Three Perspectives on Horseback Riding

By Brant, John, and Kambra
Contributing Writers

Picture of white canes and students riding horses in the background.

To help them develop self-confidence and good blindness skills, the Adult Orientation & Adjustment Center asks students to participate in a wide variety of activities.  On August 15, a group of students and staff went horseback riding at Wildwood Hills Ranch near St. Charles, Iowa.  Below are the candid reactions of three of them.  As you will observe, each of them is at a different waypoint on their path to understanding fully that it is okay to be blind. 

I came into the Center this summer. I hadn’t been horseback riding since I was about eight–ten or fifteen years ago. I really didn’t know what to expect. I was not terribly concerned because it sounded like people had gone before and it had been successful, but I really didn’t know what I was in for. But once I was up on the horse I found it was a really easy system. Left to go left, right to go right, back to stop. After getting on, I realized it wasn’t going to be much of a challenge; it would just be more fun. Once they gave me the step-ladder and I got up on the horse, found the stirrup and found which way the head was, once I got on its back there was no problem at that point.

I came here the first week of June. I’ve done a bit of horseback riding in the past. I was looking forward to doing it, but when we got there and I put the shades on, just finding my way around, getting to the horse, that was a little more challenging. That wasn’t very comfortable, just to bump around into people, really not know where I was going because it was a new area; that was stretching for me, a little uncomfortable. When I got up on the horse, that seemed the easier part to me. I felt like they worked pretty hard to do it so we were comfortable. I didn’t feel like it was dangerous at all. It was enjoyable to go around on the horse. The horse seemed a little on the mellow side for me. It was an adventure going up and down hills, and the guy behind me every once in a while would say “Right, right, right,” and I’d say, “Is there a problem?” And he’d say, “Your horse goes towards trees.” So, only one time did my leg get knocked out of a stirrup. Going out into the arena eased us into it. They had us get on the horse. We would begin to go around, having someone ride along side of us, something progressive. So by the time we got out on the trail, I was ready for it. Talking with people in front and behind was helpful to know where I was.

This is my second time at horseback riding. Honestly, I considered not going this time because of memories of the first time and then not feeling well this time. The first time I went, I really had a balance issue.  And it didn’t always feel like the horse was going forward or backward or sideways. At first it was hard for me to tell which way the horse was moving, but I went.  And I did it and actually I had no issues like that the second time around. I have done lots of horseback riding over the years. I think it was just one of those first time experiences. I heard others talking about, “It feels like my horse is going backwards,” when in reality it was going forward. So I think for some people that’s a little harder than for others. The second time I had no feelings like that at all, which was very pleasant. I think it’s a good experience getting used to ourselves walking in different areas. In the indoor arena, I think it was wood shavings or something we were walking through, and then in the outdoor arena we were walking through sand, and then out in tall grass. We got a lot of experience walking over different surfaces. Inside in that big pole barn it was big and echo-like, and outside it sounded very open. So trying to judge where you were and where you were going, I thought was very interesting. And you had to listen for the sound of the horse or the people to know which direction to go.

It’s kind of concerning to know whether you’re walking up to the backend or the front end of the horse. If it’s not a nice horse, you might get stepped on or kicked. I am not afraid of horses or of being bitten. But if you don’t know the horses, you don’t know which ones might startle. I did not ask, I just went with it, stuck my hand out there, found whichever end, decided what I had and worked my way from there.  Other than hearing to follow, that’s about all you can do. You notice many things. When you’re on the trail with the trees surrounding you it feels more closed in and cool, and then when you come out into the open pasture between the air and the sun and the openness, you know right away when those types of changes occur.

You could feel your horse as it started to go up or down, so you knew you needed to be leaning forward or leaning back. Basically, you do it all by the way it feels. And balance with it. I don’t know what you’d do if you have a bad horse. I guess you’d just do what you do otherwise–just deal with it, like you do whatever comes your way.

It was pretty mellow. It was just very, very pleasant.

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Progressing as a tour guide

Posted by Hilary

I’ve done three tours of the Department’s building. The last one I did was a Drake University student. She was great. She told me I did a good job and thanked me. I feel comfortable to take them anywhere, even in the stacks, no problem. And that was one of my things. I didn’t want to look confused. I wanted to be able to do this without being nervous.

She was really nice. She said to me at the end, “I have a question for you. When we see you guys out on the street walking, is it OK to help you out?”

The way I look at it is, treat us like you would a sighted person. If we look like we’re in distress, help us.

