Peace

.and breathe.

Florence and Breeze are finally out over night. Yes, we’ve made it through another winter! Actually, this winter hasn’t been too bad. Only having the 2 horses has helped, but also, well, compaired to last year, the weather hasn’t been to bad either. There’s been minimal mud, they’ve hardly had a rug on, we haven’t used nearly as much hay as in previous years, and we’ve got shed loads of beddin gleft. Result! We never even completely ran out of grass this winter and haven’t had to supplement hay in the field at all.

You may remember that last Autumn we invested in a Haygain hay steamer. What an investment! Yes it was very expensive, but I’d highly recommend it. Apart from when she was ill back in January, Florence’s breathing has never been so good. It’s much less hassel that having to soak hay, and not once did I have the problem of having to deal with a frozen block of icey hay first thing in the morning. There’s also something truly lovely about the warmth and delicious smell of freshly steamed hay – Gorgeous!

The girls being turned out overnight corresponded with Hal an I having having to make our annual pilgrimage to Oxford to see the Eye Boffins. It’s been a very long couple of days. As far as the eye situation goes, nothing has changed, and so, unless anything dramatic happens I don’t need to go back for 2 years this time. Really though, Maundy Thursday is not the day to have to travel back towards tha West Country. Oh My Word! We had a very long day yesterday, and a total pig of a journey home. Oxford is such a noisey, polluted, and frenetically busy place. Going to check the horses first thing this morning was the perfect antidote to the 2 days of noise and rushing about we’ve just had. Yesterday I awoke to traffic, beeping horns and sirens. This morning, birdsong, sheep, and cattle. The woodpecker was hard at work, a Ewe had lost her lamb somewhere, and the noisiest things were the geese down on Alberts Lake squabbling as only geese can. I was greeted by 2 happy relaxed and content horses, and the air smelt of grass. Perfect!

I certainly know where I’m happiest.

Hitting the Target

I had the best lesson yesterday. I went over to Melissa’s to ride Goldie (Florence is still not right), and what a successful session we had! i really do feel that, even though I’m not riding very often at the moment, I am making some progress.

Melissa was interested to hear about the work I did when I had my RDA Assessment, and the way Mark orientated me. I explained about how he ‘called’ me into the letters, and how he got me to count strides between markers so I knew when to leave the track on a circle. So we decided to practice this by doing trot to halt transitions , but trying to make them bang on the marker.

To be honest with you, counting strides is not a new concept to me. However, I’ve never really found it helpful. Yes, I can cout, and I do understand how knowing how many strides your horse takes between A and B can be a real help, and not just for Blind and Visually Impaired Riders, but I think that previous instructors haven’t really quite understood it themselves, and therefore, have perhaps, made it a bit more complicated than need be. Being blind means that I have to concentrate on a lot more things than my sighted counterparts, especially when it comes to my surroundings, what is going on around me, and my position and orientation in relation to the rest of the world. I have to constantly actively think about where things are, and where I am, I can’t just look up and see. This is my normal, but it is hard work, and can be exhausting, especially whenit is the background to learning new skills, or carrying out specific tasks, carrying out instructions that are being given at the time, or being in new surroundings. I also personally find it difficult to concentrate when there is a lot of background noise, like a noisey crowd or loud music, or when it is windy. In the past I’ve had many soul destroying, and frankly pointless, lessons with instructors who have heard, somewhere, that blind people find their way around by counting steps, and so have insisted that I count every stride a horse takes around the school, all the strides down each long side, all the strides across the ends, all the strides across the diagonal… whilst all the time they stood in the middle of th school barking instructions at me, and making me repeat the same thing over and over again, because I hadn’t got the count right. Now, I can count, of course I can, and I can follow instructions, as long as I understand what it is I am being asked to do, but as I have to concentrate so hard on my surroundings all the time as well, I have very little spare capacity , so if something else happens whilst I am doing all these things I can’t always process that as well. What happens is that I either lose count, forget my position, or blank the instruction being given. All of which means that things don’t go as planned As a result I decided a long time ago that stride counting was not for me. Well done anyone who can do it, but I can’t – end of.

Until now that is. You see, Mark, and subsequently Melissa have a slightly different approach. I don’t have to know how many strides there are down the entire long side of the school. I just need to know how many strides there are from marker to marker, which means I only have to ride from marker to marker, which means I only have to think about the distance between markers, which means I only have to concentrate on bite size amounts of counting at a time. Oh my word! It sounds really obvious doesn’t it, and really simple. What it is though is a revolution! I can actually do this! It works!

