Something New Every Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crisis! What Crisis?

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

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

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

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

The Invisible Equestrian – Blind Riders UK #BlindRiders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Beast is Back

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I’m really losing the will to live. So far , in every aspect, this year has been a total … I actually can’t think of a printable word to describe it. I feel like all I’ve done this year is run round after other people, done the right thing, been sensible, been understanding, put others first,been the bigger person. In return I’ve made to feel like some kind of evil ,selfish bitch. I’ve lost a horse, and I’ve hardly had any time for the others. When I have had time to ride it’s either chucked it down with rain, howled with rain, or snowed!

Florence and Breeze didn’t cope very well with losing Leo. All Friday after she was collected, all day Saturday, and most of Sunday, they just kept calling and calling for her. It was totally heart rending to hear. By mid week they begun to relax again, and yesterday Hal so then eating from the same hey Kyle. Something that has hitherto been unheard-of.

The weather has actually been very nice this week, okay a bit damp, but there has been some warm sunshine, and it’s actually felt like spring be around corner. Perhaps I might be able to start doing things for me, spending some quality time with horses, having some nice hacks out, and maybe start having lessons again? No not a chance! It hasn’t stopped snowing since yesterday lunchtime. It’s a total whiteout out there. It’s back to stumbling around in the W and hauling water to the stables. Frankly I feel like it’s not worth trying to achieve anything.it either goes wrong or gets thrown back I’m your face.as far as I’m concerned this year can just do one.

They Also Break Hearts

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As many of you will know, Hal’s horse, Leonie, Leo, has always had problems. Damaged left eye, covered in scars, intermittent ataxia, neurological problems, suspected Wobblers Syndrome. Over the last few months her symptoms have worsened, and she developed a head shaking issue. Her behaviour has become unpredictable, at times challenging sometimes dangerous. Hal has had some frightening near misses while handling her. Our Vets have done a lot of work to try to get to the route of the problem, and see if there is anything that could be done for her. Sadly though

, while Leo seemed to be getting worse, all the tests were inconclusive. After a long and difficult discussion with our Vet we decided that enough was enough. Leo was put to sleep yesterday morning.

This has been so hard. She was only 8, and, as far as we can tell, we were probably the longest home she had ever been in. I also have the sneaky suspicion that her problems were , whether imtemtionally or not, as a result of human action, and The view that a horse is just a thing, not a sentient being with feeling and needs. We will never know the truth, but I don’t think Leo had a good life before she came to us. I hope she felt safe and loved here.

Whatever she was, Leo was no shrinking violet. . She was first at the gate, followed you around, a knocker over of poo ladies wheelbarrows, a grabber of hoses, a biter of bums, and a door banger. There was something about her though that everyone liked.

In Memory

Leonie

15hh Black Irish Cob mare. Passported in Newry, but could have come from anywhere. Exact age unknown, but approximately 8. Taken far far too young.

Very much loved

Next time it thunders, don’t worry, it’s just Leo banging on the gates of heaven because she’s not getting enough attention,

Blind man’s fog

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It’s fair to say that it’s been very cold all week. It didn’t actually rain for roughly 10 days which quite honestly feels like a bit of a triumph. We’ve coped with frozen water troughs, and if I’m perfectly honest, rejoiced in the hard frozen ground whichas made such a refreshing change from wading through mud. However things became a bit more tricky when the water started freezing in the buckets in the actual stables. However, we do have a working kettle in the tackroom now, so this wasn’t an unsurmountable problem. That is until Wednesday when disaster struck. The tap on the yard finally froze solid and refused to be revived by boiling water. The tap on the house didn’t want to know either. . So now we’re hauling water from the house to the yard. Hal has been doing the water carrier relay. Back and forth with a wheelbarrow loaded with our enormous water carrier. However, yesterday morning I had to carry the water carrier from the house to the yard, as pushing A wheelbarrow whilst carrying a stick doesn’t really work. I had to make two trips, because I’m not strong enough to carry the water carrier when it is completely full, and on my second trip I really struggled as I had put too much water in and the container was too heavy for me. However I managed it, so my horses did not go thirsty.

