The Invisible Equestrian 3 – No Such Thing as An Elephant.#horseBloggers #BlindPeopleUsePhones #BlindRiders

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This post may seem a little bit off topic at first, but bare with me, I have a point to make.

When I was a little girl I enjoyed any activity that meant I would be able to interact with,or even just see, animals. Admittedly, as quite a small and shy child, I could often be a bit intimidated by larger animals , especially if they were a bit up front and personal, but nevertheless animals, all animals, fascinated me – they still do. Therefore, going to the Zoo was a particular favourite day out for me.Throughout my childhood I visited a great many Zoos, and, whilst a lot of people are very much against the concept of animals being kept in captivity, I personally believe that if I hadn’t seen wild, exotic, and rare animals in the flesh as a child, I would in no way be as concerned about conservation as I am now. That’s not the point of this post though. However, it’s the Elephant, or rather the ongoing Dad/daughter ‘joke’ about elephants, which somehow managed to persist throughout my childhood, which will help illustrate the point of my post.

If you tell somebody something often enough, and with conviction, they will begin to believe it. Even if it is demonstrably not true.

My Dad is a brilliant story teller, and as a child I believed every word he said. Let’s face it, even though he is now 88, and I am fast approaching 52, he can still catch me out with alarming regularity. So, when , as quite a small child, I had wondered away from the parental gaze, and found myself, nose pressed against a fence, staring at an enormous grey beast, with huge ears, and a long pendulous trunk, awe struck didn’t quite do my feelings justice. I had only ever seen elephants in story books, or on Telly before, never in the flesh. I didn’t believe anything could be that big! “Dad! Dad! Dad! Come and see the Elephant!” I ran squealing with excitement

“But Nicola” He replied “There’s no such thing as an Elephant, you must be mistaken”

So, imagine my confusion when, after dragging him after me, loudly proclaiming how it was him who was mistaken, when we got back to the Elephant enclosure, the creature in question was nowhere to be seen! Now, obviously, the Elephant had just gone into it’s house, but remember, I can only have been about five, so , although I was a bit bewildred, and truly believed I had seen an Elephant, wel, Dad said it wasn’t so, so maybe…

The thing is though, strangely, everytime we went to a Zoo, any Zoo, I would see the Elephant, but my Dad wouldn’t. It was uncanny, and , as a result, even though I knew full well that Elephants were real animals, after all they’d had one on Blue Peter didn’t they?, I did, briefly, begin to doubt myself, Because, if you tell somebody something often enough, and with enough conviction, they will begin to believe it, even if there is incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. This is how perpetrators of coercive control and domestic abuse manage to get away with it for so long.

Now, I need to make it clear here that my Dad did in no way perpetuate this Elephant thing out of any sort of malice. On the contrary, he would have torn anyone with any bad intentions toward his little girl into very small unrecognisable peices in the blink of an eye, it was a joke, and a bit of a life lesson. Believe the evidence before you, don’t just take what people tell you on face value. It’s still a bit of a joke between us.

So, what’s your point? I hear you all ask. Well, it’s that very often we believe things, hold beliefs and preconceived ideas about things, other people and situations without any real evidence as to why we hold that belief, we just do. Quite often these beliefs really only effect us and the lifestyle choices we make, but sometimes, what we believe about somebody, and the way they ‘should’ be living their life, can have a very detrimental effect on them, their life chances, happiness, confidence, and mental wellbeing.

Wind forward to recent weeks. If you are a frequent flyer on Social Media, especially Twitter, you will most probably have come across the story about the photograph of a blind woman walking with a Long Cane (White Stick) whilst using a mobile phone. The photograph was taken and shared without the woman’s permission, and it was shared, and went viral, with the assertion by those who shared it that the subject must be faking her blindness because she was using a phone! Understandably this mindless act of Ablist hatred has sporned a massive backlash from the blind community, and given rise to the Hash-Tag

#BlindPeopleUsePhones

So, let’s deal with this particular can of worms first, then I’ll get to the real point of this post.

Firstly, blind people, and for that matter, people with any other form of disability, impairment or chronic illness , are NOT public property. You do not hav the right to take photographs, share our information or in any other way intrude on our private life just because you prcieve us as being different to you. We are not there to entertain, bolster your ego, be the butt of your jokes, validate your pity, or inspire you. We are subject to, and protected by, the same laws as you, including those to do with privacey and Data Protection.

Secondly. Visual Inpairment and Blindness is a spectrum. Blindness is not all or nothing, different eye conditions effect sight in different ways, and an individuals ability to utilise whatever residual vision they have will be effected by so many factors. Very few people are actually totally blind. Yes, some people have absolutely no eyesight at all, but the majority of us have something. Even I, who describe myself as being totally blind these days because I have no useful, functional sight, still have a degree of light perception.

Thirdly. Modern technology has revolutionised the lives of people with all kinds of disabilities, not just those of us who are blind. Screen readers, screen magnification, text to speech, speech activation, it all makes using tech possible. I am actually writing this post using an Ipad. OK so I’m using a Blue Tooth keyboard to type, but only because I find it quicker and easier than using the touch screen keyboard. All Apple devices have a built in screen reader called Voiceover, so it speaks everything onthe screen out loud. Androad devices have similar programmes. Most smart phones can talk in fact. All Smart phones and tablets have the ability to magnify the text on the screen, alter the contrast, revert to Grey Scale or invert the colour scheme, all things which will enable people with a variety of eye conditions to use them. Not only that, but there are a plethora of apps which are specifically designed to help the blind. From apps that help you find your way around, tell you what colour something is, use the camera as a scanner and read documents to you, recognise bank notes, even tell you if it’s light or dark. In fact, I often describe my iPhone as a Swiss Army Knife for the blind. So yes, not only can Blind People use phones, but they are actually a very important tool to aid our independence.