I admit that yesterday I still had my reservations. When I’d done it with Mark the other week it was in an indoor school, so I could hear the walls, so could easily tell I was on the outside track, and had no wind to contend with. Melissa’s outdoor school, like my own, is somewhat exposed, and, again like every outdoor school I’ve ever ridden in, there’s nothing to echo locate against, so I can’t hear if I’m on the outside track or not. There was quite a stiff breeze blowing yesterday, which always seems to make things harder. However, I needn’t have worried. We worked out that, in working trot, Goldie has 7 strides between markers. So, using B on one rein, and E on the other rein as my stopping pointss, I set off to count down from M and H respectively, counting down strides and preparing for the halt in order to stop at the desired point. It worked! Not just once, but every time, and on both reins. The only time I overshot was when Goldie decided to spice things up a bit by demonstrting her powerful extended trot. She might be an elderly riding school horse, but she’s got some moves.

The other bonus development of yesterday’s lesson was my increasing ability to sit deep and use my seat to stop. Perhaps it was because I was having to work less hard on knowing where I was I could work on the physical aspect of getting good accurate halts as well. It surprised me actually because I’m very stiff at the moment, and actually had quite a lot of difficulty getting onto Goldie yesterday. At 16hh she’s a bit bigger than Florence, and Melissa’s mounting block is a bit lower than mine. However, once I’d scrambled aboard it all seemed to come together. Everytime I sat and asked for halt it got better, I sat deeper, was able to recruit my seat and core more, and needed to use less rein. Brilliant! We finished on a high, with a perfect square halt bang on target at E.

I’m still buzzing! It’s bouyed me up to keep slogging on with the diet and fitness regime, as my improve physicality can only be a result of what I’ve been doing so far. I feel more confident in my abilities, and it’s wetted my appetite for more. I’m back down to Camelford for another RDA session next week. Bring it on!

Positivity

Well, what a week! Many of you will know that my general health and fitness, and my weight have been a big concern for me for quite some time. I really let self care slide to the bottom of the pile last year, and as a consequence I have been struggling to get back on top of things, and haven’t been feeling particularly well for a while now. Hmmm, it turns out that there might be a reason for me feeling so wrong. Sadly, and fustratingly, but not at all surprisingly, on Monday I was diagnosed with type 2 Diabetes. It’s not great, but it is what it is, and at least I know what I’m dealing with.. I am not a frequent flyer at the Doctors, and really only go there if I’m in extreme pain,need paperwork doing, or need refering to another medical professional. I should point out here that I have no particular problem with Doctors, it’s just that I really don’t like waisting their time. I haven’t been to the doctors since the end of 2017, when I had that virus that rendered me deaf. Since then the local GP in the village, has retired and the practice closed down. So now I have to go to Holsworthy, 10 miles away to see the Doctor, another reason for not going very often. Being diagnosed was something of a lucky break. Yes, i know, it doesn’t sound very lucky, but , I only actually went to the Doctor to get a form filled in.I wouldn’t have gone otherwise, and your guess is as good as mine when I would have gone. In the meantime my Diabetes would have continued to go undiagnosed, and who knows what damage it could have caused. Now I have the opertunity to rectify the situation and improve my health. I have 3 months to turn it around, or I will be put on medication. I am determined that I wil NOT be going on the medication.

It’s classic Sods Law that Diabetes Diagnosis came the day before my birthday. Guess who now has a mountain of chocolate that she’s not supposed to eat. However, I did get the best birthday present possible on Tuesday. I finally managed to get back on Florence! I can’t remeber when I last rode her, but it must have been back at the beginning of November. At first it was just bad weather, then the December chaos that usually accompanies the run up to Christmas and the New Year. To be honest, I rarely do much riding in December. Then, since the beginning of January poor Florence has been ill and/or lame. At first fI didn’t think I was going to be able to do it, but after a few tears of pure despair, me not her, she stood quietly and let me get on. I only rode one lap of the school, and then got off again. Believe me, it was the best lap of a school I’ve ever ridden! Onwards and upwards from now on, but only in very tiny hoof beats. We are both very unfit, and Florence may never be fully sound again. She was extremely stiff, which is not at all surprising, but she was not lame, and she did not struggle with her breathing. Result!.

Strange as it might sound, I have the Riding for the Disabled Association to thank for my finding out that I am Diabetic. One of my aims for this year was to maybe do some RDA/Para dressage. The thing is though, I wasn’t at all sure how to go about doing this. I have historically had very little to do with the Riding for the Disabled Association, and what experience I have had in the past has not always been a happy one. In fact, I freely admit that up until now I have actively avoided RDA for a very long time. I don’t want to do them an injustice. I think they do excellent work, but I personally have found them to be completely lacking where the specific needs of blind and visually impaired riders are concerned. I may have to reassess the situation now though.

