It Talks!

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

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

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

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

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

Bingo!

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

Result!

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

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

Trophy?!

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

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

Still haven’t found any accessible off road riding locally – Rocking Hors Poo & Hens Teeth

Things are good at the moment. Although Sapphire is still slightly lame, she seems happier in herself, and all the others are in rude health. . Florence seems to be responding well to her medication, although she seems reluctant to start shedding her coat. She had blood taken again last week, and we’re waiting to hear if her ACTH levels have dropped. She’s certainly peeing and sweating less..
Breeze is doing well too. It’s like a knob has been turned in her head, and the stress and anxiety has been turned down. . She’s beginning to be interested in things, not scared of them..
On top of all this, Hal is talking about getting back in the saddle!

So with all this positive energy around, my desire to go further, both geographically and activity wise, with my riding, is increasing. I have now become classified as a blind rider through British blind sport, and I’m in the process of getting that recognised by the Riding for the disabled Association, with a view to doing some level RDA dressage. I would also really like to take part in some of the clinics that my local riding club hold. However I have hit a small problem. Well actually, quite a large one. I intend to start having lessons again soon. I want to go back to Melissa as she is such a brilliant teacher, but I also want to start having lessons on Florence. However something that was really holding me back last year in my lessons, was my inability to see the dressage markers around the arena. Let’s face it, I can’t actually see the horse that I’m sitting on. I really feel that this is holding me back, and it’s certainly going to prevent me from proceeding further with my dressage ambitions. You cannot possibly cross the school accurately KXM if you don’t know where K or M actually are. Also, if I am going to take part in any kind of clinic, I need to be able to orient my way around the school. I need to find a way of making the dressage markers audible to me. I have asked the Riding for the disabled Association for their advice, but they’re rather on helpful and practical solution was to have 8 people standing at the markers calling out The letters as you approach them. Oh that’s easy then, because obviously I have8 people hanging around with nothing better to do than wait for me to get onto horse so they can stand outside shouting letters. Yeah right. Actually, I have used this system in the past, and it is excellent, because you only get the letters if you need.. However it presumes that you will only ride in organised large groups, or on large commercial yards, where there are plenty of staff and volunteers to hand. It doesn’t take into account the requirements of loner Mavericks like me. Many years ago I belonged to something that called its self The Blind Riders Group. Sadly it is now defunct. Every year they used to have what they called aBRIDGE event where blind and visually impaired riders of all ages and abilities, got together for riding tuition stable management tuition and a dressage competition. They used the people around the arena method, but they also had what they called ‘Talking Lettdrs’. This was a system of what were essentially old fashioned tape recorders, each placed at a marker, each with a continuous loop recording of their respective letter. At the time I hated them because they were so loud. What I wouldn’t give to be able to get my hands on a set now! You would think that there was an obvious need for some kind of sound beacon to make life easier for us blind types. Something robust and portable that could be put somewhere so, when you turn it on it makes some kind of noise, so you can hear where it is, and make your way back to it. How many uses could something like that be put to? No such thing appears to exist. . I’ve experimented with some PIR doorbell type things, but they have not proved to be at all reliable. So now I’m looking for cheap, I need 8 of them after all, continuous loop recorders. Rocking horse poo anyone?

The other thing I am trying to find, and that is proving just as elusive, is some off road riding locally. There are 1 or2 bridlepaths in the area, but these are few and far between. There is also some amazing forestry, moorland,and beaches, that would be easily access a ball if we had a horsebox. However in the immediate locale we have only road riding. Actually the roads around here are fairly quiet rural lanes, and both Florence and Breeze are as rock solid in traffic as a horse can be. However as the holiday and at silage making seasons approach, it would be much safer, and more relaximg, to be able to get off the roads a bit more. It would be better for Hal’s anxiety levels too. One of the local yards has very kindly offered us the use of their schooling area, and we will certainly be taking them up on this, but what we really want is some leisurely off-road hacking. Hens teeth would be easier to come bye.

Hal and I have just got back from checking out a place that someone told us about. Again though there
Is a lot of road work involved before getting there. What a beautiful spot tough! We walked there with the dogs today. Definitely going back on horseback.

28 Days to Save the World

As regular followers will know, this has been a particularly difficult year for Florence. She took quite seriously ill in the first week of January, and although she responded to the vets interventions really well at the time, she hasn’t really been right all year. As a result, she has done very little as she doesn’t really seem to want to be ridden. We’ve tried all sorts of interventions, from treating her arthritis, to looking at her tack, feed, supplements, teeth, you name it, we’ve tried it. We’ve had a few little glimpses of hope along the way, but no real progress beyond a certain point. Our gorgeous girl is trying to send us a message, but we just can’t hear what she’s trying to say. It’s frustrating, soul destroying, and heartbreaking in equal measure. Florence is the absolute centre of my universe, I adore her; she challenges me teaches me, and validates me on a daily basis, sitting on her back is my happy place, and when I’m riding her I feel invincible.So it absolutely destroys me that we haven’t been able to find a solution for her.

