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Blind and deaf rider wins rosettes – and helps develop innovative device

A blind and deaf rider who also has Asperger’s syndrome has helped develop a device that allows him to ride more independently.

Richard Brumby, who is also a rock-climber, was presented with a shield by the Worshipful Company of Lightmongers. The award was in recognition of his progress in riding, as well as the “fundamental” role he has played in developing the device, which vibrates to tell him to turn, ride forward or stop, and is controlled by Doug Smith, his Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) coach.

The device was developed at Imperial College London with Richard and Doug’s help, and it is hoped the technology can be advanced to allow other RDA groups to be able to use the device.

Richard, who was born profoundly deaf and has been blind since the age of 18, is now 35 and relies on support to communicate.

Doug said: “Since Richard came to Stafford RDA, he has shown tremendous courage and trust in the horses he has ridden and the volunteers who support him. He has been instrumental in the development of the communication device we use.

“When I began coaching Richard he responded well to all inputs, but did not demonstrate any autonomous decision-making capacity when asked to practise what he had been shown.

“We persevered for nearly two years and then began to see slight signs of improvement. The breakthrough came just before last Christmas when Richard decided to ride across the school rather than just send the horse round and round in the track.

“I am unashamedly evangelical about Richard as because he does not appear to respond, people put him in the ‘too hard to do’ box, which is an absolute travesty.”

Richard’s mother Mary said that before he joined the RDA group, Richard was led around arenas on horses, which gave him no sense of achievement or progression.

“He has now been able to compete, winning two red rosettes, something that none of us ever expected to happen,” she said.

“The progress in the past 12 months has been not only incredible to observe, but has also had a knock-on effect on Richard’s life in general. He now makes decisions, not just choices, and this is a result of his bravery and dedication on horseback. He is an inspirational young man who, unfortunately, very often gets overlooked because of his disabilities.”

Worshipful Company of Lightmongers is one of the livery companies of the City of London, and its charitable arm supports those with sensory disabilities.

Former master lightmonger Hugh Ogus presented Richard with the shield, which had a braille inscription, as well as a braille copy of the citation for the award.

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“When I heard about Richard having both aural and visual impairments and read Doug’s description of his inspiring riding achievements at RDA, I wanted to support Doug’s quest to give Richard some recognition of his triumph,” Mr Ogus said.

Both Doug and Richard featured in the RDA’s 50 Faces campaign to celebrate the charity’s 50th anniversary.

Richard has also recently been approached by a Paralympic climber, who is now coaching him, and he will compete in his first climbing competition next year.

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