My riding story – horse riding with a visual impairment

I wrote this post because of a request that I received in the comments. I was asked to talk a bit more about my experiences with horses and horse-riding as someone with a visual impairment, so here’s my horsy story.

How it all started

I knew that my teaching assistant, who helped in maths and science lessons, and prepared Braille materials for me, had horses. She used to tell me about them, and I was really excited when she invited me to the farm where they were kept to have my first ride.

The first ride on Silke was a stroll down by the canal and back again, but after that, I was hooked. It seemed like a whole other world and there was so much to learn! I set about learning as much as I could, with an intensity that must have driven my poor grandparents crazy. When I couldn’t be with horses, then I was reading about them, thinking about them, and telling anyone who would listen what I had recently discovered!

After that, I visited Silke several times, and also rode one of the other horses there, Rhumba, who was bigger and thought that cantering through the fields by the canal was a lot of fun. So did I! When Silke had her first foal, I was allowed to meet him after a couple of days. All fluffy and still discovering what his spindly legs were for.

I enjoyed our visits, but they lived quite far away, so we needed to find something closer if this was going to become a hobby.

Making horse-riding accessible

We were lucky that the riding stables close to us was so welcoming and helpful. I think I took this for granted at the time, but having been to other stables now, I know I lucked out!

Sometimes I had lessons as part of a group, and sometimes I had private lessons. One of the most important things was that the trainer didn’t just let things go – if my hands or legs weren’t in the right position, she would physically show me what I should be doing. If I was sitting like a sack of potatoes, I was called out on it. I got the additional help that I needed because of my visual impairment, but I was expected to work as hard as everyone else.

One of my favourite things was jumping. It helped that the horse I usually rode loved to jump, but this was good experience for when I rode other horses who weren’t so keen on it. The instructor described the jump, told me if I needed to do anything to correct my approach to it, then gave me a few seconds warning before it was time to jump! I loved it!

We made a tactile arena on a big piece of cardboard and stuck Braille letters on so that I could learn their positions. (Braille is a tactile system which blind people use to read). Once I’d memorised where the letters were, I could understand instructions about where I needed to go. We had a couple of people around the arena who called out the letters as I approached them, so I knew when to turn. If there weren’t enough people, the trainer got a lot of exercise, getting to the letters before I did so that she would be in place to call them out! I understand now that people use more high-tech solutions such as Bluetooth headsets with someone giving visual information.

My assistant teacher also found a 2d wooden horse, and we mounted it on another piece of card, then labelled all the parts of the body with pieces of string that connected the Braille label to the corresponding part of the horse.

My grandparents never shared my love of horses, but Granddad took me to and from the stables every Saturday, and Nan read aloud my pony magazines, often slowly so that I could copy out information that I wanted for my Braille horse folder.

I know that at least one of the people whom I used to ride with has gone on to become an international dressage rider. I stopped riding when I was at High School – other interests got in the way. With hindsight I should have stayed with the horses, but you’re always smarter when you’re looking back.


As well as the weekly lessons, the riding school held its own yearly competitions in which you could enter for events such as dressage and jumping. We spent time grooming, plaiting manes, getting saddles ready and waiting for the big day. I was with the other sighted girls, so I didn’t feel different. Most of us didn’t have our own horses, so we were split up into pairs.

Everyone wanted to ride Bridget, the horse that I usually rode. She was so popular, partly because she seemed to enjoy what we did – especially jumping. But partly because she was a really kind horse with a lovely nature. She would put her head on your shoulder after you’d finished grooming her, and sometimes it felt as though the horses made more sense to me than the other people my age!

Anyway, I wasn’t one of the people in team Bridget, but I was assigned Sam, whom I hadn’t ridden before. He didn’t enjoy tearing around as much as I did, and I’m not sure he ever saw the point of hurtling over jumps when you could do the smart thing and walk round them, but you knew that he wouldn’t get flustered in an arena with so many people around, and he was one of the most reliable horses there. He got the job done – and in doing so we won one 1st, two third, and 2 clear round rosettes! I was proud of him and our picture was on my grandparents’ wall for ages!

I don’t remember it being horribly competitive. Yes, everyone wanted to win, but for me it was more about improving my own skills and becoming a better rider.

Trip to Berlin

The photo at the top of this post was taken when I went to visit my friend Sarah in Berlin. We were doing a kind of language exchange and had each planned fun activities for the other when she came to visit.