I go to physical therapy for my shoulder because I was in a car accident last summer. My doctor gave me a referral to a PT in the Skywalk. I go there and see him twice a week. He has had many questions. He said he has a couple of patients who are blind. He sees us students all the time in the Skywalk walking around. He sat in a corner one day and watched someone and wondered if he should help. I am going to ask him to tour the building.

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Speaking to junior high students

Posted by Hilary

I went to a junior high school to speak to students. It was Diversity Day, and so they asked questions and we told them about what we do at the Orientation Center.

We went in, met with the health sciences teacher and kids came in for three or four different periods. There were people there with us who were deaf and were minorities.

They had questions. Kids are funny. Their questions were like: “How do you guys do computers?” “How do you read Braille?”

We showed them the slate and stylus and how we learned our cane travel. They were all interested. The biggest question was, “How do you guys get a dog?”

I loved it. And I think most of these kids went home and told their parents and friends about it. It’s teaching them that people are different and to be more accepting. They didn’t have this when I was younger. It was nice for me to see something like this in the schools. One kid even came and shook each of our hands and thanked us for coming. It was nice. A good group of kids. They were all very respectful and attentive.

We took a poll and asked how many of them knew people with visual impairments and out of 30 there were about 9 who raised their hands. I think about when I was growing up I didn’t know anybody who was blind.

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Conquering the trip to Fareway

Posted by Hilary

I conquered the Fareway grocery store. The day before, I went on my trial run to Fareway, it was fine. Mark, my teacher, and I got there and got off the bus at the bus stop in the parking lot. He said if we walk to the bus, you can hear the sound of the engine at the back of the bus. If you time it right inside the store you can get on the same bus you came in on.

So, on this trial run, I’m walking toward the bus, and I can’t find the door. I’m feeling all over the bus, walked around the whole bus. And when I got to the door, the bus driver said how is everything? You just checked everything out, is everything looking OK? I was so embarrassed.

On the day of my real trip to Fareway, I go to the bus stop. My trouble stop is crossing this driveway between the Department building and the bus stop a few blocks away. I got there and I crossed that driveway, and I was so proud of myself. But I did it so fast that when I got to the bus stop I wasn’t sure if I had missed the bus. I had left my Braille watch and didn’t know what time it was. I waited and waited. I had gotten there 15 minutes early.

The seats were taken on the left side that I normally sit in. So I had to sit right behind the bus driver. I get to Fareway and I get off the bus and I turn right, and thought it was all going too easily, so I turned around. I walked back to the bus stop. I did that twice. And I thought, I don’t want to miss this bus, so I go: “Hillary,just keep walking.” Eventually I get there, I get in the store. I get to the customer service counter and check in. I turn and I head out, and I’m so quick out the door and I didn’t cane properly and I stepped right off the curb.

A woman came up to ask me if I needed help and I said I’m fine, I’m trying to learn. I lined myself up and continue straight. I am trying to listen to hear the bus, and I’m walking and don’t hear anything. I know I’m going in the right direction. But I hear nothing. I feel the sign, and I feel a bus, and the rubber between the door. I know this is a bus, but it’s not on. I basically stood there and waited for someone to show up. Finally, about 20 minutes pass, and this woman asks if I’m waiting for the bus, and she ends up being the bus driver. I get on and I’m like, thank you, thank you.

I was on schedule, but the bus runs at a different time. Mark said I would be fine. So then I got back and I did fine coming back, had no problems at all and I was thrilled. I was so excited.

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On Tour

Posted by Hilary

I am currently learning how to give tours of the building. (When visitors come to the building Orientation Center students give tours of the entire building.) My teacher, Mark, has taken me around the building. I learned about the many elevators that I did not know existed. The second level floors, all of it.

Still, after being here for almost two months, there’s a whole lot of the building I haven’t seen. We saw the roof yesterday. I didn’t get to see the roof when I toured the building before I came as a student. It was neat, to see all those planters and picnic tables. I was told there was a roof that had tables but had no idea there were so many. To actually go up there was pretty amazing.

Today I went to go reconstruct what I had been taken through. I got turned around on the fourth floor but successfully took the back elevators.

I now know the back service elevator to the third floor, there’s a room that has these stairs that take me somewhere, and I went in there and took my sleep shades off like it was going to help me, but it didn’t. I was trying to remember the things Mark told me that are in the room. The good thing is I went through there with my sleep shades on and looked for everything Mark told me.

Yesterday I was giving a tour with a perspective student. I’ve been where he’s at. You try to answer the questions and help people along. I’m happy to give people the information they need to see if this is a place they want to be. I told him, “You know what, I’m better today than I used to be. I haven’t had a day yet that I thought I should have not come here. All my anxieties I had about coming here, if you take a deep breath, you’re OK.”