Finally. Being Blind, or for that matter habin any other disability or chronic illness, is hard work! The world is built around the specific needs of the fully sighted and able bodied. It’s not a lifestyle choice, and the world doesn’t really cut us any slack. We do not get things handed to us on a plate, regardless of whatever ablist propaganda you read in the Newspapers. White Sticks cost money, and can’t just be bought in the corner shop, and, well, getting a Guide Dog is, a long and complicated process. Unless, and sadly it does very occasionally hapen, you have some sort of mental health condition that might lead you to behave that way, there would be absolutely no benefit to anyone faking being blind. In fact, for many new to sight loss, the fear and stigma of being believed to be a fraud is a huge barrier to them seeking the help and support they need, or being able to carry on with the life they had prior to losing their sight. . So situations like this, where some random stranger, who most probably is not an expert in sight loss, and did not spend years training as an Opthalmic Surgeon, suddenly declares that somebody they don’t know anything about, but happen to see getting on with their life in the best way they can, decides they are faking it, and spreads malicious lies about them for who knows what reason, is extremely harmful, not just to the individual who is the butt of their toxic behaviour, but to everyone who is in the same or similar situation.. You do not know that persons truth,so why do you think you have the right to judge?

Sadly though, these kind of value judgements are not just reserved for whether or not a blind person can use a phone. People believe all sorts of strange and inaccurate things about blindness, and what blind people can and cannot do. Mostly this is because the vast majority of folk have never, knowingly at least, met anyone who is blind, and if they have, it’s more than likely to be somebody who is extremely elderly, and has lost their sight to age related conditions such as Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD). What most people ‘know’ about blindness, has been learned from fiction, backed up by the occasional sensationalist headline in the Media. . We are expected to be either pitiful and frail, or absolute super heros, we all read Braille, We are all gifted with extra sensative hearing, touch, smell, we all have Guide Dogs, we are all elderly, we all have blank, staring, or disfigured eyes, we all wear very dark glasses, we are all piano tuners, basket weavers, physiotherapists, unemployable, we all need 24 hour supervision lest we hurt ourselves. We are never, young, interested in fashion, capable of dressing ourselves, capable of feeding ourselves, we are never married, in relationships, have children, have sex, fall in love, unless it’s with another blind person of course, we never work for a living, unless of course it’s as a piano tuner, basket weaver or physio, we never live independantly or own our home home. We never have any hobbies or interests, we never go out by ourselves, not eve with our Guide Dogs, we aren’t educated, we are never interested in politics, telebision or sport, unless of course we are Paralympians, we never travel anywhere, not even on Public Transport.

Yes indeed, it’s a sad, lonely, and confusing life that we blind people live.

Of course none of this is true. We do all of the above, and more. Or at least we would if the prejudice and preconceptions of others didn’t get in our way. You see, the more you believe the rubbish that is propagated about blindness, the more you will put barriers up that prevent blind people living the kind of lives we want to. The more barriers there are, The less we are able to integrate into society. The less integrated into society we are, The less we are seen. The less we are seen in the society carrying out normal everyday activities, The less we are seen to be able to do them, and so the belief that blind people can’t use phones, or do anything else for that matter, gets perpetuated.

So, what’s all this got to do with horses then?

Well, let me tell you a story. This is a made up story about a fictional Riding School, and a fictional potential client, but it is based on real experiences I have had a few times over the years.

Imagine you are the proprietor of a Riding School. You have an excellent reputation, and most people for miles around would recommend you as the place for people to learn to ride or go for hacks, your livery services are highly sought after too. You are fully insured, and you and your staff are highly trained and keep your professional development up to date. You are of course BHS approved. and regularly pass every inspection from the authority that licences you. So one day you get a phone call from a prospective new client. they’ve just moved to the area and are looking for somewhere to have lessons and regular hacks out. They tell you that they have been riding since childhood and would consider themselves as an experienced rider. then they drop the bombshell.

They just happen to be blind!

Blind! What?! Blind people can’t ride horses!

Now, at this point the conversation could go one of three ways.

A. Let’s face it, you’ve never actually met anyone who is blind before, and you ‘ve never really thought about blind people riding, well, to be truthful, you’ve never really thought about blindness. However, your staff are well trained, your horses well schooled, and you have a lovely secure arena in which to teach. As a business owner you are fully aware of your obligations under the Equalities Act, and the person on the other end of the phone sounds like they are an adult who knows what they are talking about. You explain that this is a new experience for you, and book them in for a private lesson, asking them to come a bit early so you can get to know them a bit and take your time mounting them up. Perfect scenario.

B. Let’s face it, you have never met anyone who is blind before, and you’ve never really thought about blind people riding. Wellm to be honest, you’ve never really thought about blindness. However, you are fully aware of your obligations under the Equalities Act, and besides that, you’ve recently read an article about a restaurant that refused to allow somebody to take their Guide Dog in, and you’ve seen the back lash and negative publicity they have recieved, and you’re scared that might happen to you if you refuse to take this person. However, somewhere in the back of your mind you seem to remember that you’ve been told, or did you read it, that blind people have terrible balance, can’t coordinate, and are a bit heavy handed. In your heart of hearts yu don’t want to take this person, but neither do you. Want to be the subject of a storm of negative publicity if you refuse them. Reluctantly you book them in for a lesson, deciding to put them on the most unresponsive, hard mouthed, dead to the leg, old plod you have in your string, because, that would be safest all round. Not an ideal solution but, better than a poke in the eye.