One of the things that we did in Germany was a ride through the countryside around Berlin. We met the horses, Maja and Marietta, and were escorted out by their owner for an evening ride. The things I remember most about that day were riding through a field of sunflowers – my favourite flower – and the fact that Maja liked to be in the lead! Ok, I also quite enjoyed being in the lead. The others described the path that we were going to take, where the turns were, and whether there were any low-hanging branches to avoid.

I was really glad I got to do this because so many stables are overcautious when it comes to working with disabled riders and it was great to go and explore on horseback without any unnecessary concerns – or the dreaded lead rein. Oh yes, and galloping was cool too!

Since then

I tried a couple of other riding schools as an adult, but never found one that I wanted to go to regularly. It’s true that you don’t realise what you have – until you don’t have it any more. I went on a couple of nice rides with a friend who lived locally, but I never started riding again every week.

As a young teenager I may have tired of my instructor complaining about my seat or leg positions, but she held me to a high standard, as she did with everyone else. I get the feeling that some other schools are so used to people who get a lot out of just being carried around on a horse, and that’s a great thing for some people, but setting the bar really low for all disabled riders is a sure way to demotivate people, especially those who are eager to learn and improve. If you’ve ridden before, the last thing you want is a lead rein, and the only way you can add more insult to injury is to give the lead rein to a 10-year-old child – yes, that did happen once. It didn’t make me want to go back!

Putting disabled riders in the same group can work if they are at a similar level, but not if what they want from the lesson or what they are able to achieve independently is vastly different.

Where I live now, I haven’t really looked around to see what’s available. I have different hobbies now. But I always look back fondly to the time when every Saturday morning was spent at the stables, grooming horses, cleaning saddles, carrying around buckets of food and water, playing games that involved teaching the stable dogs new tricks, and waiting for my lesson to come around.

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The books that I read in January

This is another new feature on my blog – the monthly book review.

Every month I plan to write about the books that I’ve read, what I thought of them, and I’d love to know if any of you have read these books too.

Don’t expect to see pictures of my books because I read them all as audio or ebooks on my phone, but I’ll try to provide links to where you can get them or read more about them – both as printed and audio books. Also, I sometimes read books in German, so in those cases I’ll try to find an English translation to link to as well.

If I hated a book, it probably won’t end up here because I don’t make myself complete books if I’m not enjoying them! There are too many wonderful books out there to waste time on one that’s not fun to read!

I don’t have a yearly challenge in terms of the number of books I want to read. When some are 50 hours and others are 10, the number doesn’t seem to mean much. However I am trying to broaden my horizons in terms of the type of books that I read, although I doubt I’ll ever be able to get excited by horror or detective novels!

1. After you

Author: Jojo Moyes
Available on Amazon in a range of print and audio formats.

I got this on Christmas Day when I was downloading some other books that I’d been given for Christmas. One of my blogger friends Sophie Laetitia had been talking about it because it’s the sequel to “Me before you”, which was also made into a film.

If you haven’t read the first book in the series, I’d recommend that you first read that – but not on the train coming home from work like I did. The end is very sad, irrespective of where you stand on the question of euthanasia.

Following the death of the man that she loved, Lou has to decide what to do with her life,, made complicated by a stranger she meets after an unexpected accident, and someone from her partner’s past.

I don’t want to give spoilers, but this is an easy read and I finished it quite quickly. Having said that, I like the way the author makes relatable characters, even if they frustrate you sometimes! I wasn’t happy with the ending, but I guess a happy ending to the second book makes a bad trilogy! Maybe the idea of moving to New York doesn’t have the same attraction for me but still – you only get one chance at life – is it really worth risking everything in pursuit of something else if you think you already have a chance of happiness? It’s one of those books that take you through a range of emotions – happiness, sadness, wondering what will happen next. Ideal for the Christmas break!

2. Oathbringer

Author: Brandon Sanderson
Available as a printed book, Kindle or Audible book from Amazon.

This is book 3 of the Stormlight Archive series, so if you’re interested, again I would recommend adding the first two before starting this one. We got it as one of our monthly subscription books from Audible and S and I read it together.

Before meeting S, I never read any fantasy books. However he introduced me to this genre a few years ago and I think one of the fascinating things for me is the way they explore different cultures and the way that different societies work. For example, in this culture, the men mainly fight, and it’s the women who can read and have the education to understand how things work and develop new items to improve their lives. If you want something to be read, you have to go and find a woman to do it for you. Interesting social concept!

There’s also love, magic, fighting, and soul-searching questions about the right thing to do.