I was truly exhausted last night. I did three hours of walking the building. I need to practice the stairs. After I started the first week and I walked the stairs all that week, I haven’t taken the stairs since then, I’ve been taking the elevator, so shame on me.

I didn’t realize how little I used the stairs anyway until yesterday. It’s not that I’m scared of the stairs, it’s just laziness. So I did take the stairs today, and I’m trying to learn.

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The ups and downs of travel

Posted by Hilary

My biggest struggle is travel, since being at the Center. When I first came to the Center, I had a fold-up cane and didn’t know how to use it right. Now that I’ve been here I use it all the time.

I find it much easier now to go throughout the day with my sleep shades on. When I go home and take them off I rely on my vision. It’s a comfort thing. I feel more confident walking down the steps with my shades on than without. I’m more apt to use the little vision I have, and it will mess me up.

For travel, although today was challenging to say the least, my biggest fear is crossing the street. It’s a fear that’s in my head. It’s not that difficult to cross the street. If I can get over that I think I’ll be fine. I don’t worry about the cars as much as I thought I would. Once I listen to the traffic, I’m fine. If someone’s going to hit you, they’re probably going to hit you anyway even if you can see. It’s more mental than anything, and I need to get over this.

Today I was coming from 4th and Grand on home block, and I’m coming up the street, and I’ve done it before, but these walls, they come out. You get off task for literally one second, and boom. The wall. It hasn’t moved. I’m supposed to know it’s there. I need to focus on the cane and staying in the middle of the sidewalk. If I cane appropriately I won’t fall off the side and the wall shouldn’t matter if I am using my cane the way I’m supposed to.

I’m trying to get there and say, Hilary you’ve only been here in the Center five weeks and you’re not going to get it in five weeks.

On a lighter note, I spent the whole morning chopping vegetables and still have my 10 fingers.

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Intro to Hilary

I am 42 years old and grew up in the Silicon Valley of California. In May 2010 I moved to Iowa to live with my boyfriend, and we moved into an apartment in Story City.Hilary

I started at the Orientation Center January 10, 2011. I had been scheduled to attend the school for the blind in Albany, CA, but then I would not be able to be with my boyfriend.

I came out to Iowa and toured the Department for the Blind in Des Moines in May, and when I spoke to my VR counselor back home in California she was reading a book on rehab and said one of the best centers was in Iowa, so if I wanted to transfer it was all good.

I came in for another tour in June and then decided this is where I wanted to attend. One of the reasons is because of the library, it’s phenomenal. I felt more comfortable here after two tours. I contacted the VR counselor here, Rosie, and she came to my home to visit me, gave me some Braille lessons and got me on board.

As far as my vision, I have a Keratoconus (a misshapen cornea) and severe corneal scarring in my right eye. I am looking to have a cornea transplant, but in the interim I feel I need to get as many skills as I can so I can get back working again.

I was in accounting, worked at Standford University in the recruiting department. My vision started going three-and-a-half years ago. I started tripping and falling. I For went to go see an eye doctor at a mall and he said there was something wrong with my eyes but there was nothing he could do for me. He contacted a specialist, and I went there.

Soon walking became a problem. I was still driving at the time, and  I hit an attorney. Ran over his foot! It was horrible.

I still drove after that. One day I was driving on the wrong side of the street, and someone yelled at me and I pulled over and started crying. My dad then said, “Give me the keys to the car.”

At work I started making a lot of mistakes. Then I couldn’t see the computer anymore. They tried to help me in my job, but then the company closed. I went home and sat for two years.

I made myself a stick, not even a cane, to walk with. I ended up moving in with  my grandmother and she did everything for me. Now I’m trying to get back so I can at least be living by  myself and taking care of my family.

It’s a struggle. I went to wash the clothes in my new apartment and I couldn’t do it myself. I had to ask for help. Now I’m learning again I can do these things. I always knew I could.

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Intro to Tracy

My name is Tracy, and I was born in 1959. I grew up on a farm near the small town of Corning, Iowa, located in the southwest corner of the state.Tracy

I graduated from Corning High School in 1977 with roughly 75 other students.  This class size allowed me to participate in many school activities such as athletics, student senate, theatre, and many different art classes.

I attended the University of Iowa where I earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in drawing, a  Master of Arts degree in drawing with a minor in sculpture, followed by a Master of Fine Arts degree in painting.

