This past weekend, I did what I love to do. I rode my horse. I showed my horse. I had fun!
Over the years, I have had to work hard to learn that it’s not all about the ribbons and what color you get or what the judge thinks. It is truly about your rides with your horse and the journey to get there. I am proud to say that I finally can enjoy a horse show, have fun, and come out feeling very proud, even though I didn’t walk away with the champion ribbon or the high point award.
I have shown horses for as long as I have ridden, whether it was a 4H show, an open show, a Class A Arabian Show or a Dressage show. I have done it all. I have learned so much through my horse show experience and I love that I can look at it through a new lens and just enjoy my horse. After all, why show, if it isn’t fun. I can’t say I don’t get stressed sometimes, but it’s a work in progress.
One aspect of riding and showing that has always been an underlying part of me is my low vision. It impacts me more than I realize sometimes and it has forced me to develop a deeper level of trust with my horses. Due to my vision, I have a head tilt, which affects my body position. In riding, your body position makes a huge difference in the communication of horse and rider, especially when performing in disciplines such as dressage and jumping that require precision. I have learned to compensate for this over the years through the help of my current instructor who has accepted my low vision as part of who I am and helped me to come up with ways to navigate around it. She was the first one to suggest that I patch my better seeing eye while I rode to help my body learn what it feels like to be straight. It is something that I return to now and again as I find that feeling fades after a while as my head tilt takes over.
My horse and I have recently taken up jumping and my lack of depth perception definitely rears it’s ugly head when I head for a line of jumps. I cannot judge my distance from the jumps so therefore I must rely on my horse to do that part for me. I find it challenging to know when she is going to take off and keep my body in the correct position so that I do not interfere with her. A majority of the time, she does her job, but it requires me to trust that she is going to do it right. It requires me to learn what it feels like as she moves towards a fence. Since we are both learning this new sport, it is going to take a lot of practice for us to master it.
As I reflect on the horse show this past weekend, I realize that my vision impacts me more than I realized. Managing a crowded show arena with 25-30 horses or a crazy warm up arena with horses and people going so many different directions is challenging enough for people who are fully sighted. For me, however, there is an even greater challenge added on with my decreased peripheral vision and no depth perception. I am unable to see horses and people coming up on the sides of me and when they suddenly cut in front of me or suddenly stop, I am not able to judge the space between us, making it difficult for me to make quick responses and get myself out of the situation. Probably a good think I don’t drive a car. I have had to learn exceptional arena management skills in order to compensate for this, but sometimes that is not enough. I am proud of how far I have gone with my horses given this limitation. I suppose I have never let it stop me and I never will. Though, as I grow older, I find myself thinking more about and realizing my vision’s impact on riding, instead of being embarrassed by it and ignoring it as I did when I first started riding at age 9.
Under USEF/FEI para-equestrian rules, riders who have a para-equestrian designation who are blind or visually impaired are required to wear a red arm band while mounted to designate that they are visually impaired. I have contemplated doing this but a few questions come to mind. I have “hidden” my visual impairment in my equestrian life for so long, how would my fellow competitors respond to this? Would they think I am “faking” it? Would my fellow riders know what this red arm band means and pay attention to it in those busy warm up and show arenas when they are focused on their own ride, especially at the smaller open shows like I went to this past weekend? I am not sure what the right answer is and if I will pursue this. I suppose it is just like my fairly recent transition to using a white cane. It would be my “coming out” in my equestrian life, just as I did by using my white cane and identifying myself to the whole world that I am visually impaired. Sometimes the benefits outweigh the negatives. I know it does with my cane, maybe it would with riding?