C. Let’s face it, you’ve never met anyone who is blind before, and you’ve never really thought about blind people riding, well, to be honest, you’ve never really thought about blindness. Why would you? You run a highly thought of riding establishment, and blind people can’t ride. Blind people can’t even dress themselves. Yes, somewhere in the back of your mind you’ve heard of something called the Equalities Act, but that only means you can’t refuse to take somebody if they’re Black, or Gay. No, sorry, this is going too far. You can’t possibly allow a blind person to even enter your yard, it’s far too dangerous, you’re not set up for this sort of thing. if they hurt themself you wouldn’t have a leg to stand on, your insurance wouldn’t cover it, and you’d probably end up being done under Health & Safety legislation. No sorry, you tell them, you need to go to the Riding for the Disabled. You put the phone down shocked and amazed that you have had such an enquiry. Oh dear, wrong on so many levels.

Over the years since I have been riding I have been met by all three of the above respomses to trying to book lessons and hacks. Thankfully, Scenario A is not as uncommon as you might think, and yu don’t just get it from the big yards. In fact, it is often small family run yards, that might not have sought BHS approval, and who maybe don’t have the most swanky of facilities , who are often the most open minded and welcoming.Scenario B might not be a bad situation either. Often, once you go there, and they see that you are just another human being, and that you can indeed ride, they begin to relax, and both parties gain from the situation. Sadly though, Scenario C is all too common, and you meet it in even the most well thought of establishments. Apart from the fact that it is illegal under the terms of the Equalities Act, which does indeed cover disability as well as several other things as well as ethnicity and sexuality, this response is really harmful.

Harmful? I hear you say. Surely you’re being a bit melodramatic now.

Let me explain.

This will not be the first time that this individual has been told they can’t do something because of their blindness. It won’t always have been made so obvious to them, but, every time it happens it chips a tiny piece off their self esteem, and erodes their self confidence. The more you tell somebody that they can’t do something, that they are less than, a problem, inconvenient, a burdon, not normal, a risk, especially if it is for something they have no control over, the more they will begin to internalise and sub-consciously begin to believe that message.The less confident, capable and validated they will feel.

It’s a viscious circle though. How can people learn about blindness, if they never see or get to know anyone who is blind, and if all they are fed is inaccurate untrue fictional representations of blindness, and sensationalist and extreme media stories? If you are the kind of person who has been brain washed into thinking that all blind people are helpless, pitiful, drab, recluses, then why would you expect the atrractive , vital looking fashionista, who is walking towards you, latest Smartphone in hand, to be blind? Sadly it’s a damning indictment of the times that when you do see that person, the fact that they are using a cane, or being guided by a dog, doesn’t make you think they are genuinely blind, but instead you assume they are faking it. It’s heart breaking.

Likewise, if you have never met anyone who is blind, and never seen anyone who is blind riding a horse, why would you automatically believe that they can? Then again, why automatically assume they can’t?

There are a lot of very capable blind riders out here, just getting on with it, and enjoying horses and riding exactly like everyone else. We are interested in the same things as every other horse enthusiast The difference is that we do need a little more support at times, and we do have to think laterally and find alternative ways of doing certain horsey tasks. That’s how it is in every other aspect of our life though. So, by and large, when we say we can do something, we usually can, and when we say we need help we invariably mean it. It would be so much easier for us though, if we didn’t have to constantly have to swim against the current of prejudice and misconception about blindness, and the ability and inability of people living with sight loss.

Take it from somebody who knows. Blind people do use phones. Blind people do ride horses. In fact blind people do everything that sighted people do.

Oh yes, and I’m here to tell you, there are such things as Elephants!

How Can it be February Already?!

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How can it possibly be the 1st of February already? January seems to have flown by, but, although I haven’t been sitting around doing nothing, as far as my horsey aspirations are concerned, I haven’t achieved much. In truth, this is mostly down to poor Florence’s continuing problems with her breathing. I had hoped that I would be back on board, and preparing to book our first lesson of the year by now. Sadly though, she isn’t really right still, and although we have done some very low level in hand work, it’s really been to entertain her, rather than as a serious atttempt to start getting fit. The weather turning cold has exacerbated her breathing problems. I don’t want to make matters worse for her, ridden or unridden, she is far to important for that, so we are still at base camp planning our route up the metaphorical mountain at the moment. Breeze is also taking it easy at th moment. We are giving her stiffness/lameness time to resolve itself a bit, and we are experimenting with her not wearing any back shoes for the time being. Like Florence, she has done a little bit of in hand work, but not much.

None of this means that there aren’t things going on in the background though. Hal has decided that he and Breeze are going to try their hooves at Horse Agility, and to this end has joined the International Horse Agility Club. We did a bit of this with Sapphire before we moved up here, and it’s really good fun. Also, although Horse Agility HQ is only just down the road from us, it’s something that can be easily done from the comfort of our own school. To that end we are now gathering together various items that can be used to build agility obstacles.

For myself, well, I am in the process of going over to the Dark Side! I have been given some advice by another Blind Rider who I have met through the Blind Ridrs UK Twitter account, and as a result I am in the process of joining the Riding for the Disabled Association as an independent rider. I will be joining/affiliating to the North Cornwall RDA group, as they are the closest to me, and will hav coaching through them, but will not be riding as part of a group. The aim is to eventually compete. At the moment it all seems very positive. It couldn’t be more different to my last experience with RDA. I have to get a medical, because of my arthritis, to say it’s OK for me to ride, and them I have to have a riding assessment, to see what level I am at, but so far so good. So watch this space.