In 1981 I was diagnosed with a retina disease known as Retinitis Pigmentosa.  This degenerative disease attacks the retina and causes loss of visual field as well as night blindness.

I am currently 51 years old and a student at the Iowa Department for the Blind where I am learning skills, such as Braille, computer, and cane travel in order to achieve greater mobility and independence.

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Intro to Jeremy

I am from Belle Plaine, Iowa, and am 18 years old. I just graduated from high school, where I did five sports and I had to keep good grades. I was always on the honor role. I had a job at Subway. I had a lot of friends. I was a good athlete.

Jeremy, 18, is from Belle Plaine, Iowa.I was born with poor vision. Outside, I can see only white. I see white space. Light takes away my vision and dark makes it a little better. I can see figures, not features. I can tell if someone’s tall or something like that. I can’t see colors. I see in black and white. I never know exactly how far I’ll be able to see.

One day my counselor at the IDB asked me how I was going to read books and take notes during college, and I told him I didn’t know. Before I was thinking of coming for the summer, but then we decided to come for longer. I’m learning how to read my books and different techniques for taking notes.

In high school I hand wrote everything, but I remembered everything, and I still got good grades on the test.  But college is a different story. I’m going to UNI in January for the spring semester. I’ll be living in an apartment by myself.

I came to IDB June 17, the week after my birthday. I haven’t found anything extremely hard here, except for shop class. I struggle in shop class. It took me 20 tries to get the cuts right.

The only thing I knew about computers before I came was to type and some basic Word. I’ve learned how to navigate the Internet, send emails, format a document. I’ve gotten to where I can pretty much do computers on my own.

I’ve known Braille for a while, but haven’t  practiced in a while. I was reading at 40 words a minute and now I’m at more than 100. I started working with the BrailleNote Apex. So I am learning that right now. In home ec, I’ve never cooked without being able to see, and learning to grill, I always used the microwave. I never cooked a meal, I just cooked ramen noodles and frozen things. So I did my first two three courses, and those were successes, that’s what they said. Some of the people here will eat anything, so I don’ t know if I can take that as a compliment.

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A whole new outlook

Posted by Jim [tweetmeme source=”idbonline”]

It’s been an amazing ride since I fixed the lawnmower. I would have probably put more of the lawnmower together at first, but I didn’t think it would start. But then I put the key in it and it started right up.

It scared me. Now I’m putting the stuff on I could have in the beginning.

It’s given me confidence in certain things. I’m trying to achieve the same thing in other classes. Braille, for example, I just started writing with the stylus and the slate. That has been going really well for me. I surprised myself there. I guess I got a bit more confidence. I feel like I can do a lot more, since I did this I can do other things.

I still struggle in some of the other classes. Traveling, it’s so so. If I ain’t lost, it’s OK. If I don’t miss the bus it’s OK.

Computer, it’s going. I never took typing before, and my paws are so big, I have trouble making my fingers doing the finger thing. It’s not an easy class for me, making my fingers do what I tell them to do. I like the class, but it’s hard. It’s kind of slowing me down.

What I really wanted to learn how to do was to control my money, and control my bills. If it wasn’t for that I wouldn’t care to take the class at all. But I want to control my money online. I get tired of giving people my card and pin number. If I can get through the class, it would be good to control my money. It would be so much easier than to depend on someone else to do it for me. They’ve got their own life, and I feel right now the way things are going here and what I’ve learned since I’ve been here, I feel like I can live out there a lot more comfortably than I did when I first got here.

The main goal is to see if I can manage the bills. I want the typing to go good. I’ve got the Braille far enough that I can mark my canned goods, but I realize that there’s more to learn. I’ve been used to using my hands for little parts and pieces, I’ve done that for most of my life. I had a computer at home, I used it, but it was just one finger only.

Home ec is going better, a lot better. No one’s thrown me out yet. I’ve done another three-course meal, and have been baking a few things like cookies, passed them out, everyone’s alive, no one’s complained. It’s getting better. I’ve never cooked before. I did macaroni and cheese out of the box and TV dinners, that’s what I did. The last three course was chicken and rice, peanut butter pie and lettuce salad with salad dressing.

I’m overwhelmed. I’m happy. I have a whole new look on everything.

I came here and I promised myself I’d give it 30 days, well, 30 days have come and gone now. The feeling of, just for example back to the mower again, having it run after finding out what was wrong with it and fixing the problem and having it run, it’s a high you can’t come down off of. I love what I did.

Other things are going better now, too. I realize that you hit one goal, that’s good. I’m trying to go for another one now in something else. Things are going good.

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