By Brant, John, and Kambra
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.