Having sought advice from other, more RDA andcompetition savvy Blind Riders, who I have never met, but know through the Blind Riders UK Face Vook and Twitter Accounts, I have joined the RDA as an independant rider, affiliating myself to the North Cornwall RDA Branch, who are based at Lakefield Equestrian Centre, Camelford. . Because I have arthritis as well as being blind, I was asked to get a Doctor to fill out a form, as well as the form I had to do to apply to join the group. It was the first time I had ever met my new doctor, and she wanted to do a full health screening on me, while she had me captive so to speak. A full range of blood tests were done, and I was asked to go back and have more done as something had triggered. Hey Presto! Some things are meant to happen.

I always thought that, if I did go down the RDA road, I would be riding Florence. However, the last few months have made it clear to me that my beloved girl is maybe at a stage of her life where she needs to start taking things easier, not starting out on new, physically challenging ventures.So, for the time being at least, I have elected to use their horses, not mine.

On Wednesday I went to Lakefield EC for the first time,to have what had been described to me as a riding assessment.

Assessment! I haven’t sat on a horse for months!

When I was given the date and time for the assessment, the first thing I did was book myself in with Melissa for a lesson on Goldie. Actually, despite not haing ridden for so long, I didn’tdo that badly, and I wasn’t as knackered at the end of the lesson as I thought I was going to be. Maybe the fitness routine I’ve been doing since the beginning of the year is beginning to have a positive effect. I hope so, as it will undoubtedly be helping with the Diabetes.

.

To say I was nervous about Wednesday’s assessment is a massive understatement. A total stranger, watching me ride a totally strange horse, in completely new surroundings, and me fatter, more unfit than I have ever been, and having only ridden for the grand total of 35 minutes in the last 5 months. What was there to be worried about?. Actually, I had a very positive experience from beginning to end.

.

I’ve never been on a yard that has designated reception staff before. Let’s face it, I’ve never been on a yard with a fully acessible toilet either. I’ve never been on a yard where people knew how to sighted guide correctly. All of this was there at Lakefield. I was put on a lovely, and immaculately presented horse called Carrie and had what felt like a very successful lesson. The instructor, Mark, obviously wanted to work out what I was capable of, and how I would respond to the way he would orient me around the school. He is obviously used to working with people with all kinds of disability, and teaching somebody who is totally blind just seemed to be normal to him. What a joy. I soon forgot that I was being assessed, and settled into enjoying such a lovely, well schooled horse. Again, as with my lesson with Melissa, we did an awful lot of trotting, and again, I wasn’t totally exhausted at the end of the lesson, and that despite doing more trotting than I’ve done for a very long time.I was buzzing by the time I dismounted. I can do this! I’m going back a the beginning of April. I’m not going to put too many expectations into this, I’m just going to see where it takes me. It could be a whole new adventure, but if not, then I’ll be honing my riding skills, enjoying the luxury of riding in an indoor school, and loving being trained by a highly qualified instructor for whom teaching somebody who is blind is normal. Don’t worry though, I won’t be abandoning Melissa. She’s brilliant, and I think of her more as a friend now. Not only that, but I’ve never come out of a session with her where I haven’t learned something new. She’s also hilariously funny. Oh no, she’s not going to get rid of me that easily. Plus the fact I need her to beat Hal into submission for me..

I can’t help feeling that things are on the up. Yes, it’s going to be a long journey to get Florence fully back into work. Sadly, yesterday, after being off the medication for a week, she had gone back to not wanting to be mounted, and it was obvious, even to young Ben, that her back legs wre not right. However, she dragged Hal all over the place when we tried to take her out for a walk in hand instead of riding her. She wants to be doing stuff. It just hurts to have a a fat, unfit tonne of lard like me on her back at the moment. We’ll get there though, and if we don’t, well, Florence isn’t going anywhere. Yes, there will be another horse in the future. Right now though we don’t have the money. In the meantime, I think I’m going to enjoy my RDA sessions at Lakefield, and Melissa will keep me on my toes. I jus need to get fitter, lose more weight, and get well again.

A piece of cake really – or not as the case may be.

Why Do You Have Lessons – I Thought You Could Ride?

I suspect it’s a question that we all get asked by non-horsey friends from time to time.

I thought you said you can ride, so why are you having a lesson?

It happened to me for the first time in ages yesterday. The thing is though, I really don’t know how to answer in a short and succinct way. Yesterday I said, “Well, think of it more as coaching”, which seemed to do the trick. However, calling it coaching makes it sound like I’m some kind of elete sports woman, which I’m really not.

