Unbalanced! Me? #HorseHour #PonyHour #HorseBloggers

I seem to be having a real problem with my balance of late. It’s not a new thing, but in this last few months it really seems to be getting worse, ad I don’t really know why.

Everybody assumes that balance is all inthe ears. Afterall, aren’t we taught as children that the mechanisms behind balance are in the middle and innner ear? However, eyesight and proprioception both have their part to play. This is why people with certain neurological conditions, and those of us living with blindness or visual impairment, have problems with our balance to some degree. Strangely though, I have met a lot of blind people who just plain do not accept this to be a fact. They often just can’t understand wy they get travel sick, or seem to trip over thin air, or blame their Guide Dog for pulling them over, but if you explain to them about their innately rubbish balance, they will argue black is white with you that you are wrong. Not me though, I know my balance is compromised. . What i don’t understand is why it’s as bad as it is at the moment.

OK, so in my case I am specifically talking about my balance in the saddle, but actually, it all amounts to the same thing. Unbalanced on the ground, very unbalanced in the saddle.

For a while now I’ve been having a problemdismounting. At first I thought it was a fitness/flexibility thing; I was just too stiff and fat to lean forward and swing my leg over the horse to get off. However, since the beginning of the year I’ve lost a stone and a half, and, while there’s still a lot of weight to come off and a lot more fitness to gain, I am a lot more fit than I was, but dismounting is still a problem. It is getting better, but I’m also convinced that there’s more to this than just being a bloater. Now, I should point out that. In all the years I have been riding, I have never fallen over the front of a horse while dismounting, but, that’s exactly what my bodymind is telling me is going to happen when I try to lean forward before swinging my leg over. I am totally convinced that I am going to fall forward, over the horses head, It’s not even a conscious thought, I just feel very insecure and unbalanced. I don’t feel dizzy or lightheaded at all, and I haven’t had a cold or ear infection. It’s more a body control/proprioception/confidence issue, but what do I do to overcome it?

I do also have some problems when mounting, but thee are definately physical. I have arthritis in my left hip which was as the result of an injury I recieved whe I was in my 20’s., so I am restricted in the range of movement I have in that hip and putting my whole weight through that hip can sometimes be painful. That’s normal for me though, and tall mounting blocks are the order of the day. That doesn’t explain what has happened to me twice this week though. On Thursday I went to try a horse with a view to purchasing him. He was a lovely horse, but as it happens, not the horse for me. That’s not the point here though. Perhaps it is down to me being fitter and lighter, and so having more power in my left leg, or perhaps it’s because I just couldn’t judge the size of the horse properly, or maybe it’s down to my appaulling balance, and, this horse was a part bred Freisian, so narrower than Florence, Willow, Goldie or Alphie, who are the horses I ride the most; but I very nearly threw myself off the other side of him when I was getting on! I had real problems riding him too. I truly hadn’t realised just how large an action he would have, and when I asked him to go forward to trot, I completely lost my balance, and had to grab everything to stop me having an unscheduled dismount. Embarrassing! Even more embarrassing though was my mount and dismount yesterday, and this not even with a real life horse. The Riding Club once again had a Mechanical Horse Clinic with Emily Lloyd of E Equine and Mechanical Millie. So, once again I nearly threw myself off Millie as I was getting om her, and my dismount was dreadful, not helped by the fact that Millie only has half a neck and no head.

Core stability! I hear you all shout, and, yes, as I freely admit to being overweight and unfit, my core isn’t as strong as I’d like it to be; but compared to some it’s not that bad. I also think there’s more to my problems than just muscle control, and I really do think they are down to not being able to see. In the case of nearly throwing myself over both the real live horse and the mehanical one, I think it’s got a lot to do with not being able to gauge how far I have to move to get my leg over and sit in the saddle. I know all the horses I ride regularly, so I have a muscle memory of how much I need to do to get on them. This is something I can learn with any horse I ride on a regular basis. However, the dismounting problem goes deeper, and I’m really struggling to work out how to over come it.

I’d be interested in any input or suggestions from others please.

Nationals – A shot in the arm ๐Ÿ˜„

So, despite everything, on Friday morning, Hal, Quincey, and I loaded up, and travelled up to the RDA National Championships at Hartbury College, near Gloucester.I only went because a lot of people had made a lot of effort to get me there. Honestly though, I’d have rather stayed in bed.

I’m so glad I did go. The whole experience was the most perfect antidote to the terrible week that preceded it, and I’ve come away feeling much happier, more confident in my abilities, with a little more self believe, and a lot of plans/hopes/dreams for the future.