The idea was always that I would be training and competing with Florence. However, her state of health, and the realisation that she is now 20 has made me very thoughtful about the future. When I first approached RDA, asking how I would go about becoming an independent rider I told them that I would be riding my own horse. However, I’m not sure Florence is realistically going to be that horse. I cannot wait to get back on Florence’s back, after all, it is my happy place, and I hope to soon start having lessons with Melissa again very soon. However, I have told the North Cornwall RDA Group that, for the time being at least, I will need to use one of their horses.Flo’s not going anywhere, and , fingers crossed, is going to live, and be able to be ridden for a long time yet, but I don’t think it is fair to expect her to suddenly become a competition horse, not at her age.

So, yes, this does mean that I am beginning to consider getting another horse. Not yet though. For a start we can’t afford it at the moment. We are finding looking after Florence and Breeze is a pleasure, yes they both have their quirks, but, on the whole, they are really easy going and stress free to do. Also, I’d like to make sure that I’m really up for it, the RDA stuff I mean, before I decide exactly what type of horse I want. It’s no good forking out for a potential dressage diva if I’m destined to be a happy hacker for the rest of my life.

In the meantime though, while I’m not riding, I am working hard on my fitness. I’m already feeling a difference in my everyday life, although the weight’s not coming off as easily as I’d hoped. I’m feeling very positive about life, despite Florence’s problems. It’s all very exciting. So watch this space.

False Start

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I chose the first Saturday of the year as the day I would formally bring Florence and Breeze back into work after their extended winter lay off. In prepraation for this I had arranged for Amy to come and clip Florence on the 3rd. Only Florence, as I’m still not sure how much work Breeze is going to be doing, and this is where we hit our first snag. Poor Amy was mortified, but her clippers jus wouldn’t go anywhere near Florences thick, yak like shaggy coat!She did get one shoulder and half her chest off, then the clippers threw up their hands in defete! Florence is now rocking that ‘Game of Thrones’ look, you know, the one where the women walk around with one boob hanging out! These things can’t be helped, and it’s was definately not the end of the world, so we agreed to try again when the clipper blades had been off for sharpening. After all, Flo was only going to be doing some in hand work for the next couple of weeks, so she shouldn’t get too hot and swety, should she?

Saturday dawned full of promise, and with a plan in my head for both horses, Hal and I set off to enjoy a bit of long overdue horsey fun.

Oh dear!

The best laid plans of mice, men, and short , fat, blind, horse owners…

Florence has always, as long as I’ve had her, had issues with her wind. She coughs and wheezes at the slightest provocation, and really seems to be allergic to everything. I had hoped we had a handle on most of her triggers now though. I’ve never seen anything quite as bad as ‘florences heaving laboured breath on Saturday morning though! As I waited for the vet to arrive, am not ashamed to admit that the thought crossed my mind that Florence might actually be dying! David, the vet, got to me really quickly, and I think even he was a bit taken aback by how much Flo was struggling to breathe. Honestly, I’ve never seen a heave like it. Itmust have been very painful too, because, when I gently laid my hand on her side, she went to kick me. However, Flo wasn’t running a temperature, so David was reasonably confident this was not anything infecteous. Well thank goodness for that, afteral, both Tony, the farrier, and Amy and her dodgey clippers, had been all over Florence only a few days earlier, so if it was catching, they could have been spreading it like the plague.Not only that but, Breeze would have got it too.

David took bloods, and administered a plethora of drugs, including, horror of horrors, steroids. He also left me with 4 different meds to give her, comprising of antibiotics, bronchodilators, expectorants, and, yes your’ve guessed it, more steriods. So why am I so fixated on the steroids? Well, as regular readers will know, Florence is and elderly lady now, is already over weight and an extremely good doer, and has PPID, all things which predispose her to getting lminitis. Unfortunately, one of the known potential side effects of steroids is a higher risk of contracting laminitis! She’s doomed! Luckily I have an excellent relationship with my vets, and feel very comfortable when it comes to voicing my concerns, so I was able to have an honest chat with David about the risks and advantages of giving Flo steroids. His opinion was that it was a Catch 22 situation, yes, there was a real risk of Flo getting Laminitis, but if we didn’t give her the steroids she may not fully recover, or at least take longer . He assured me that he had rarely had a patient that did get Laminitis while taking the specific drug he was prescribing, and that he was giving her the very lowest dose possible for a horse of her weight, but that if I thought she was even thinking of getting it, I should immediately stop them. Thankfully, by the time Daivid left, Florene was already responding to the injections he’d given her, and was already breahing more easily. I was really impressed when he phoned me that evening, remember this was a Saturday, with her blood test results! Everything looked perfectly normal. This must have been a massive allergic reaction to something.

I had the girls both booked in to have a dental 2 Wednesdays after this, so it was agreed that Florence would be reassessed then, unless of course I had called them back beforehand, and of course, Flo was on R&R for the time being. Thankfully Florence is your typical greedy cob when it comes to food, and has no concept of turning her nose up at anything, so getting 4 different meds down her was no problem. However, the antibiotics were really difficult to handle. They came in the form of a mousse type solution which had to be accurately measured out with a syrringe. Well, thre was no way I could do that myself, as I couldn’t see the markings on the syrringe. Mind you, Hal found it hard enough, the stuff was really thick and gloopy and got everywhere, except inside the syrringe of course. It smelt delicious though, a bit like Butterscotch Angel Delight.

Except for one morning when I thought Florence might be on the verge of colicking, until she had the biggest, stinkingest poo I’ve ever witnessed, there were no nasty side effects from the medication. In fact, some behaviours, which I thought were just Flo quirks , even went away, and she appeared to be brething perfectly normally within a few hours of starting the regime.

