This is Amy Dixon’s wonderful life story that can inspire us all for 2013!
The Blind Sommalier
It’s hard to believe that a mere six years ago I was preparing for my annual trip to Ocala with my beloved eventer, Calico. Blankets were washed, bodies were being clipped, my rig was tuned up, and endless hours of preparing for our dressage test were logged under saddle. Fast forward to December 2012, and I’m navigating the sidewalk with my new 4-legged companion, Elvis, a yellow Labrador Retriever who now serves as my guide and my eyes. We are traveling downhill towards the train station, en route to a meeting, and I give a half-halt on the rigid guiding harness to slow him down from our blistering pace. “Easy”, I tell him soft and low. I catch myself sometimes saying, “whoa” or clucking to get him moving or refocused. A bad habit, I tell myself, from more than three decades spent in the saddle riding eventers, showjumpers, and dressage horses. I laugh out loud, happy that I sometimes make that mistake with Elvis, but a little melancholy for those days flying through the woods, watching the trees whiz by as we clear logs, stone walls, and large gates. Now even finding a door knob seems a major accomplishment, and making it safely across a busy intersection on foot is cause for a mini celebration with my trusty guide.
I was diagnosed with a rare eye disease in my early twenties, and was told that eventually it would lead to inevitable blindness. My vision straight ahead was 20/20, but with each new attack of my disease, my field of vision would become narrower and narrower, eventually fading to nothingness. Determined to live out my life’s dream of becoming a professional equestrian, I digested this diagnosis and went on with my life. I had the good fortune of owning a scopey, brave Paint Thoroughbred/ Dutch Warmblood who was left to me by my father. He was as green as could be, but I was relentless in my pursuit of perfection with him, and he obliged by being a willing, fun, and talented student.
My vision was in a constant state of ebb and flow, depending upon the lighting, my blood pressure, and a variety of factors. I realized quickly that ‘riding by feel’ was not only important, it was essential to my safety and Calico’s. I practiced daily over ground poles to compensate for my constantly changing depth-perception. My ability to ‘feel” and not just “see” a distance to a fence made jumping natural obstacles in the woods effortless despite my vision impairment. The only time I really struggled with my disease while riding was in the warm-up area, where riders and horses milled about in no apparent pattern. In eventing, our warmups are usually in an open field with two single fences set up, so generally there’s lots of room for everyone. At one particular event, I had the misfortune of literally bumping into my idol, Karen O’Connor. She was competing against Calico and I on a young horse she was bringing along in the Open Training division. I was busy focusing on my leg yields across the field, and managed to slam right into her and the lovely Bay Thoroughbred she was riding. Horrified, I apologized, and quickly moved out of her way. Again, I came across the diagonal, and this time accidently caught her leg with my dressage whip, to which she tersely but politely said, “I seem to be getting in your way,” with a smile as she trotted off to a more remote part of the field. I stared desperately at my trainer, about to burst into tears with frustration and embarrassment. Dean quickly trotted over to Karen and explained my impairment to her, at which she looked my way, tipped her hunt cap, and smiled. “She is a class act all the way,” I thought to myself.
Read the rest (pdf) – Amy Dixon Blind Sommalier
A special THANKS! to Dr.Anna Marie and Todd who shot the video and sent it my way.
Enjoy the ride and Happy New Year! – tim and everyone @ Hopeful Farm.