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.

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.

New YEAR fresh Start`

Happy New Year everyone!

Here we are then, January 1st 2019, and the world is full of possibility. Out with the old, good riddance, and in with the new. Bring it on! So what plans does everyone have for this year? Have you made any horsey. New Year resolutions?

I have lots of hopes for this year, lets face it I always do, but if I learnt anything from last years series of disasters, there are no guarantees. So this year, whilst, of course, I have made some New Year Resolutions, , when it comes to the horses and my riding , I have aspirations rather than fixed plans. Mind you, there are quite a lot of them.

1. Actually, this one is a resolution, and it will effect every part of my life. To lose weight and become fitter. For my health this is essential . I have never been so heavy, so unfit, or so unhealthy as I am right now. However, for my professional life it is essential too, I am not exactly a good advertisement for living the healthy lifestyle at the moment. I need to go back to practicing what I preach. In my defence, it has been a very difficult year, and self care has disappeared off the horizon completely. Not any more! In fact, away from the horses, this year is all about self care, and self love, I need to start looking after myself so I can look after everyone else. The horses will benefit as I become lighter, fitter, better balanced. It’s going to be hard worth, but I can’t see a down side really.

2. I’d like to do some very low level, very basic, dressage. I need to put some things in place, but potentially some unaffiliated and/or RDA /Para intro level competitions later in the year?

3. To keep Florence and Breeze healthy and happy, and in the best shape possible. Let’s face it, they are both 20 now. I suspect that Breeze may need to retire soon, she has a few issues after all. But , fingers crossed, Florence does seem to have plenty of life left in her yet. I love them both dearly, and the healthier and happier they are, the happier I am.

4. To go out into the world and be more out there in horsey society. This could be anything, but I’d particularly like to attend some of the stuff that the Riding Club put on. Let’s face it, I didn’t even get to the AGM last year.

5. To be more diligent about cleaning and looking after my tack and equipment. Let’s just say that standards have slipped recently.

6. To get back into having regular lessons. I was doing really well, but then life got in the way. I’m one of those strange people who actually enjoys having lessons. I hope to be able to continue with Melissa, but I also want to get myself booked in somewhere to have some lunge lessons to help improve my seat, position and balance, but I need to lose a certain amount of weight first as I currently exceed most places upper weight limit.

7. To be better organised. Like the weight loss, this is something that will have an impact on the whole of my life. It’ll be a challenge though as I have very few natural organisational skills! However, possibly because last year was so disrupted, I have felt like I’ve been lurching around from one crisis to another and missing, or nearly missing important dates and deadlines. It’s not a good way to be.

8. To be more mindful. Again this is something that will influence my entire life, but when it comes to the horses, I mean that I intend to be there, in my entirety, in the moment, present, while I am riding and handling the horses, not just going through the motions while my mind is somewhere else stressing.

9. To continue to educate and inform the rest of the horsey world about Blind riders, our rights and capabilities, and to try to make the equestrian world more accessible and inclusive .

10. To be as supportive as possible to other equestrians, especially those who are new to the horse world, lack confidence, or for some reason find it difficult to fit in.

Hopefully it’s going to be a good year. The work starts today.

Winter Draws On

As I was feeding the dogs last night I heard the phone ring. Like Hal and I, my Dad had just seen Country File, and, like me, . Had winced when the Weather Man said the S word, and then went on to say that snow showers could potentially occur as far South as the Moors of the far South West.

Gulp!

No, OK, we aren’t actually on the Moor here inn Shebbear, but we are invetween Dartmoor and Exmoor, in an area known as Ruby Country. We don’t actually get much snow here, but we’ve already had more than our fair share back in March. I truly think that if we do get a lot of snow this winter it might just finish me off! If you want to know why, please read my post from 2nd March this year entitled “Blind Man’s Fog”.

Dad really wanted to know if we’d brought the horses in. Yes we had! In fact yesterday was the big day. The change has now been made from Summer to Winter routine, a whole 25 days later than last year – and we’ve actually still got some grass left.

Usually the decision is made based on how wet and boggy the ground has become. This year, while the ground is a bit wet, it’s down to wind chill, and Vreeze struggling a bit. Poor Breeze, she was very stiff yesterday. Not exactly lame, but definitely not sound. It was like all her joints needed oiling. Mind you, she’s not The only one. I’ve never really been convinced the weather does have an effect on my arthritis, but, oh my word, am I having a flareup at the moment!

Thankfully this morning, whilst the wind can’t be bothered to go around you, there is no snow around here. Long may that last. I’m hoping for a short winter. I personally don’t mind it being cold and dry. In fact I love cold frosty Krispy mornings, kind of morning when I imagine everything is sparkling like diamonds. Pleased though, no snow!

The Dilemma

, So, it’s Saturday afternoon. You bought your horse in from the field at about 10:30 that morning, but decided not to ride until late because of the weather being too hot. When you bought her in she was perfectly sound, but now you’ve tacked up, mounted up, taken three strides, and can’t ignore the fact that she is hopping lame. So now you have the dilemma. .having gone back to the stable, untacked, and done a fingertip search of her legs and feet, it’s clear that she’s very lame, but there’s no obvious cause. You think you should get the vet out, but it’s coming on 5p.m., now, it’s Saturday, and your vet is on emergency call outs only. What should you do?

Is this really an emergency? Yes, there’s obviously something wrong. However, your horse is bright, interested, eating, and full of cheek.

Just very, very lame. All those magazine articles that you have read, and all those Vet Talks you have attended over the years, in which the message is very clear, “if in doubt get the vet out”, run through your mind; But then though, you vividly remember the times you have been stood in the stable with a desperately sick horse watching the clock till the vet arrives. This is not one of those times. What to do for the best?

You could turn her out, and observe her, then call the vet out on Monday if she’s no better. She is very lame though, so something is definitely wrong. After all this is the first time she’s ever been lame since you’ve had her, and she must be in pain. What if you leave it until Monday, and the vet says, you should’ve called us sooner, we could’ve done something then?

This was the quandary I found myself In yesterday with Florence. I did call the vet to ask their advice, expecting them to tell me to do something to tide us over and that they would come and see her on Monday. In fact, because she was lame in walk, they decided it would be a good idea to come and take a look at her Then . However, The poor emergency weekend duty vet, was having such a busy day, that she didn’t actually get to us until gone 10 o’clock last night! She was exhausted!

The vet is of the opinion that Florence is lame on her front right leg. However, like me, she was unable to find an obvious seat of pain. Therefore, she has prescribed a short course of anti-inflammatories, and asked me to keep her on box rest for a few days. Hopefully that’ll do the trick. This means that, as Madame gets very upset when she’s left in the stable on her own for any length of time, Breeze is confined to barracks as well. .

. Mind you, when I went to feed them first thing this morning, there couldn’t have been two more content horses.

I had a lesson booked on Tuesday, and was planning on entering my first ever on-line Dressage competition next week.

Oh well, the best laid plans. So long as it really is nothing serious.

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