Mouthing the Bit 3 – Colour Prejudice #HorseBloggers #HorseHour #PonyHour

It’s no big secret that, if things go to plan, later in the year I will be looking for another horse to join Florence and Breeze here at Albert’s Bungalow. We’re not quite in the right position yet, but I am beginning to , erm, shall we call it, do some research. To be honest, so far, I haven’t really seen anything that I would consider going to look at. My requirements are quite unique after all, but, in order to clarify my own list of requirements, I have been reading a lot of advertisements by people who are looking for horses themselves, and I’ve noticed something I’ve never really noticed in all the years I’ve owned, bought, sold, and loaned horses, and it perplexes me somewhat.

I can’t help noticing how restrictive, and prescriptive people are about the physical attributes of the horses they want.

I’m not talking about size, or breed here. Let’s face it, I personally would crush a thoroughbred, and will definitely be looking for a cob, or at the very least, something with a bit of substance about it. Neither am I referring to the gender of the horse that people are looking for. I know full well that not everybody likes a mare, and that some Livery Yards will only take horses of a certain gender. I actually had to move a mare off a yard I’d been on for years once because it changed hands, and the new owners would only take geldings. No, I’m referring to things that, to my mind, make very little difference to the nature of, and capabilities of, any animal. I’m shocked at how many people will only consider horses of a particular colour.

Now, OK, I’m blind, so really, what a horse looks like is hardly my priority here. However, I really do fail to understand why or how the colour of the fur a horse is wrapped up in makes a difference to a horses temperament or way of going. Yes, I do know that we all have personal preferences, in fact, when I could see enough to tell what colour a horse was I wasn’t all that keen on Dun, but really liked Chestnut. I’m not sure I would have ruled a horse in or out because of this though. It’s also true that none of my horses have had less than 4 white legs, Breeze actually only has three, but she belongs to Hal not me, but this is purely by chance. Over the years I’ve had a Skewbald, 2 Chestnuts, a Palamino, a Blue & White,a Bay, a Grey, and a Piebald. Alongside this Hal has had 2 Black/Bays. I’m here to tell you that colour really doesn’t matter.

In the last week I’ve seen adverts that specify no greys, no coloureds, no chestnuts, chestnuts only, greys only and bays only. Now, OK, I get that it’s a free world, and I also understand that if you are trying to put together a team of carriage horses you might have specific requirements to match them up, but all the above examples were for Riding Club/Pony club/Family All Rounder types. What I don’t understand is this. Buying a safe reliable, sound horse is difficult enough, why make it harder by placing such a massive restriction on the already small pool of suitable potential purchases out there?

Yes, a horse needs to be put together correctly in order for it to be able to do the things we want to do with it, but surely, if it has the right character, is safe, sane, sound, and capable of doing whatever activity you want to do with it, the colour is unimportant isn’t it?

I do remember that when I was a child a lot of people looked down on coloured horses as being common, but I really don’t remember people being quite so picky about what colour horse they have. Yes, there were the old wive’s tales about Chestnut mares being nasty, utter rubbish, and I have heard some people describe Palamino’s as insipid, and I have to admit that I don’t really know what they mean by this. Have I had my head in the sand, or is this a new thing? I don’t know. It smacks of. Hroses being seen as fashion accessories, and that worries me. To quote Mark Rashid “A good horse is never a bad colour”. Believe me, when I do start looking for my next best friend, colour will be the least of my worries.

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.

.

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.

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!

Day 15 – nothing to See Here

Yesterday’s Blogtober Challenge topic was to show the last week with your horse in photos.well that wasn’t happening round here!

At first I wasn’t going to do a Day 15 post at all. After all, I don’t have any photos of the last week, and even if I did, well, nothing much has happened. Then though, as I inwardly grumbled about people insisting on using inaccessible formats such as photos and graphics to impart information that might be useful, interesting, or important to those of us who can’t see, I had a rethink.

Don’t get me wrong, , I’m not anti photography. I think it’s Great way of laying down memories, and commemorating special occasions, but it shouldn’t be the primary means of sharing information.

I know it’s entirely unintentional, but using inaccessible means of passing on information, or making a point, , such as photos, memes, graphics, and gifts, is the kind of everyday Ablisn that can really impact on an individuals ability to fully integrate into society.

My particular pet beef is when people take a photo of printed material and then share it. What’s the point of that!?

You see, I’m typing this using a piece of software called a Screen Reader. . The particular one I’m using at the moment it’s called voice over, and is specifically used with Apple products, but there are a great many screen readers out there, for example I also use one called JAWS, which runs with Windows. I am no computer expert, but, by and large, screen readers use something called optical character recognition

. This means that they can “see” letters, numbers, punctuation, and in the case of Voice Over r, emojis, they cannot see graphics, animations, or photos.