All this cold weather has been having quite a serious effect on Hal. Although he has not been formally diagnosed, we believe he has a condition called Raynolds syndrome. This means that, when he gets cold, The blood vessels in his hands contract too much, his hands go pale, and numb, and can be very painful if he touches something. He has really been struggling this week. To try to combat the problem, he has some hand warmer sachets called Little Hotties, which he keeps in his pockets, or can slip inside his gloves if necessary. You just shake them, and they warm up, staying warm for about eight hours. Well they say that necessity is the mother of invention, so when

He was struggling with his hands the other day, Hal had a sudden lightbulb moment. If he placed a little Hottie hand warmer under the water troughs and buckets would it prevent them from freezing? Erm, well yes actually it would! It’s not perfect, but it definitely makes quite a difference.

Yesterday though things got a whole lot more challenging. Storm Emma and the beast from the east had a hot, or should that be cold, date in Devon. The wind blew, and it snowed big-time, and because the Wind blue, The snow drifted. Enter a whole new level of difficulty for yours truly.

It’s not for nothing that some people refer to snow as blind man’s fog. It is the most difficult thing to orientate yourself in if you cannot see. Snow dead and sounv, so you lose all those audible clues, like echoes for example, that you rely on to tell you where you are. Neither can you feel all those tactile clues you get from the ground through your feet. Not just the official tact tiles that you get at road crossings and junctions et cetera, but also those unofficial things tell you where you are, like that even piece of pavement for example. Curbs, sleeping policeman, Grass verges, steps, ramps, and low walls, all things that you might use to tell you where you are, become hidden by deep snow and snow drifts. Using a long cane is extremely difficult, and even Guide Dogs can struggle.

It took us over an hour last night just to give them water. Hal hauling a wheelbarrow through thick drifting snow, and me floundering around trying to find the path I use several times every day. The thought of having to get water to the horses by myself this morning nearly reduced me to tears.

I did it though! I only took a gallon, but added to the remains of their overnight water it kept them going.

Frankly though we are both exhausted. Please let it be Spring soon!

It Talks!

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Excuse me if I sound just that bit pleased with myself. It’s just I really think I might be getting somewhere. Not only that, but I had a lovely, and totally unexpected surprise earlier this week.

As regular followers will know, I have, for what feels like a very long time, been trying to find a way of making Dressage markers audible to me. . Now, there are many talented and successful VI and blind riders out there who don’t feel the need for such assistance. They count their horses strides, and know exactly how many strides, in which ever pace, it takes to get from marker to marker. I have no idea how this works withlateral movements, or circles, but regardless of that I take my hat off to them. I’ve tried counting steps when doing long cane and guide dog mobility training. For example, it takes 36 steps to get from the zebra crossing to the door of the shop you want to use. Yeah right! I know it works in theory, but for me personally, I get far too easily distracted by what’s going on around me, somebody only has to say hello to me and I’ve completely lost count. In a dressage or lesson environment The same thing happens, I am so busy concentrating on what I am supposed to be doing, that counting strides is a complete nonstarter. Also, and again I am speaking only for myself here, without something audible to aim for, I have absolutely no idea if I am travelling in a straight line or not. I am in absolute awe of anybody who can count Strines, instinctively know that they are straight, and concentrate on what they are supposed to be doing all at the same time. They are far superior beings to me.

By far the best solution to the problem, and the one that is advocated by the Riding for the Disabled Association, is to have people call the letters. This is a brilliant system as only the letter you are aiming for gets called, making it less noisy and confusing for horse and rider than an automated system where all the markers get called all of the time. There’s just one drawback though, and it’s a biggy, you need eight people if you want to use every marker in a standard twenty by forty school. Not necessarily an insurmountable problem for those who ride or train at large equestrian centres or volunteer rich RDA groups, but completely impractical for privateers like me.many years ago are used to belong to something called the blind riders Group, they held an annual dressage competition during which they used people to call the letters, and in fact this was the method that I preferred to use personally, but they also had some audio devices that they called Talking Letters. These were actually old fashioned tape recorders playing continuous loop recordings of somebody saying the letter over and over again. It’s these Talking Letters that inspired my search for a solution to my problem.

