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!

Positivity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No only that, but I personally enjoy them.

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!

How Can it be February Already?!

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

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

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

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

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

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