaming and shouting. We are fed up of being overlooked though. Sober haps by spreading the word and being more public about our existence, we might change the status quo, and make somebody take notice of this so far invisible group of equestrians. I really look forward to the day when, A specific team of blind riders stands on the podium having won gold in Olympic para dressage