Over the last few years I have experimented withmany potential solutions, but to no avail. At first I thought using something that was PIR and so would only make a noise or speak letter when I was approaching it would be the best solution. That way I wouldn’t be bombarded by continual noise. However, after trying several PIR gadgets, I came to the realisation that it wasn’t as practical a solution as I had originally believed. These things are so sensitive that they go off constantly regardless. It only takes a gust of wind, or a fly, and off it goes. Ironically though, The sensor range on these things is so narrow that they don’t seem to be able to pick up a horse until it is practically on top of the device. Back to the drawing board. . Perhaps some kind of sound beacon that beeps or buzzes! Well, you did used to be able to buy these from the RNIB. Not any more ! Old fashioned tape recorders or dictaphone that used continuous loop cassettes perhaps? It turns out I t’s easier, and cheaper, to buy a pedigree Unicorn! I did think that I had resolve the problem when Hal discovered a digital voice recorder on Amazon, which had the capability of being able to make continuous loop voice recordings. Not only that, but it only cost £11! We ordered one to see how we would get on with it. It’s an amazing device, tiny and with a massive memory. It would be the ideal sort thing for somebody to carry around in their pocket or handbag. However, neither Hal nor I find it particularly easy to use. Back to the old drawing board. Makingvoice recordings on Mobile phones was our next idea. This didn’t work out to be very practical either. With no continuous loop facility it meant having to sit for ages just saying the same thing over and over again in order to get along enough recording. It was difficult to get the sound loud enough. Not only that, but really, Who has eight Mobile phones sitting around anyway?

While all this was going on I was asking around continuously in the blind community see if anybody could come up with a solution. . I was advised to contact a company called Talking Products. This is a company that manufactures and supplies all sorts of interesting items that talk. They are primarily aimed at visual impairment market, but also cater for learning difficulties and dementia. Several of the products looked very promising, but none quite fitted my requirements. The biggest issue being that the majority of them need to meet manually operated and would only speak once before having to be manually operated again. I did however email the company and ask for their advice, unbeknownst to me so did Hal. I personally did not get very helpful reply, but rather than emailing customer services like I did, Hal went straight to the top man. Eventually though, Hal got a reply that was really helpful. The man suggested that maybe Bluetooth speakers might be the solution to our problem. He pointed out that some Bluetooth speakers have The facility to take an external memory card. If we could find a way of recording a sound file onto such an external memory card we might then be able to play it in the Bluetooth speaker.

Bingo!

As it happens, at around this time Hal got an Email alert for an Amazon Lightning Deal on a Zoee Tree S3 Wireless Speaker. It was as cheap as chips, so he ordered one to try.

Result!

This clever little device really seems to be made for the job. It’s small, light and robust, actually being intended for outdoor use. It works as a Vluetooth or wired in speaker, but also takes a micro SD card. It is simple to use with clearly defined buttons, and, although there was no mention of this in any of the blurb, it talks! You get an announcement for power on, power off, or whether you are in Vluetooth or music mode (using the SD card). Perfect! It’s working so well that we’ve just got seven more. It looks like I’ve cracked it.

If that isn’t positive enough news, well I was bowled over by what happened earlier this week. The riding club AGM took place on Monday night, we had intended to go, Life and the weather got in the way so we didn’t. iMessage the Chair to apologise, And was told that the membership secretary would bring my membership form and trophy around later in the wee.

Trophy?!

I’ve only been awarded the annual award for outstanding achievement. Me! Chuffedisn’t the word!

So, I’m feeling totally buoyed up and inspired to push myself that bit harder. Now, if it could just stop snowing…

The Terror of the Missing Carrot Bag😓

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You know that feeling. You’ve been enjoying your nightly ritual. Check the horses, top up their water, give them their nighttime hay nets, give them some carrots and apples. It’s a lovely routine that brings joy to all who take part.. The horses enjoyed the fuss and attention, and of course the treats,whilst for Hal and I it’s an ideal way to wind down from the day. The fruit and veg, carrots for Leo and Flo, apples for Breeze,are all chopped up and placed in old plastic bread bags so it’s easy to carry and distribute them.