This has to have been the friendliest, and most supportive equestrian event I have ever been to. No dragging other people down, no bitching about why the person who got placed above you shouldn’t have even been allowed to enter, no arguing with the judge, no fat shaming, picking fault with other peoples riding ability, tack choices, turn out, or choice of horse. Just support and admiration from everyone to everyone, a feeling of camaraderie, genuine good will, and a lot of people having a lot of good horsey fun. Why aren’t all equestrian events like this?

Hartbury, or at least the bits I saw, is an amazing place. OK, so I can’t comment on the human accomodation, as we stayed in the Holiday Inn in Gloucester (a lot nicer than our usual Premier Inn or Travelodge whenever we go anywhere), but the horse accomodation was the poshest stabling I have ever experienced.Large, airy,barns with lovely wide walkways, and all immaculate.I have no idea how many stables there actually were, but North Cornwall RDA were based in Barn D, and I know there was a Barn G! There were several arenas, both indoor and outdoor, although confusingly, according to a plan that Hal saw, no arena 3. Although I did dressage, there were a lot of other disciplines taking place. Showjumping, showing, endurance, vaulting, musical rides, and the Countryside Challenge, a handy pony style competition unique to RDA

Now, when it came to my test, in all honestly, I didn’t think that I really rode that well

. No excuses here, it’s just how I felt, sick, sad, and sorry over Breeze, extremely nervous, and desperate not to let anyone down, and far far too hot! Let’s face it, even in the coldest of conditions I run warm, and I get a proper sweat on when I’m nervous or anxious, and it was really very hot on Saturday. However, Willow (Stephania! Who knew?) was a total pro, bless her, she’d have done a lot better without the sweaty mess on her back, and of course Mark, Becky, who had only giben birth to their tiny daughter Lowenna 12 days before, and the wonderful, and very long suffering groups of volunteers who called my letters for me, were just the best. A special mention has to go to whoever it was who turned Willow out, all shiney and white, and plaited beautifully. Thank you whoever you are.

Ok, so my test wasn’t a thing of beauty. This was the first time I had ever ridden in an arena where the boards are all away from the walls, and it’s fair to say it’s something I need more practice at. I was worried that Willow would step out of the boards, so I over compensated and ended up cutting of the ends of the arena. At one time I was riding directly towards K thinking to myself,”I really shouldn’t be here should I”. I felt a bit like a bunny in the headlights throughout the test. Not my best effort at all.

So imagine my total shock, and utter delight, when I discovered that I’d won! I still can’t believe it now.

My score was 63.12%, which is the lowest score of the 3 competitions I’ve done with the RDA so far, but having read my scoresheet, I think the judges comments are entirely reasonable. Although, I am a bit surprised at the comment “A calmly ridden test”! Oh no it wasn’t!

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If I’ve managed to attach a video here you will see exactly what I mean. Ignore the first bit it’s me on the grey. As she can probably tell, Hal wasn’t very much calmer than me.

So, all I really need now is a new four legged dancing partner, a lot of practice, and some self belief. Not too much to ask surely?

Here’s to next year๐Ÿ˜„

Five Years!

Today marks the fifthe anniversary of Hal and I coming to Albert’s Bungalow.

Five Years!

I’ve just read back through all my posts since I began Poo Picking in the Dark, which it surprises me that I didn’t actually begin until the November after we moved in, and, we haven’t stopped have we?!

Looking back, we’ve achieved such a lot, and learned even more. Yes, there have been some terrible lows, the whole Leonie situation will haunt me for life, however, there have been so many more highs. Yes, it’s hard work, no we haven’t had a holiday since we’ve been here. No, we don’t have any money. Yes, we have a great quality of life.

I still have to pinch myself regularly. I still can’t believe I’m here with my own little yard and my own school. The last five years have been full on, but we’ve done all the big stuff now. So now it’s time to consolidate on what we’ve built here. Here’s to the next five years.

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.

The Invisible Equestrian 5 – The Dog Zone

I really am going to go off topic with this post. However, if you work in, or run and equestrian business, or any other kind of business for that matter, especially one where you offer goods and services to the public, or invite the public onto your property for any reason, then read on, this post applies to you.Do you know the law when it comes to Guide Dogs and Other Assistance Dogs? If you are just Mr, Mrs, or Miss Average, then I suspect not. However, if you run a business that offers goods and services to the public in any way, why not? You should, and the law applies to the equestrian industry as much as any other.