The thing is though, I don’t really understand why people ask the question in the first place. After all, how many things do we ever get to a certain point, and then totally stop learning about? Now, OK, I’ve never driven a car, but, everyone I know who does drive, and let’s face it, that’s a lot of people, say that they didn’t really start learning about driving until after they passed their test. Likewise, in most professions, my own for example, you are expected to take part in what is called Continuing Professional Development throughout your career. I can’t think of any scenario where, unless yu are determined not to, you can’t keep learning.

Now, OK, we’ve all met people who, apparently at least, were born knowing evrything. They don’t need to continue learning about whatever it is, because, well, they know it all. The equestrian world seems to attract a disproportion amount of these paragons, but they can be found anywhere. For the rest of us mere mortals though, learning, in any sphere of life, if a lifelong process. The thing with horses and riding is that, just like us, horses are all individuals, and, also like us, have their moods, and idiosyncrasies, so riding a horse, even if it is always the same horse, is not like riding a bike. We also have our good days and bad days, our like and dislikes, and get into bad habits. very often he have no idea that we aren’t riding as effectively, or as in balance, as we could, or even should, until something begins to go wrong. Horse riding is a partnership in which, as in all other partnerships, both sides need to play their part. We humans are not very good at being honest with ourselves. We tend to be over confident about our abilities, believing we are really on top form, when we might not actually be, or we are over critical of ourselves, doing ourselves down when actually, we’re not that bad. Very often all we need is an unbiased, honest, input from a third party to get us back on the correct road.

Whether it be the horse, rider, or the whole partnership that needs some guidance, having lessons, training, coaching, call it what you want is essential for even the most experienced horse or rider. There are always bad habits to tweak, and new things to learn. Even just being around horses you always learn something new. You are never too experienced to have lessons.

No only that, but I personally enjoy them.

Taking Stock

Sometimes it’s good to stop and take stock, especially when you are feeling a bit like you are lost in the wilderness, which is exactly how I have been feeling for a while now. So today, when I was browsing Social Media over my early morning cuppa, and one of those ‘Face Book Memories’ came up on my time line, it gave me pause to reflect and get some perspective..

Today is the 5th Anniversary of the day that Hal and I first came to view what is now our home.

So, as we were waiting for Steve to deliver some hay this morning, I couldn’t help reflecting on the past 5 years, and thinking how far we’ve come, and how much we’ve learned. Back then, having pulled out of a purchase on legal advice, and, only the day before coming here, viewed an almost derelict dump of a farmhouse, which seemed to be all that was available in our price range, we were beginning to believe that we were on a fools errand. Our dream of having our own little equestrian property was beyond our reach. Now though we have our own little yard with a lovely school, and have plans to get our own transport later this year.

Ok, so at the moment, we have 2 unrideable horses; but 5 years ago, I was in danger of not having anywhere to keep the 2 horses we had back then. Also, even if neither Florence nor Breeze can never do a stroke of work again in their lives, they will still be here. Having our own yard and land means I do not have to make that horrible choice between having a ridable horse and keeping the now unsound, older horse that I love. That single fact alone is enough to make all the hard work, sacrifice, financial hardship, and difficult decisions, worthwhile.

Yes, doing it yourself is extremely hard work, and it’s poor Hal who has to bare the brunt of it. We haven’t had a holiday since we moved here. Apart from the fact that we can’t really afford it, it’s a question of what we do with the horses if we go away. Yes, if we have to be away for a night or 2, then we are lucky in that Amy will take care of them, but leaving them for a whole week, or a fortnight… Well that’s a different kettle of fish altogether. All our money goes into the horses and maintaining th yard. We have invested a lot in building the stables and school, neither of which existed before we moved here. Also, we haven’t really recovered from taking a hit when that crook stole our money instead of building stables, and yes, this is a choice we have made, and I’m ot complaining, after all, what else would I be spending my money on? Horses are my passion after all. However, Hal and I are not rich, in fact, if people knew how small our income atually is they wouldn’t believe us, so there’s not a lot spare for luxuries, or for that matter even essentials. Even if we didn’t have our own place, and kept our horses on livery somewhere, we’d still have to make difficult decisions from time to time. We’ve had to have 3 horses put to sleep since we’ve been here. In each case, being kept on livery would have made absolutely no difference. We had good support and guidance from our Vet in each case, and we can rest assured that in each case we did the best thing for the horse. In fact, for me personally, whilst having to make that ultimate decision is the most horrible thing you can think of, because I was confident I was doing the best thing for the horse at the time, whilst it was heartbreaking, it wasn’t entirely unbearable. This probably sounds very strange, and maybe a bit heartless, but I actually coped worse with the planning process for the stables and school. I think this is because it was a much more prolonged process, and other people’s opinions could have made a difference to the outcome. Ultimately I was in charge of the decision to send the horses on their final journey, but, having submitted planning applications, I had no control over what happened at all. Applying for planning consent is probably the most stressful thing I have ever done. I’m glad we did it though.

