If you didn’t know to look for it, you’d probably never notice it—the extra turn of her head as Alexandra Worthington sights in on a jump off a tight rollback. That movement is necessary as the 18-year-old is blind in her right eye.
“It’s definitely an adjustment,” she said. “When I do rollbacks off the right or do any sort of right turn, it is a little bit tricky because I have to turn my head completely and take my eye off of where I’m going, which can be a little scary, especially if there’s a lot of traffic in a ring or a busy schooling ring.”
But Worthington thinks nothing of what many might consider a disadvantage. She’s never known anything different. She was born with a cataract, but by the time doctors diagnosed her and performed the cataract removal surgery her brain had stopped communicating with that eye.
“You wouldn’t visually be able to tell because I’ve had surgeries to sort of keep [my eye] straight—I think a total of six surgeries for that,” said Worthington.
“It doesn’t cause me a ton of issues,” she continued. “Once in a while I’ll have some depth perception issues, like pouring a glass of water, and I’ll miss by an inch or something. For the most part I’m fine. I do get headaches sometimes looking into the sun, but it’s nothing too serious compared to some problems other people have. I feel badly because I cut people off sometimes to the right, and I have to apologize and say, ‘I couldn’t see you there.’ ”
Worthington’s final junior season started out with the wrong kind of bang. She took a bad step while chasing a ball on the tennis court and rolled her foot, breaking her fifth metatarsal in the process. She was non-weightbearing for roughly six weeks and was out of the tack for eight. But even though things didn’t start out quite as she expected, she didn’t let it slow her down once she was back showing.
She was fourth in the George Morris Excellence In Equitation class during the Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida) and won both the Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal and the WIHS Equitation Classic at the Devon Horse Show (Pennsylvania).
This fall the Las Vegas native began studying math and economics at Vanderbilt University (Tennessee), so she was hitting the books instead of the fall circuit. She joined the school’s Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association equestrian team and embarked on a new challenge.
“I was actually so surprised how difficult it was,” she said. “I’ve had the opportunity to ride a lot of different horses at Beacon Hill and Stonehenge and with my old trainers, but the horses you ride at IHSA maybe have different backgrounds, different strides, different levels of scope than you’re used to, so it was for sure an adjustment. And I have to say, I definitely chipped quite a few times the first week of that, but you really adjust.
“I’ve noticed a difference in my riding as I’ve gone back to the indoors,” she continued. “I’ve definitely learned how to ride off of feel more because you get on an unfamiliar horse, and you’re expected to go and show that unfamiliar horse.”
That newfound skill proved prudent this indoor season, as Worthington sold her equitation mount Outshine two days before the Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunt Seat Medal Final (Pennsylvania), so she switched to her back-up plan, riding Alant, a greener mount owned by Beacon Hill barnmate Elli Yeager.
Worthington had only ridden the gelding a couple of times before, but the pair ended up taking the reserve spot in that class and were fifth in the Lindsay Maxwell Charitable Fund Washington International Horse Show Equitation Final (District of Columbia).
“This year my goals were just to put in rounds that I was happy with, and whatever happened from there would happen, because I knew without having my main equitation horse I really couldn’t depend on too much just because there are so many new random variables,” she said. “My biggest thing is that I didn’t want to end my junior career being mad about a mistake I made or being disappointed with something that I did. To have the outcomes that I’ve had so far has just been incredible because I couldn’t have expected it.”
Now Worthington has one last shot at the ASPCA Maclay Championship at the National Horse Show (Kentucky), and she’s feeling a bit less pressure on the heels of her previous successes.
“I think it’s easier to an extent,” she said. “There’s definitely a level of pressure when you’re riding somebody else’s horse to begin with because you don’t want to mess up; you don’t want to give the horse a bad experience, etcetera, but I’m trying not to think about past finishes going into Maclay Finals. I just want to have another really solid round that I’m very happy with and hopefully end on a good note.”
The Chronicle is onsite at the National Horse Show and will bring you the action from all the classes, and of course we’ll be doing our live commentary of the ASPCA Maclay on Sunday.