On Wednesday last, Justine came out to do the dentals and assess Florence. She was very pleased with Flo, although she could hear what she called a slight Plural Rasping, so she said there may still be some inflammation. At this point, we hadn’t quite finished the course of steroids, although everything else had gone. Justine suggested that I finish the steroids, give Florence a 24 hour break, and then put her on a short course of Bute to try to resolve any residual inflammation. Apparently you need to leave a gap because you can’t give steroids and non-steroidals at the same time. It’s a bit like mixing matter and antimatter I think. Justine also said I could start very gently bringing Flo back into work.

While Justine was doing Breezes teeth I asked her to give her a quick check over. Breeze is very stiff, especially through her off side hock, and although supposedly the same age as Florence, does come over as being a lot older. Funnily enough, Justine herself asked how old we thought Breeze was because her teeth appear to have stopped errupting, and are actually quite worn. She also pronounced Breeze as lame, rather than just stiff. We discussed varous options, and so Breeze is now on perminant Bute. Or at least that’s the idea, Breeze, unlike her bigger friend, is a little more discerning where dining is concerned, we are now going through a period of her behaving like we are trying to poison her!

I have given them both a few extra days off, just to let the new medication regimes set in, but they have both done one short session of in hand work in the school now. Florence was an angel, and apart from trying to scoff the grass that is growing aroung the edge of the school, you wouldn’t know it’s been so long since she did anything. Breeze on the other hand was on extremely high alert. She spooked violent and tried to tank off when a pony, which was on the lane on the other side of the valley, and so a long way away spooked and tanked off itself. Poor Hal tried to hold onto her, and ended up with a massive rope burn. She also lay down in the school to scrath her legs! I don’t know whether to laugh or cry sometimes.

All of this has given me pause. I adore Florence, and Breeze, for all her foibles is a sweetheart, but they are neither of them getting any younger. Is Flo really going to be up to doing all the things I hope to do over the next few years? For now we are enjoying having 2 lovely horses who are a delight to handle and look after, and who we both trust completely. Should I start formulating a long term plan though? For now I am hoping it doesn’t snow so I can get on with the fitness plan I have for them both.

New YEAR fresh Start`

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Happy New Year everyone!

Here we are then, January 1st 2019, and the world is full of possibility. Out with the old, good riddance, and in with the new. Bring it on! So what plans does everyone have for this year? Have you made any horsey. New Year resolutions?

I have lots of hopes for this year, lets face it I always do, but if I learnt anything from last years series of disasters, there are no guarantees. So this year, whilst, of course, I have made some New Year Resolutions, , when it comes to the horses and my riding , I have aspirations rather than fixed plans. Mind you, there are quite a lot of them.

1. Actually, this one is a resolution, and it will effect every part of my life. To lose weight and become fitter. For my health this is essential . I have never been so heavy, so unfit, or so unhealthy as I am right now. However, for my professional life it is essential too, I am not exactly a good advertisement for living the healthy lifestyle at the moment. I need to go back to practicing what I preach. In my defence, it has been a very difficult year, and self care has disappeared off the horizon completely. Not any more! In fact, away from the horses, this year is all about self care, and self love, I need to start looking after myself so I can look after everyone else. The horses will benefit as I become lighter, fitter, better balanced. It’s going to be hard worth, but I can’t see a down side really.

2. I’d like to do some very low level, very basic, dressage. I need to put some things in place, but potentially some unaffiliated and/or RDA /Para intro level competitions later in the year?

3. To keep Florence and Breeze healthy and happy, and in the best shape possible. Let’s face it, they are both 20 now. I suspect that Breeze may need to retire soon, she has a few issues after all. But , fingers crossed, Florence does seem to have plenty of life left in her yet. I love them both dearly, and the healthier and happier they are, the happier I am.

4. To go out into the world and be more out there in horsey society. This could be anything, but I’d particularly like to attend some of the stuff that the Riding Club put on. Let’s face it, I didn’t even get to the AGM last year.

5. To be more diligent about cleaning and looking after my tack and equipment. Let’s just say that standards have slipped recently.

6. To get back into having regular lessons. I was doing really well, but then life got in the way. I’m one of those strange people who actually enjoys having lessons. I hope to be able to continue with Melissa, but I also want to get myself booked in somewhere to have some lunge lessons to help improve my seat, position and balance, but I need to lose a certain amount of weight first as I currently exceed most places upper weight limit.

7. To be better organised. Like the weight loss, this is something that will have an impact on the whole of my life. It’ll be a challenge though as I have very few natural organisational skills! However, possibly because last year was so disrupted, I have felt like I’ve been lurching around from one crisis to another and missing, or nearly missing important dates and deadlines. It’s not a good way to be.

8. To be more mindful. Again this is something that will influence my entire life, but when it comes to the horses, I mean that I intend to be there, in my entirety, in the moment, present, while I am riding and handling the horses, not just going through the motions while my mind is somewhere else stressing.

9. To continue to educate and inform the rest of the horsey world about Blind riders, our rights and capabilities, and to try to make the equestrian world more accessible and inclusive .

10. To be as supportive as possible to other equestrians, especially those who are new to the horse world, lack confidence, or for some reason find it difficult to fit in.

Hopefully it’s going to be a good year. The work starts today.

Seasons Greetings

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Regular readers will know that for Hal and I 2018 has been a truly horrible year. I had so many hopes and plans as we waved a fond farewell to 2017, but right from the get go it became clear that things weren’t going to go our way.