I love reading other people’s blogs and Social Media content, and I gain a lot from it. I always feel a bit cheated when it’s photo based.

The Invisible Equestrian, part 2 –

Yesterday I started to write a post about Florence and my niece Hannah, but then I received a phone call that made me so angry that I’ll burst if I don’t get this off my chest!

I have been a member of the British Horse Society for a very long time, since i was 18 in fact. . I am, or at least I was, proud to be a BHS member. I honour their welfare work, am grateful for their campaigning, especially around access and rights of way and road safety, I am reassured by the insurance that my horses and I gain from my membership, have sought their advice on more than one occasion… you get the picture. On the whole if you are at all horsey, then the BHS is the organisation for you. They do appear to have one massive problem though. . They have an appalling attitude toward the disabled, and in particular blind and visually impaired people.

“Hang on, that’s not fair! What about the Accessibility Mark? ” I hear you all shout. Well, yes, anything that empowers disabled people to ride get’s my vote. Here’s the thing though, and it’s a biggy. They should be doing it anyway, it’s been the law since 1995, when the disability Discrimination Act hit the Statute Book. That’s right! Under the terms of the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act, and subsequently the Equalities Act 2010, those providing goods and services required to make reasonable adjustment to cater for the needs of people living with disabilities. Therefore the accessibility mark is an accreditation that shows riding schools are finally doing the things that they should have been doing by law for the last 28 years. It’s a bit like giving a restaurant an extra Michelin star because the kitchens meet the minimum health and hygiene standards required buy law.

Regardless of what you actually think about the accessibility mark though, it would be expected that the organisation to whom this award was accredited, would insure that they themselves met their legal obligations when it comes to disability access and reasonable adjustment. Frustratingly, when it comes to the BHS, this is not the case.

It has been a very long time since I have had enough useful vision to be able to read print. In very many cases this problem is overcome by the reasonable adjustments that variety of organisations put in place. I am fortunate enough to be able to read Braille, albeit extremely slowly, I am reasonably computer literate and use a variety of screen reader programs, One of which I am currently using to enable me to write this blog, I am of course also able to listen to audio tapes and CDs. Therefore I am reasonably open-minded as to ways in which organisations communicate with me or send me literature. Print however is an absolute no-no. You might as well not bother.

As a member of the BHS, I am in receipt of the quarterly members journal ‘British Horse’. However, whilst when I was younger, and able to read the printed word, it was eagerly anticipated, it has been a very long time since I have been able to read it. Over the years I have regularly asked BHS if they could provide me with a version in an alternative format. Sadly though my requests always seem to be ignored, overlooked, passed on. Somebody would look into it for me, somebody would get back to me. Nobody ever did. Until last year that is, when I really thought I struck gold. A lovely man called Dave prints, Who at the time was the incumbent editor of British horse, started to send me copies of the magazine by email as Word documents. Result!

This happy and proud member of the British for society has enjoyed a whole year of the British horse journal. Sadly Mr Prince retired earlier this year. I wish you a long and happy retirement, and I’m truly grateful for your help with getting an accessible format of the journal to me. However, it would appear that since Mr Prince retired, my accessible British Horse is mo more.

Yesterday I received a phone call which told me that I would no longer be receiving my accessibleversion of British horse. Not only that, but I was told that Mr prints should not have been sending me the magazine in Word document format because, and I quote, “It breaks security protocols”. Security! Really! How?

Now here’s the thing. The professional organisation to which I belong, Federation Of Holistic Therapists, also have a members quarterly journal, which, at their own instigation, they send to me as Word documents attached to an email. They’ve never mentioned security protocols, they just do it. My bank sends me my bank statements in braille, my credit card company sent me my statements as an audio disk, my pension company sends me an email with a link to an accessible website. My mobile phone company email me my monthly bill., The hospital emailed me about appointments, my vet both emails and texts me about appointments and emails me my bill, The wildlife trust to which I am a member Sensley the journal recorded on CD, even the Inland Revenue write to me in braille, but the British horse society cannot send me their journal in an accessible format because it breaches security protocols. What utter rubbish!

The truth is that the British horse society have an arrogant patronising attitude towards disability. They view those of us living with disability A’s ‘Less than’. . We are to be indulged and pitied. We are not to be treated as equals. Why would somebody who is disabled, especially somebody who is blind, be genuinely interested in, or have any knowledge of, horses for equestrianism? We are expected to shut up, put up, and be grateful for any crumbs that are thrown our wayi. t’s not good enough!

It’s time British Horse Society clambered down from it’s ivory tower, dragged itself into the 21st century, and met it’s legal obligations.

The Invisible Equestrian – Blind Riders UK #BlindRiders.

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