Saturday, February 8, 2014

Of Being A Disabled Equestrian

But what really is a disability?

A physical impairment is defined by ADA as "any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory (including speech organs), cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin, and endocrine."

Most days, I don't really think of myself as being disabled.  I work more than full time.  I have advanced education.  I am a contributing member of society.

But there are times, when of course, it becomes painfully obvious, that as hard as I try, I am disabled.  

I have a congenital bilateral hearing loss.  I am also really good at lipreading and guessing.  In a day to day situation, it isn't obvious of my disability.  I doubt most of my coworkers know.  Some do.  Mostly when I am standing oblivious to some kind of alarm going off.  Oops.

But how does this affect the equine aspect of my world?

It really has been a defining thing.  It's a bit silly, but it has kept me confined for a long time to what I thought I could do.  How could I show in a ring class?  How would I hear the announcer?

Even showing in-hand, numbers for winners or called or numbers are called to go to the gate. 


My (often misadventure) is starting dressage hasn't been pain-free either.  All tests must be memorized.  But then I realized, the bell.  The bell that gives you forty-five seconds to enter the ring.  Good grief.  

Not much of a warm-up.  Rather more of a waddle my horse around while trying to stare down the judge at the other end.  

Riding in a mixed arena is entertaining.  I love riding with other people since I am more relaxed and happy.  I figure it stems from when I eat dirt, then someone else will be there to scrape me up off the footing.

But in reality, when people are having lessons or jumping or calling out diagonals.  Or pretty much doing complex things where listening is a major precipitating factor, it gives me a mild panic attack.

Oh's the jerk in the ring.

But there is an upside.  There are some awesome people out there.  Stewards and the gate keeper came to my rescue in my first halter class after I realized I could hear approximately 0% in the ring with the acoustics of the arena.  Talk about laying my fate in in their palms. 

Slightly dramatic. 

But I am used to being an independent person.  Despite this disability, I do not like relying on other people.  I am used to disappointment.

But still kindness comes.

At the first dressage show (albeit, a schooling one), the gate keeper was very kind and fished me out of my aimless wandering so I could go in.  I also had the best helper friend in the world keeping tabs on things.  Good thing she has functional ears.  The judge wasn't quite sure what to do, but made sure I was able to see her motion to me when it was time for the semi feral and I to make our grand entrance.

I did compete in a main ring class.  Couldn't really hear much of the announcer there either, but the horse did.  At least it was a one horse class with a well patterned horse.  The mare deserved the ribbon. I do have to look more into what kind of dispensations I can have from USEF, as I do want to show the filly in more main ring classes. 

As for riding with other people.  Not sure how to always fix that one.  Because of the crazy work hours, there are often not really other people around.  Saturdays can be hectic though when I am out.  In the past, I have abstained from riding, simply from the fear of being in the way.

Not sure how to avoid that one.

But there you go.  A bit of perspective from one disabled rider.  I am not perfect and certainly don't speak for any segment of the population, but just myself. 

How about you?  Any disabled riders out there?  How about riders you've met?  I love to hear stories of other people's triumph over adversity. 


  1. Really interesting post, I am sure that USEF has some sort of accommodations for disabilities.

    1. Yes. USEF requires a bunch of paperwork. Although, it looks like this is changing for the next year. Instead of requiring massive paperwork every year, it will be every couple years. I do have to see where this crosses from USEF/breed shows. Paperwork certifying disability from a physician and so forth. I want to look into what might work as an amplification system or how to make this work...since I don't show under a trainer, it wouldn't necessarily work to have a trainer with a microphone speaking into an (approved) earpiece.

      And next step is to find out what USDF requires.

      Quite a few things to navigate!

      I like being an independent person, but there are times like this in the horse industry that it brings it right to my face on how much help I can need in order to demonstrate skill. ;)

  2. Also agree this is really interesting. Stuff I had never thought about!


Please leave a comment if you like. I love hearing from readers and would like to know that I am not always talking to myself. ;)