Viruses, coughing horses, lameness. Extreme wet weather, storm force wind, snow! losing Leonie, Stella, Hal’s Dad, my Mum. Nearly losing Ripley. Having a very sick Tabitha. Falling off the tandem and damaging the ligaments in my knee. Having to replace a leaking oil tank, defunct fridge, broken dishwasher. Finding out Breeze is going blind.Yes, it does seem to have been a year of lurching chaotically from one crisis to another. No wonder we both feel so wiped out!

To be fair there have been some good bits along the way. Our Niece Sarah’s wedding, veing given an award by the Riding Club. Increasing support for this Blog, support for Blind Riders UK, my business getting stronger. Having lessons on Florence. Doing more talks for Guide Dogs. Doing some PR for Retina Implant.

Personally though, New Year’s Day cannot come quick enough for me. New beginnings, A fresh start, A blank sheet. I have of course got lots of hopes and aspirations for 2019. Poor Florence isn’t going to know what hit her! Neither is Hal for that matter. In the meantime though thank you very much for supporting this blog. I hope you have an absolutely marvellous Christmas and a happy horsey New Year

Do Horses Get Charles Bonnets Syndrome?

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Last night we had a strange, and worrying, experience with Breeze. . Breeze is the sweetest pony, but she is extremely nervous. Last night however she surpassed herself, and gave me a few more grey hairs along the way.

Doing our usual bedtime routine, carrots for Florence, apples for Breeze, debrief on the day, hay, water, skep out, check all is well, it soon became apparent that all was not well with Breeze.

it is not unusual to find Breeze on high alert, but last night she took it to another level. I had heard her snuffing a bit, but just thought she was commenting on the dogs. However, when I went into her stable with a full haynet, only to be ignored, alarm bells began to ring. Normally I would be in for a full-scale mugging, breeze usually starts off by trying to eat out of the net as I take it in and try to hang it, and if this doesn’t work, she turns her attention to my pockets. Last night though, Breeze just stood there transfixed. Head held as high as she could get it, ears erect and straining forward, eyes bulging, nostrils flared, heart racing, and, I realised as I laid my hand on her shoulder, trembling. This poor pony was frozen to the spot with Fear! At what though? Let’s face it, what ever it was, it wasn’t bothering Florence. Yes it’s true, Florence is of a much more Sanguin disposition than Breeze, but she isn’t stupid. Had there genuinely been anything that frightening anywhere in the vicinity, Florence would definitely have mentioned it. However, despite only being in the adjoining stable, in stark contrast to her companion, Flo was the picture of relaxed contentment. It did cross my mind that she might be tying up, or have colic, but this wasn’t the stance of either a tied up horse, or a colicky one. Not only that, but Hal had just cleaned some very healthy looking poo from the stable. When it comes down to flight, fight., freeze, this was absolutely textbook freeze. She was staring up towards the house, but neither Florence, either of the dogs, Hal, nor I, where aware of anything untoward. Florence was perfectly happy and content in the nextdoor stable, The dogs have gone off down the field on their own private nose lead missions, and all I could hear was a distant owl. Absolutely nothing obvious for a horse to be scared of.

Thankfully Breeze did begin to relax after a while, but she was still unsettled by the time we left her. I find the whole situation a little worrying, and it’s made me begin to wonder about something. Is it possible that Breeze could be suffering from hallucinations?

Sadly a few months ago we discovered that Breeze is very gradually going blind. She is an old lady, at least 20 years old now, and has recently been diagnosed with age related pigmented retinopathy. Yes I know, whilst a horses eyes are different to humanise, The name of this condition, and indeed the pathology of it, are similar to retinitis pigmentosa )RP), which is the condition I myself have. However, as RP is not an age-related condition in humans, whereas age related pigmented retinopathy is and age related condition in horses, I prefer to think of Breeze as having the equine equivalent of age related macular degeneration )AMD). Basically she is a little old lady who is losing her eyesight. . There is absolutely nothing we can do about this, it’s not a treatable condition, and the vet has been very calm about the diagnosis. We have been told to carry on as normal but to be vigilant, and be led by Breeze as to what she can and cannot do. We have not even been advised to stop riding her, although I have decided that I wont ride her myself from now on. I’m actually too heavy for her anyway at the moment, but I think its better for all concerned if at least one of us has a fully functioning pair of eyes. As an aside, I recently read the headline of a research study which took place in Australia, which concluded that a high percentage of aged, defined as over 17 years old, horses have some form of eyesight problem, but this is usually not known about by their owners, and rarely has an adverse affect on the horses ability to carry out ridden activities

Until they are near total blindness. Symptoms like stumbling and spooking are invariably put down to other things. Back to Breeze though, , and I wonder if last nights strange behaviour was down to her failing eyesight. As a result of the Retinopathy, does Breeze have Charles Bonnet Syndrome

Does Breeze have what?

Charles Bonnet Syndrome is a little understood condition that causes people who are losing their sight to have visual hallucinations. These hallucinations are only visual in nature, no sound,smell, or taste, but can vary from patterns to detailed and lifelike representations of animals, people, events or places, which can be static or moving. According to the NHS there are known to be approximately 100,000 diagnosed cases of Charles Bonnet syndrome in the UK, but there could be many more undiagnosed cases. Whilst it affects people who have lost most of all of the site in both eyes, The real mechanism behind it is not fully understood. However it is believed to be down to the brain trying to make sense of, and filling in the gaps in, The incomplete message being received by the visual cortex. The macular society believe that half of people with AMD will experience symptoms of Charles Bonnet syndrome at some point. These hallucinations are only related to sight loss and have no link to mental illness or any form of dementia in any way

So, whilst there are of course differences, horses and humans are both mammals, and mammalian eyes and brains do vary from species to species, there are also a great many similarities. What I am curious about is, given that Breeze has a condition which is not unlike a condition that humans get, could she also have another condition, which is often associated with the human variation of the condition she has? In other words. Can horses get Charles Bonnet syndrome? Is the reason that only Breeze was so frightened last night, because it was only Breeze Who could see what she was so scared of? I guess we will never know, but I’d love to hear the opinions of any vets, ophthalmologists, other experts who might stumble across this post in the future

Thirty Years an Owner

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Thirty years ago today, a skinny 21 year old scrambled into the cab of one of the poshest horse boxes she had ever seen , and set off on a massive adventure. The journey took all day. The adventure still continues.