The basis is that humanity is facing desolation by the Voidbringers, assisted by the previously subservient parshmen, who had been enslaved by men.

There is not one main character, which makes the book more interesting. There’s ~Dalinar Kholin, with his violent past that prevents some of his allies from believing he wants to do good. Shallan Davar, who is exploring and developing her illusion abilities, whilst at the same time trying to keep a lid on a secret from her past and stay true to the man she’s going to marry whilst keeping in check her attraction to another. Then we see the world through the eyes of some of the Parshendi, whose take on past events is very different from what the humans have been taught.

It’s kind of complicated, but boils down to people with a range of abilities trying to work together to prevent the end of civilisation as they know it!

3. The deed of Paxanarian

Author: Elizabeth Moon
Available from Amazon in various formats and as an audio book on iTunes.

This is the first of a trilogy that I got for Christmas.

According to iTunes: “Refusing to marry a pig farmer and joining the army, even if it means never seeing her family again, Paksenarrion begins an adventure that enables her to restore an overthrown ruler.”

There is quite a lot in this book about fighting, but it helps you to understand what life was like in this kingdom for the common soldier. Ok, this character becomes powerful later, but everyone has to start somewhere, and I think this book did a good job of setting the scene for her.

Also, it’s a fantasy book, so magic, elves, dwarves all exist, but most of the ordinary people don’t get to see magic at work. In the ordinary towns, life goes on and the farmers or traders are at the mercy of the people around them with the biggest army, or maybe the most powerful magic.

It was good to see a strong female in a world where usually it’s the men who control what will happen next. For anyone who plays Dungeons and Dragons, it’s like when you have a really low-level character – but low-level characters have backstories too and sometimes the things that happen to them later only really make sense if you know where they came from.

4. Horse dancer

Author: Jojo Moyes
Available from Amazon as paperback, kindle edition and audio book.

This was my Audible subscription book for January.

This is the kind of book that filled my shelves when I was a teenager – because one of the main characters was a big horse called Boo! Having read After You, I wanted to try out something else from Jojo Moyes.

What happens when a young girl’s life is torn apart by her Granddad falling ill, and all she has to cling on to is her horse. Who can she turn to when even he isn’t safe from a man who is always used to getting what he wants? How do two people in the middle of a messy divorce cope when they find themselves living under the same roof again with a teenager who won’t open up and who keeps disappearing?

Parts of this book were a little far-fetched – but I loved the way that the relationship between horse and rider was described, and the lengths people would go to in order to protect their best friend! Overall it’s a positive book, but it does explore the way that life can spiral out of control when you feel there’s nowhere to turn, and I think this series of events was described in a believable way.

5. Divided allegiance

Author: Elizabeth Moon
Available in paperback, Kindle edition or as an audio book from Amazon or audio book from iTunes.

This is the second part in the Paksenarrion saga and according to iTunes: “Paksenarrion, once a sheepfarmer’s daughter, now a veteran warrior, meets new challenges as she breaks up a robber gang, dispells an ancient evil possessing an elvish shrine, and is accepted for training at an academy for knights. Clearly, a high destiny awaits her.”

But life isn’t all that it seems – after so much goes well for Paks, it seems like nothing will stop her. That’s not real life though. Nobody is invincible, and when the thing that is most precious is taken away, what will Paks do, and will she survive?

I actually enjoyed this book more than the first – a bit less fighting and more time spent developing the characters, discovering what life is like for the different races, and how people in authority don’t always know best.

6. Die Zwerge

Author: Markus Heitz

This book was originally written in German, and I read the original, but it’s also available in English. Apparently there’s going to be a video game too.

The Dwarves – available as a paperback or Kindle version from Amazon.

This book was recommended by one of my blogger friends from The Cozy Den. S said she’d also read it, so I decided to give it a go. I usually have a book going in German because it’s good for my German language skills, and I’ve read so many German books now that it doesn’t feel like a language exercise any more.

According to iTunes: “For countless millennia, the dwarves of the Fifthling Kingdom have defended the stone gateway into Girdlegard. Many and varied foes have hurled themselves against the portal and died attempting to breach it. No man or beast has ever succeeded. Until now… Abandoned as a child, Tungdil the blacksmith labors contentedly in the Kingdom of Fifthling the only dwarf in a kingdom of men. Although he does not want for friends, Tungdil is very much aware that he is alone – indeed, he has not so much as set eyes on another dwarf. But all that is about to change. Sent out into the world to deliver a message and reacquaint himself with his people, the young foundling finds himself thrust into a battle for which he has not been trained. Not only his own safety, but the life of every man, woman and child in Girdlegard depends upon his ability to embrace his heritage. Although he has many unanswered questions, Tungdil is certain of one thing: no matter where he was raised, he is a true dwarf. And no one has ever questioned the courage of the Dwarves.”