Hal and I have been lucky in the support we have had since we have been here. However, we haven’t had things handed to us on a plate. I truly believe that we wouldn’t have the support we do if we weren’t prepared to put in the graft. If something is important to you, then it’s worth the hard work.

5 years ago today, as we drove across Dartmoor in a snowstorm, little did we know that we were driving into the amazing dventure that the last 5 years have been. I love living here. My happiest times are when we are down on the yard. Yes, sometimes it feels like a struggle, and yes, sometimes I feel like I’m stood at the bottom of a mountain with only a very thin piece of rope to help me up to the top. However, these are just passing qualms. If you told me even 7 years ago that this is where I’d be I’d haved laughed at you. Living here is a privilege. Life is good. Here’s to the next 5 years. Bring it on.

Problems Problems Problems

Oh dear it’s all going a bit wrong at the moment. Florence and I have hit a major problem, and I worry that it might be an unsurmountable one. I am convinced that she has some collateral damage from her recent breathing troubles, and is still experiencing pain in the chest, thoracic spine, ribs and intercostal muscles, or even in the lungs or Plura themselves. She is no longer coughing, is not in any way wheezy, and there is no heave., but something is definitely wrong. For the first time since I’ve had her, she will not stand up to the mounting block! Florence, The worlds safest and most reliable horse, The horse that anybody can ride, and who anybody can mount, no matter how stiff they are and how much they have to scramble, The horse that loves hacking out, and will try her damnedest in the school even if she doesn’t really see the point, won’t stand up to the mountain block! Something is very wrong.

She is happily allowing me to tack her up, and can’t get the bit into her mouth quick enough, but as I lead her down into the school she becomes increasingly tense, A worried expression replacing her a bitch your smile. She walks towards the block and then once I start stepping up onto it she just rushes off, or if Hal leads her in , with me already in situ, she just rushes past!

It’s not a one off thing. I first tried to get back on board last weekend, on Saturday and Sunday, and the same thing happened. So, in order to try and rule a few things out, Flo has had this week off again, and has been taking a low-dose of Bute to ward off any evil spirits. I had hoped that this might counteract any residual inflammation, or ease any soreness in the muscles around her chest. That might have been caused by coughing and heaving. Sadly though, this morning was no different to last week. I’m very worried. The last time a horse of mine suddenly decided they didn’t want to be mounted after being 100% reliable, it was Magnum, and it was the first sign that his heart was giving him trouble.

Of course I will be speaking to the vet on Monday, I’ve already left a message with the Sadler, and I will try and book a Masterson Method treatment for both horses, and then potentially a physio appointment for Florence. They only had the teeth done a couple of weeks ago, so that shouldn’t be the issue.

Breeze is also being a little bit tricky. We know she has quite extreme arthritis in her Hocks, and is slightly lame in her off side hind because of it. We suspect this lameness is now a permanent thing, but the vet has suggested we run her on Bute permanently now, this will make her more comfortable, and she may even come sound. However, Breeze being Breeze, she won’t take the Bute! Oh no thank you very much. If it’s a question of taking beaut, or starving to death, Breeze is on a serious diet!

So here I am, One permanently lame pony Who refuses to take her medication, And one seemingly healthy horse, Who is behaving completely out of character, and for some reason doesn’t want to be mounted. The reality is that neither of my lovely girls are in the first flush of youth. They are both officially 20, but in both cases this is only a guesstimate age. Florence has a date of birth the 1st of January 1999, and Breeze the 30th of June 1998, but we know these are not actually the days on which they will fold. In Florence’s case it is standard practice to give a horse a birth date of the 1st of January. Where as I have been told that, in Breezes case, 30th of June is actually the birthday of her old owner. Apparently if a horse was bought to work in the trekking centre didn’t have a passport, it was always given the 30th of June as its date of birth. In reality, whilst Florence is most likely 20 or thereabouts, of the smart money is on Breeze actually being a lot older. When she had her teeth done recently we were told that they had stopped erupting.

I don’t like the thought of either of them being in pain, but I am really worried that flow may never be able to be ridden again. Both of then have a home here for the rest of their lives regardless, but I am itching to get back in the saddle, and right at the moment I can’t afford another horse.

For once I would just like things to go my way a little bit

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

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!