Yes, amazingly, thirty years ago today a man called Roger Arrowsmith, who ran the local garden centre and bred show ponies as a hobby, kindly drove from Plymouth to Honiton and back,to fetch my first horse home

Thirty years! How did that happen?

OK, I soon learned, as if I didn’t really know already, that a just backed, three -year-old, wait carrying Cob, was not the ideal first horse for a seven stone, severely visually impaired, Novice, who had only ever ridden riding school horses before. Jigsaw didn’t stay with me for long, but every aventure has to start somewhere.

I well remember that feeling, when we took him off the lorry, put him in his stable, and I looked at him, my dream come true, a horse of my very own at long last, and realised for the first time, that he was totally dependent on me for his well-being, and despite years of reading, and dreaming, I hadn’t got the first clue how to look after a horse! Thirty years on, and there are still times when I am completely out of my depth! . Lot’s of horses have come and gone, and I have experienced best and the worst but the horse world can offer. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without having a horse in it, and I really don’t want to find out. They say you never stop learning when you have a horse. I for one am looking forward to the next thirty years of education.

Glove Story

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Suddenly the weather has become cold, and I am faced with the dilemma. To glove or not to glove. That is the question. You see I have a little bit of a love hate relationship with the humble glove. Whilst I don’t mind getting my hands dirty, as a professional masseuse and complementary therapist they are the tools of my trade, I cannot work safely if my hands get damaged, Open wounds and plasters are a no-no

, and soft skin is a must. As a colleague of mine said recently, are clients come to us for a nice relaxing massage, not to be sanded down. So I have a real need to keep my hands protected. However, my hands are my interface with the world. For me, wearing gloves is a little bit like being blindfolded. That said, having bear hands when the weather is subzero is just as painful for me as it is for anybody else.

Most of us who handle horses on a regular basis have long since lost any squeamishness we might have had when it comes to where, and into what, we stick our hands. Horrible horse hands, with sore, dry, cracked skin are all to familiar, and beautifully manicured nails are akin to unicorn horns in their rarity. So, here is where I put my professional head on, and offer some winter skin care advice.

Your skin isn’t just the thing that keepss your insides in. It’s the biggest, and one of the most important, organ in the human body, and as such has a variety of very important functions.

Therefore, we should really view looking after our skin as being as important as looking after our heart, liver, lungs, kidneys etc. . Yeh right, how many of us do that? Whilst I am really concentrating on the hands here, most of the following apply to your skin as a whole. .

Before I go on, I think it’s important to point out that, if you have any conditions such as eczema, dermatitis, or psoriasis, it is absolutely imperative that you continue to follow the regime as set out by your doctor or dermatologist. For the rest of us though, The following will help protect your hands from the ravages of winter weather.

Protection. Whenever possible where gloves. However, if like me you find this is not always practical, then use a protective barrier cream. Anything which is mineral based, like Vaseline, petroleum jelly, the majority of baby oils, and Bio Oil are excellent. Mineral molecules are two big to be absorbed through the skin, and therefore leave a protective layer on the surface. In cold and wet weather, keeping your hands in your pockets can also be a real benefit. In fact many specifically out door Coates have what they call hand warmer pockets for this very purpose. Remember to thoroughly dry your hands after washing them, and moisturise them as well..

Moisturise. Unfortunately the popular mineral based hand creams, whilst being excellent for protecting your hands, aren’t the best thing to use to moisturise the skin. As I mentioned above, they don’t get absorbed by the skin. They protect, but don’t do anything to add moisture. In fact, in extreme cases of overuse, they can actually dry skin out even more. For moisturising look for products that contain plant -oils as these have smaller molecules, and so are more easily absorbed.Be careful though if you have a nut allergy, look for products that contain evening Primrose, starflower real, marshmallow,honey, seaweed or aloe Vera instead. Don’t forget that you need to moisturise from within as well. Most externally applied moisturisers will only be absorbed into the top layer of the skin. The best way to help keep your skin soft and supple is to make sure that it is not dehydrated.Make sure you are drinking plenty of fluid. Don’t be obsessed about drinking a certain amount of water, as long as you’re taking on water, and not drinking too much tea, Coffee, fizzy drinks, or alcohol.

Nourish. Remember that your skin needs full range of vitamins and minerals, as well as healthy fats. Try eating a varied diet, which incorporates plenty of vegetables fruit, pulses, nuts, seeds and Olive Oyl. Current dietary guidelines recommend eating not more than two portions of oily fish a week, and this is another source of beneficial healthy fats.

If like Hal, you suffer from conditions such as Raynaud’s disease, or your hands become extremely painful in cold weather, you might benefit from trying some handwarmer pouches. It’s possible to get reusable ones, which are activated by pressing a disk within them. They heat up quickly and stay warm for a good few hours, and are reset by boiling in hot water.. However, you can buy massive boxes of disposable hand warmers called Little Hotties, from Amazon much cheaper. Just shake them and they stay warm for hours. Slip them into your pockets, or even your gloves. Earlier This year, when it was snowing, Hal slipped some under the water buckets In the stables to try to stop them freezing. It worked a treat!

