I half lease my horse to a wonderful 16 year old rider who has a degenerative disease that has caused her to progressively lose her sight. She is now almost completely blind but still has some ability to see light and dark. She would like to get out and start showing more actively in para-dressage competitions this summer and I'm trying to figure out the best way to help her navigate the arena. Last season we used (or attempted to use) living letters. This proved very difficult as we don't usually have a large enough entourage of people at the shows to cover all of the letters we need. This means we have to pull together volunteers at the show and it's tough to get everyone on board and understanding what they should be doing. She handled it well but it was chaotic and often confusing for her. She and I are working together on improving her ability to navigate without assistance, but I'm also trying to figure out a better way to supplement that. I have had two ideas so far but am not sure quite how to implement them (and keep it affordable).
I thought of small speakers at each letter that we could control somehow to make an audible sound as she approaches. Since electricity is unreliable I think they would need to be battery powered.
She does have some ability to see light and dark, so the other idea would be to have light boxes at each letter bright enough that she could see them. This seems easier to implement but I'm not sure they would work on sunny days so I'm leaning toward the speakers.
Does anyone have any idea how to implement a speaker system such as I described? Or does anyone have alternate ideas on how to help her?
Don't know if this is competition legal, but how about one of those remote headset/microphone combos? The kind that keeps an instructor from having to shout during lessons. I know I've seen them advertised.
The rider wears the headset and the "reader" uses the microphone to alert her to the letters just as "living letters" would do. This would only require one reader instead of enough helpers to man all the letters. If she plans to do para dressage, would this be an allowed adaptation?
I have no experience with this, but just a thought.
This Australian woman competes at FEI level and is legally blind. See this video showing her competing --- she uses people at letters holding halogen lights. Maybe try battery powered lights on tripods at each letter? I have seen another blind rider who used sounds at letters, but they were individual people at each letter ringing a different sounding bell at each one as she got close.
I don't personally know any blind dressage riders, but I learned something interesting about them while attending the WEG in Kentucky a few years ago: On freestyle day, someone made a mistake when shortening the arena from 60 meters to 40 meters, and it ended up somewhere in between those two lengths.
Because freestyles are choreographed to the music, all the sighted riders were having trouble and getting behind their music (because every long side was taking longer to get down when they rode into the corners). The blind riders, however, had no problems. Why?
I was told it was because the blind riders count strides rather than riding from letter to letter. In a freestyle, there's no penalty for not riding all the way into the corner, so the blind riders were turning after "X" number of strides, assuming they'd reached the end of the arena, and were staying on their music.
If your horse is a fairly consistent guy, perhaps you and the rider can make a properly sized arena at home and work on figuring out how many strides it takes to get around the short end, or to get from K to E or K to H.
I probably vastly oversimplified this, but it's an idea, and it might be a good backup skill for your rider anyways. Not all that different from learning to count strides in a stadium course.
Thank you all for your ideas! We've started working on counting strides with her,it's really challenging but it's improving. I've tried riding with my eyes closed a few times to get a sense of what it's like for her and man, it is TOUGH. I honestly don't know how she does it so beautifully despite being fairly new to dressage. I'm liking the idea of the lights but most if not all of our shows up here are outside so I'm not sure she will be able to see them in the bright sunlight. We may continue working on counting strides until she gets to the point where she can ride and I can call all of the letters to her instead of having to have a person at each one. Someone on UDBB also suggested those motion sensor door chimes at each letter. We will experiment and see what works best for her!
I think she's going to come to a schooling with me at the end of the month so I'll definitely post an update afterward and let everyone know how it went. In the meantime if anyone has additional ideas I would love to hear them!