Florence is quite an old lady now, officially 20, but only she really knows how old she is. Her passport was drawn up before they were compulsary, and her date of birth is a ‘think of a number’ guestimate. Only Florence really knows how old she is, and like any true lady, it’s a closely guarded secret.She owes me nothing, and, if she’s not right by the New Year, or even beforehand to be honest, then I’m OK with the idea of her hanging up her saddle and retiring. However, before we do that, there’s one more avenue to go down.

Gastric Ulcers.

OK, if you just look at Florence, and don’t take any of her behaviours into account, she’s not a classic Ulcer candidate. She’s a big heavy cob, who is a very good doer, and who, at the moment, is scarily obese. She has a light work load, does not compete, and lives out most of the time. However, recent research has shown that any horse can get ulcers, apparently some studies have shown that even ferrel and wild horses show some sign of ulcers on post mortem examination. Also, Flo is a very sensitive soul, and a bit of a worry wart. Her behaviour sometimes includes some classic ulcer related traits; girthiness , sensitivity to touch, mild colicky signs like pawing the ground, which is something she never used to do, refusing to be mounted, and generally being grumpy. Some of you may remember that a few years ago she had two unexplained bouts of colic. She also has Cushings (PPID).

So today we have started a 28 day ulcer protocol to see if it makes any difference. Normally a horse would have an endoscopy to see if there are indeed any ulcers, and whereabouts they are exactly. Differently located ulcers need different medication. However, we would need to take Florence to the vets to have this done, as the equipment is highly sensitive, and does not take kindly to being transported around, and we do not have our own transport yet. So, after having a conversation with my wonderful vet, he decided that we could run Flo on both medications for 28 days to see if it makes any difference.By the time this is done, we should have our own horsebox (there’s a whole new blog post coming about that soon), so if it’s made a difference, then we can take her to be scoped and find out where the ulcers are, and then continue treating with just the most appropriate medication. However, if there is no change, then that’s the end of Flo’s ridden career. Luckily there are no serious side effects of the medications she is on, so this approach will either make a difference, or things will just stay as they are. However, if we all survive the next 28 days it will be a miracle!

This intervention isn’t simple. Both meds have to be given on an empty stomach. This means that Florence has to come in over night so she has nothing to eat for at least 8 hours before. Having her meds; and, because of Flo’s seperation anxiety, the boys have to come in too. This will be a massive challenge for Mayo, who is not used to being stabled overnight, and who is just that little bit claustrophobic. The boys don’t have to be starved though, so it’s not all bad news. Next, one of the meds cannot be given with food. It has to be delivered via aural syringe like a wormer. In the very nearly 4 years that Florence has been with us, worming has always been a battle royal; and now we’ve got to do it every morning for 28 days! It’s going to be a long month!

Normally I don’t bring my horses in over night until at least the middle of November, and later if I can possible do it. Last night we brought them for the first time, and started the ulcer regime. Everybody was fine until we went to check them last thing. Mayo barged out of the stable 3 times in the process of trying to give him a hay net! Bless him, he really doesn’t understand the need to be shut in. Perry though seems to be taking everything in his stride. Honestly, as long as there’s food, I don’t think he minds much to be honest. No early in the morning visit from me today, which felt really wrong; but I neither wanted to start a riot by given the boys hay and not Flo, nor did I want to be flattened by a forced exit from Mayo. However, Hal and I went down later and gave Flo her meds, and the boys some hay. Actually, Hal gave Flo her syringe medicine, and she took it really well. The other med went into a small feed half an hour later. That didn’t touch the sides! Once again Mayo came out of his stable like a cork from a bottle as soon as the bolt was taken off the door. It’s not nastiness, he doesn’t have a nasty bone in his body, he just doesn’t understand, and he probably doesn’t feel all that safe being shut in. Let’s face it he hasn’t been here 3 weeks yet. I’m sure he’ll get the idea. Perry though was as laid back as you’d like. He might be a monster, but he knows which side his breads buttered.

They’re all turned out for the day now, in the Old School Paddock (left hand side as you go into the bottom field) which neither Mayo nor Perry have been in before. We took the boys down together first, and they both walked down really politely. Then Hal went back and got Flo while I stayed in the field to monitor things. The boys both had a really good gallop around, with some bucking and leaping in the air for good measure. Life apparently is good. However, by the time Florence joined them, they’d already got down to the serious business of grazing.

Let’s hope the next 27 days pass as smoothly.