I m writing this post because, as a Guide Dog Owner, I regularly fall victim to access refusals, and less favourable treatment because of my Guide Dog, and believe me, after 23 years of Guide Dog Ownership, and a lifetime of living with sight loss, it’s beginning to wear a bit thin! Now, I’ll be perfectly honest with you, I predominantly experience access refusals in pubs, cafes, restaurants, and hotels and guest houses. However, I have had problems with taxis, and, in the equestrian world, tack shops.. I personally have never had a problem with a Riding School or Livery Yard, but I do know people who have. OK, I was once asked to keep my then Guide Dog tied up when at the yard where I kept my horse at the time, but in fairness, he had just pushed the elderly resident Staffy into the pond, so it was a reasonable enough request really!

So what is the law, and what are everyones obligations under it?

Firstly, let’s make it clear from the outset, the law is not about the dog, the law is about treating people who have disabilities and long term health problems fairly, and not discriminating against them because of their disability or condition.

Originally these protections were enshrined in law as part of the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), and were then incorporated into the Equalities Act 2010 (EA). That means that these laws have been on the Statute Book for 24 years. Why then do so many business owners, Taxi Drivers, Service Providers, claim that they are ignorant of the law? Surely this is just one of many laws and regulations that you must be aware of in order to run any business or service legally? It honestly rocks my world when, having been denied access, or offered a less than favourable service because I have my Guide Dog with me, the reason/excuse given is so often “I’m sorry, I didn’t know”. It makes me wonder what other laws and regulations they don’t know about.

The EA provides that it is illegal for service providers to treat people with disabilities less favourably because of their disability, or because they have a Guide or other Assistance Dog with them. Service providers are required to make reasonable adjustment to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities, and thisincludes allowing all Guide Dogs and Assistance Dogs into all public places with their owners. In practical terms this means that, even if you would normally have a blanket ban on dogs in your premises, if you are open to the public, you cannot stop a person with a Guide Dog, or other Assistance Dog coming in . It also means that Guide Dogs and other Assistance Dogs cannot be restricted to any existing zone that is reserved for pet dogs.

This is not an entirely one way thing though. Far from it. Guide and Assistance Dog Owners have obligations under the EA too. Accredited Guide Dog and Assistance Dogs are highly trained, and we owners have had specialised training the safe and effective handling of our dogs. The dogs behaviour is a fundamental part of this training. Guide and Assistance Dogs are trained to lie quietly under tables, sit, stand or lie quietly next to their owner in queues or at counters, sit quietly in footwells of vehicles, sit quietly under seats or in footwells on trains, trams and buses, and should not scavenge or beg for food. We are trained to groom our dogs, they have regular flea, tic, and worm treatments, are fully inoculated, are spayed or castrated, and regularly, every 6 months in the case of Guide Dogs, have full vet checks.. We are expected to keep our dogs under control at all times when they are on duty. If you, as the business owner or service provider , or even as a member of the public, do not think that a Guide or Assistance Dog is being correctly handled you are fully within your rights to point this out to the owner in the first instance, and report the problem to Guide Dogs, or whichever Assistance Dog organisation the dog comes under.

So how can you be sure the dog is what the owner is claiming it to be?

This is a very valid question. Sadly there are some sad, strange, misguided individuals out there who seem to think that Guide and Assistance Dogs are merely privileged pets. They are not! It’s sad but true, but some people seem to think it’s OK to claim they have a Guide Dog or Assistance Dog when they don’t. It’s more of a problem inthe USA, but Fake Service/Assistance Dogs are a genuine problem, and it just makes life so much more difficult for those of us who are legitimately just trying to live our lives with the help of our chosen mobility/safety aid. You see, that’s what a genuine Guide Dog or other Assistance Dog actually is. Yes, they are lovely, but, regardless of the fur and wagging tails, they are not pets, they are mobility aids and safety equipment. Yes, they are sooo much more than that. Ultimately though, for those of us who have them, our safety, independance, mobility, even life, rests in their paws, eyes, and noses. There is no t technology yet invented that can do what a well trained dog can do anywhre near as reliably. Quite simply they are the best tool for the job!

In the UK there is an organisation called Assistance Dogs UK (ADUK) which oversees the training, professional standards, animal welfare standards and legality of organisations which provide dogs to guide or in any other way support people living with disabilities and long term health conditions. ADUK are themselves governed by 2 international bodiesAssistance Dogs International (ADI) and the International Guide Dogs Federation (IGDF). In order to. Be a member of ADUK an organisation has to be accredited to either ADI or IGDF, and it is the organisation, which has to meet verry rigorous standards which apply to every aspect of how that organisation works, from dog training and welfare client support to the supporting infrastructure.