The routine goes like this:

Walk down to yard

Feed fruit and veg to horses

Hal tops up water

I replace hay nets.

Check everything is secure

Say a final goodnight to the girls

Return to house

At this point I normally hand my empty bag back to Hal so it can be reused the next day. So imagine my horrorwhen we got back into the house on Tuesday night, I put my hand in my pocket to fine no plastic bag!

Hal did offer to go and look for it , but it was pitch black and raining sideways, so it was unlikely he’d find it.

I spent a very wide eyed and sleepless night on Tuesday, imagining all the terrible things that could be for a horse who ingested a plastic bag. Was it in a water bucket? Had it become caught in a hey net? Was it lying on stable? Would it get chewed out of curiosity, or accidentally swallowed a drink? Would it cause choke or colic? I spent the night with my ears straining towards the stables. Every slight noise, and there were plenty because it was so windy, was a potential dying horse. I was so relieved on Wednesday morning, when I found three happy, healthy horses, all eager for breakfast. Waiting for me.

Hal found the bag just on the garden side of the gate. Thankfully no harm done – what a relief. I must be more careful

Mud Mud Glorious Mud

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Will it ever stop raining? More to the point, when will it stop raining for Long enough for everything to start drying out? Please! We need to have a summer this year.

Everything is permanently filthy and saturated at the moment. The horses never seem to be entirely dry. It’s far too warm to put a rug on then, so they seem to have developed a shell of mud which is virtually impossible to remove. Manes, tails, feathers, and even beards are rapidly morphing into mud encrusted dreadlocks. . Although we haven’t entirely run out of grass, the top field is mostly a trashed boggy wasteland that will need reseeding, if we ever get a Spring that is. Sweeping the yard has given me a deep empathy with King Canute

,I can’t hold the tide back either. Even the avenue down to the bottom field and the muck heap, where no horse treads at this time of year, is so wet and slippery that Hal is having massive problems getting the barrow too and from the muck heap. It’s fair to say that it’s all a bit of a struggle at the moment.

It is strangely comforting to know that we are not the only people who are struggling. Nearly everybody you meet who keeps horses is in the same boat. Really though., it’s getting to the point where that boat should be an Ark! It must be just as frustrating for anybody who is a cattle or sheep farmer, or makes a living off the land in some way.

Sadly the mud Took a terrible toll this week. In a field which is only just down the road from us, an elderly horse got so badly stuck in the mud that a full blown rescue had to be launched. . I don’t know the horses owners, or much about the horse, but I really feel for them and their plight. The ground is so wet at the moment that it was impossible to get a tractor onto the field in order to attempt to lift the horse. Fire and rescue, The specialist animal rescue team, had to attend. It took several hours to get the horses out and up. The horse was taken to a nearby stable, but sadly it didn’t survive. Apparently the horse was 34 years old, A remarkable age, and has been a part of that family for over 30 years. After such an ordeal the poor Thing must have been exhausted I can only imagine how devastated the onus must be. Horses leave extremely big holes in our hearts.

The mud poses A whole new set of different challenges for those of us you can’t see. Firstly, and similar to ice in a way, it is not always easy to tell where it is safe to walk. Yes you can poke at the ground with a stick, but unless you do this you have no way of knowing if your Nextep is going to take you into deep impenetrable bog. The other problem is when you drop something. A classic example of this happened to me yesterday. When we were bringing the horses in, this prime example of human intelligence dropped a head collar into the quagmire. Then had to scrabble around with her bare hands to find it. Cue One short fat middle-aged Horse, owner completely plastered in mud from head to toe, clutching a slippery mud in crusted pile of mank which vaguely resembled a head collar and lead rope, and one totally disgusted horse, onto whom said horse owner was trying to place the aforementioned item.

For a brief moment this morning, when I was giving the horses their breakfast, that magical special time it is just me and then, there was a brief hint of spring in the air. The temperature was just right, there was a gentle breeze, The dawn chorus was in full tune, and, I kid you not, it wasn’t raining. Could this be a sign of things to come? Sadly it didn’t last long. Oh well, it’stime to buckle up, and go and face the elements. I wonder if my coat is dried out yet?