How do you lead an unlikely team, some of whom hate each other, and convince them all to focus on your common goal? How do you relate to a culture that you belong to, but which you’ve never experienced? These are some of the questions that Tungdil has to answer. Whom can he trust? Can people be your friend, even if they look like your enemy?

I thought there would probably be a happy ending to this book, but it’s not what I had expected. I use German most days at work, but it’s also been good for me to learn some new fantasy-fiction-related vocabulary!

How about you?

So, have you read any of these books? What have you been reading this month? Let me know in the comments!

Your chance to get a free audio book from Audible

If you’re in the UK or Germany, you can get a free ebook if you sign up for an Audible subscription. Whether or not you continue with the monthly subscription, you get to keep your audio book, and you can choose from 200,000 titles on a wide range of subjects. You can then download the Audible app on your phone and take your book with you wherever you go! (Books have to be purchased on the website – you can’t do it on the app).

Link for the UK
Link for Germany

1. This offer is open to people in Germany and the UK. Remember to use the correct link for your country.
2. You are eligible if you haven’t had a free audio book from Audible in the last year.
3. If you don’t want to pay, you must remember to cancel your subscription within the first month. You will still be able to keep your free book.
4. If you like the service, you will continue to receive a credit each month, which can be used to buy a book. Buying books on subscription is often cheaper than buying them individually.

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Visit to the small breeds farm and owl centre

After surprising my partner with a trip to the wolf sanctuary, he surprised me with a trip to the owl centre!

The owl centre is in Herefordshire, and it is home to a wide variety of owls, as well as a number of small animals.

The owls live in the owl garden, and here you can see the five native British owls, as well as owls from all around the world. Some of these owl species are not on public display anywhere else in Europe.

The five owl species that you’ll find in Britain are the British Barn owl, the Tawny owl, the Little owl, the Short-eared owl, and the Long-eared owl. My favourite is the barn owl!

All of these owls are facing challenges at the moment due to changes in farming practices (better pest control means less rodents to feed upon), new roads, and fewer suitable feeding sites. These challenges are particularly intense in the winter time, especially when snowy conditions make it harder to find food. There are a number of charities that work to help the owls to thrive and survive, particularly as falling population numbers have been a cause for concern in recent years.

I’ve been collecting owls for years, but I think Harry Potter contributed to an increased interest in all things with owls on them! Products with owl designs are everywhere in the shops, and I hope this increased interest in them will also translate into people learning more about them and supporting them. A good way to do this is to visit the owl centre. There is information outside every cage about the species, where it’s from, and more general information about its appearance, feeding habits and preferred nesting sites.

If you want to see more owl pictures, visit the owl page on the owl sanctuary’s website.

It was probably a good time to visit because there were lots of tiny animals. We went in the pen with some lambs. They were rather cautious, but as soon as one headed over, the others dared to come a bit closer.
The farm encourages petting and stroking of the animals, so it’s a good experience for visually impaired people too. We didn’t ask about handling any of the owls, apart from the one that greeted people at the entrance, but my partner read the information to me so I could imagine how the different species looked. In any event, it was daytime, so some of them probably wanted to sleep!

There are a number of different types of goat, including pygmies, boer goats, and Golden Guernsey Goats, all of which were eager to chomp anything they could find, and not just the food that was offered to them. One larger goat tried to munch my hair, and one of the tiny kids, that were the size of small cats, tried to nibble the bottom of my dress.

The miniature horses and donkeys have often been featured on TV.

The farm would not be complete without the farm dogs! When my boyfriend said “I’ve seen someone whom you’ll want to meet,” I wasn’t expecting a Labrador, in fact there were two of them, but I was very happy to give them a pat!

Other animals that you can visit are reindeer, alpaca, pigs, cows (including the miniature zebu, the world’s smallest breed of cow), sheep, horses, and donkeys.

This is where you can see some pictures of the other animals on the Owl Centre’s website.

There is also a house for small animals. I stroked some floppy bunny ears, but there weren’t so many opportunities for interaction here. Still you could see the guinea pigs, mice, chipmunks and chinchillas.

After our visit, we had lunch in the gift shop, where I also bought an owl necklace, an owl bracelet and a little bag with an owl face on it to add to my ever-growing owl collection.

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