I hope the above tips are helpful. In the meantime, next time you wake up to a crisp frosty morning, please spare a thought for those of us you have to put their bare hand into a freezing water bucket to judge how fullit is.

Winter Draws On

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As I was feeding the dogs last night I heard the phone ring. Like Hal and I, my Dad had just seen Country File, and, like me, . Had winced when the Weather Man said the S word, and then went on to say that snow showers could potentially occur as far South as the Moors of the far South West.

Gulp!

No, OK, we aren’t actually on the Moor here inn Shebbear, but we are invetween Dartmoor and Exmoor, in an area known as Ruby Country. We don’t actually get much snow here, but we’ve already had more than our fair share back in March. I truly think that if we do get a lot of snow this winter it might just finish me off! If you want to know why, please read my post from 2nd March this year entitled “Blind Man’s Fog”.

Dad really wanted to know if we’d brought the horses in. Yes we had! In fact yesterday was the big day. The change has now been made from Summer to Winter routine, a whole 25 days later than last year – and we’ve actually still got some grass left.

Usually the decision is made based on how wet and boggy the ground has become. This year, while the ground is a bit wet, it’s down to wind chill, and Vreeze struggling a bit. Poor Breeze, she was very stiff yesterday. Not exactly lame, but definitely not sound. It was like all her joints needed oiling. Mind you, she’s not The only one. I’ve never really been convinced the weather does have an effect on my arthritis, but, oh my word, am I having a flareup at the moment!

Thankfully this morning, whilst the wind can’t be bothered to go around you, there is no snow around here. Long may that last. I’m hoping for a short winter. I personally don’t mind it being cold and dry. In fact I love cold frosty Krispy mornings, kind of morning when I imagine everything is sparkling like diamonds. Pleased though, no snow!

Three Years of Joy

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It’s Florence his third Gotcha anniversary today! It feels like she’s always been with me.

Florence came to me when I was going through an extremely stressful time. In all honesty I really should not have even been thinking of buying a horse just then. I was taking part in a clinical research trial, and sadly things have gone slightly wrong for me, and Hal and I were making the journey from North Devon to Oxford on an almost fortnightly basis, I ended up having four surgeries between September and February At the same time we were also being filmed for a television programme. An experience which I never want to repeat. I had been told earlier that summer that my beloved Magnum had a serious heart problem, and therefore could no longer be ridden, so I started window shopping for horses as a distraction. My friend Amy sent me a link to an advertisement on the website pre-loved for a 16-year-old piebald Cob mare that she thought might be eminently suitable. As the horse was not particularly far away from us we decided to go and have a look. The rest as they say is history.

Although Florence arrived in the November, because of the ongoing problems with my eyes, more surgery, an absolutely appalling weather, I didn’t actually sit on her until the beginning of March the following year. O’Boywas that leap of faith! Florence was amazing though, if you didn’t know, nothing in her behaviour would have told you she hadn’t been sat on for four months. It’s fair to say that up to that point Florence and I had not been getting along particularly well, and there had been more than one occasion when her bags had been packed and she was going back to her previous owner. However, every time Hal talked me down and convinced me to give her another chance. Poor Florence

, it must’ve been extremely difficult for her to move from her secure home of eight years, into a completely alien environment, with an owner who seem to keep disappearing and reappearing, and who must have been radiating stress, anxiety, and unhappiness like the Sun radiates light and heat. I truly believe that she could either here or smell the implant that I had in my I, and was very very aware of the problems that I was having, because she kept trying to bite my face. Believe me when you can’t see it coming, The snapping together of huge great horse teeth just millimetres away from your face is quite alarming! My theory about this was backed up by the fact that, as soon as I had the implant removed, in the middle of February, the attacks on my face stopped. Another problem we had when Florence first came to me, what’s that had not appreciated that she has extremely sensitive skin, and is extremely ticklish. She is a great big enormous hairy gypsy cob, but underneath all that black and white fur she has a thoroughbred skin I’m sure.

I’ve always believed that, Magnum, being a very old and wise horse, New that his time was coming to an end, and understood that Florence and come here to take over from him. I am quite sure that he explained the situation t her to look after me. You see, on what was probably the hardest long weekend of my entire life, we had Magnum put to sleep on the Friday, and had the implant removed on the Monday. From the moment I got home from hospital Florence and I began to build and understanding and bond. . I am so glad that Hal convince me to keeper. I trust Florence completely, I know she has boundaries, and I respect that. She does not have a nasty bone in her body, but she does not give her trust automatically. Yes she can occasionally be rude and pushy when handling her on the ground,

but when I’m sat on her back there are no limitations,? The world is ours too own. Florence is an extremely intelligent horse. She has the ability to read her rider, and adjust her way of going accordingly. This year she has carried my extremely capable writer niece Hannah, 11 year old Ven, my 87 year old Dad, Hal, and me, and been a total lady with us. She hates being on her own, and gets terrible separation anxiety. However, she has always been the bottom most ranking horse in my herd. She hates water,really hates having her legs touched, and can be a little bit girthy. Florence is completely unflappable, and extremely nosey. She is the kind of horse who would rather investigate something instdad of run away from it. She can be very impatient though, and doesn’t like standing around. Florence is quite vocal, and has an endearing way of wickering and snickering to me. Someone once connected that they thought Florence spoke to me like I was a foal. I just adore her!

So here’s to the next three years – Big beautiful black and white horse