Every client of an ADUK accredited organisation is given an anADUK ID book which gives details of the dog, owner, organisation, and other relevent information. The law applies to ADUK accredited dog/owner partnerships only. So if in doubt ask to see the dogs ID. That said, Guide and Assistance Dogs invariably wear some kind of uniform, either a harness or jacket which clearly indicates what their job is.

Now, I feel it’s important for me to point out here that, in the case of Guide Dogs at least, the law only applies to working Guide Dogs. The law doesn’t actually aplly to pups at walk, breeding stock, retired Guide Dogs, or working Guide Dogs who aren’t actually with their owner. So, if I’m poorly, and my husband offers to take th dog for a walk, he can’t just pop into the shop on his way home, and take the dog in with him. Neither can my elderly retired dog automatically go everywhere he used to e able to when he was working. Sadly some Guide Dog owners have a real problem getting their heads around this fact, and again, just like people who claim their pets are Assistance Dogs, it confuses matters and makes things for the rest of us, who just want to be able to get on with living our life, so much more difficult.

So, how should you behave towards a Guide Dog Owner, or somebody with another kind of Assistance Dog? Quite simply, in exactly the same way you would behave towards them if they didn’t have their dog with them.

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Behave as if the dog is not there. Remeber this dog is not a pet, it is there to help it’s owner to live their life safely. Yes, we know they are beautiful and clever, but, if I’m in your premises, I’m probably there to do something like shop, eat, have a meeting…the list goes on… Really I’m there for exactly the same reasons as anyone else might be. I’m not there to balster your ego, inspire you, entertain you, and I’m definately not there to educate you about your legal obligations towrds me. All of us who have nay kind of Assistance Dog are very aware that we only have them because of the kindness and generosity of those members of the public who support the various Assistance Dog charities. We really are very greatful, but we have lives that , whilst our dogs are vital to our being able to live them, are about. So much more than our dogs or our disability. If I’m trying to have lunch, or I need to be fitted for a correctly fitting riding hat, the dog should not be your first concern.

Remember, as clever and well trained as they are, Guide and Assistance Dogs are just that – dogs! They are amazing, but they are not little machines, and they are not little humans in fur coats. They can be distracted by, and frightened by, the exact same things that every other dog can bedistracted and frightened by. They cannot read, understand complex instructions or tell the time. They are not particularly good at judging the speed of cars, bicycles, or even other pedestrians, and they feel pain, discomfort, heat and cold, get hungry, thirsty, and need to wee and poo just like every other dog. They can get ill, injured, and stressed, and when this happens it has a direct and negative effect on that dogs owners ability to live their life to the full.

Recently I was the victim of an access refusal because I had my Guide Dog Quincey with me. It was unusual, because I personally have never come across a situation quite like this before. We fell victim to the Dog Zone.

Many pub landlords, restauranteurs, and cafe owners are becoming wise to the fact that having a blanket ban on dogs in their premises may be detrimental to their takings. Dog people like to take their dogs everywhere with them, especially since , and I don’t mean offence by using the following term, handbag dogs became such a fashion statement, or in areas where family holidays often mean the whole family, 4 legged as well as 2 legged. Many establishments have got round this by having a specific area where dogs are allowed, whilst leaving the rest of the premises free for those clients who are dog free. It sounds like a really good idea, and in principle it is, but there can be problems, especially if the presence of a specific dog zone in a premises is used as a smoke screen for breaking the EA. This is exactly what happened to me last week.

Under the terms of the EA reasonable adjustment must be made to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities, and, as I wrote above, this means that if a person is accompanied by their Guide Dog, or other Assistance Dog, tat dog, they must be allowed into any area that the public would normally be allowed into, regardless of whether dogs are allowed there or not. If you do not allow somebody with a Guide Dog or other Assistance Dog into your premises because of the dog, or insist that they use the dog only zone, you are treating them less favourably because of their disability.

THEY ONLY HAVE THEIR DOG BECAUSE OF THEIR DISABILITY

The dog is not a pet. The dog is not a fashion accessory.

The dog is a vital piece of mobility, orientation, health or safety equipment, without which that individual cannot safely live their life.

If you refuse access to a person because of their Guide Dog, or other Assistance Dog, or you insist that they stick to the dog only zone, you are treating them less favourably because of their disability. If you are treating somebody less favourably because of their disability you are discriminating against them. If you are discriminating against them because they have a disability you are breaking the law.

It’s not rocket science.

As I said at the top of this post. I rarely actually have a problem in the equestrian world where this is concerned. However, it does happen in every business and it shouldn’t.

Please make sure that you and your staff know the law.

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!

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!