The Beginning of the Journey.. Blind, Blonde and Bold...
Introducing Verity Smith, our newly sponsored Para Dressage Rider. Verity has set off on a journey to be a member of the Team GB Para Dressage team at Rio 2016. Equus is thrilled to be able to bring you exclusive news about Verity's journey with her horse Szekit and her formidable and respected trainer, Sandy Philips. Read Verity's first post to find out about her background, her dog Uffa, and how she came to be a Para Dressage rider...
At the age of 3 after having been banished to the back of the ballet class, as a result of my rather duckish interpretation of ‘Swan Lake’, my mother, determined to find some activity that I might excel at, chucked in my tutu, hammered me into a hard hat and drove me up to the local stables for my first riding lesson. This is where my love affair with horses began, a love affair that was to last a life time.
I was perfectly sighted as a child and only began to go blind from the age of 8 and although over the years that followed my vision disappeared my passion for horses remained steadfast. Horses became my freedom, the moment in my day when I could forget all the worries of losing my sight. Seated on my little Welsh cob Patches I could stride out without consequence
and without the physical restriction of my disability. Safe in the knowledge that Patches would do the looking for me, carried on her back I could gallop with abandon, leaving the world and all its stresses far behind.
Despite slowly going blind, like most children with a pony, I loved to jump and no little thing like loss of eyesight was going to prevent me from doing so. Much to my parents dismay, Patches and I would jump anything and everything, be it a park bench, or show jumping course, I would hurtle determinedly at what I hoped was the fence with a fearless optimism that Patches would clear it. When the moment arose to walk the course at a competition, I generally found myself walking into the course, as opposed to around it but somehow I usually managed to map our path, a path that rarely led us to first prize but always to a fun ride.
It was only at the age of fifteen when my eyesight deteriorated to the point that I was registered blind that I finally accepted that perhaps show jumping and cross country were a a somewhat treacherous choice of equine sport for both myself and my horse. I was in no way ready to hang up my stirrups or resign myself to a life of being led around the country lanes on a leadrope, so set my mind to finding a discipline that I could compete in on equal terms with sighted riders.
I tried vaultige which, like show jumping and cross country before it, was quickly banished to the muck heap, after discovering it to be a another slightly impractical discipline for the unsighted. Sadly trotting around in a 15 metre circle, performing what should have been a ‘Petit Prince’, I found myself balanced in all sorts of as yet unnamed contortions , looking more like I was playing a game of equine twister.
Then I discovered dressage, the sport that was to change my life and my riding for ever. As a child I had steered away from dressage, perceiving it to be a bit of a grown up sport for middle aged ladies with expensive horses. I had never taken the time when i could see to watch any dressage and had simply dismissed it as ‘flat work’. I had no idea or concept of the skill, hardwork and elegance involved or how much it demanded from both
horse and rider. It was only when I had my first dressage lesson at the age of 15, after which I collapsed in an exhausted heap, that I realised how little I knew and how much I had yet to learn about ‘riding’.
Although a complete novice, I had found a discipline that that I could compete in on equal terms with all comers. A discipline that allowed me to be the best I could be without my eyesight getting a look in. Dressage is a dance routine with your horse set on a stage that never changes. It is a sport of feeling as opposed to traveling and as I have to count every stride, I am concentrated on the moment and movement instead of simply journeying between markers. This to my mind gives me an advantage. I have never seen any of the movements my horses and I perform. I learn through counting and feeling and I don’t use a caller. The echoes of the hooves give me a marker for my lines.
With a lot of hard work and a brilliant trainer I went on to compete for team GB in the Para World Championships at the age of 18 as well as continuing to compete against able bodied riders. Having trained in Sweden and France with some amazing trainers I am now back in U.K. with my glorious guide dog Uffa, my wonderful horse Szekit who is a 10 year old Oldenburg gelding. We are now training our socks off with the formidable and famous Sandy Philips in order to re-qualify for the 2016 Rio Para Olympic Games.
I would love you all to join us on our road to Rio by reading my training blog, so that you can all share in the blood, sweat, tears and giggles that are bound to be part of this incredible journey.
Miss Verity Smith