‘I want people to know they can do it’: blind cross-country rider hopes to inspire others

  • A registered blind rider who qualified for the National Hunter Trial Championships at her first cross-country competition would like to show others what is possible, and raise awareness of visually impaired riders’ abilities.

    Lucy Booker-Wilson was diagnosed with Stargardt’s disease, a genetic disorder that causes progressive vision loss, about three years ago.

    Now, aged 15, she has lost most of her central vision, and her peripheral vision is blurred, so when she is riding into a fence, she cannot see it.

    “Lucy makes it look incredibly easy,” mum Amanda told H&H. “To watch her ride, you wouldn’t think she’s visually impaired; she’s adapted so well.”

    When Lucy first flagged issues with her vision, her parents took her to an optician who suggested it might be a psychological issue as he could find nothing wrong. But her parents pushed for answers and she was referred to a hospital, where the condition was diagnosed.

    “It was a huge shock,” Amanda said. “It’s genetic but no one else in the family had it; although her younger sister has since been diagnosed with it too. It’s been very hard but the girls have both adapted so well.”

    Lucy had ridden on and off since she was four, having lessons at riding schools, but had not really progressed, Amanda said.

    “Then during lockdown last year, she got really low,” Amanda added. “We were concerned about her; she hadn’t been able to have her lessons and hadn’t been making progress, so we looked into loaning a horse.

    “We did loan one but that didn’t work out. We’d never planned on getting a horse but she’s had Jessie just over a year now and she’s been a life-saver.

    “She’s something to focus on, something positive, and Lucy’s putting energy into raising awareness, rather than focusing on what she can’t do.”

    Lucy told H&H she wants to make it clear what she is capable of.

    “I’ve had a few issues with people not wanting me to compete because they don’t think it’s safe,” she said, adding that she compares her central vision to the static others might see after they rub their eyes.

    “That’s what I see; I wouldn’t know there’s a fence in front of me. When I walked the championship course the first time, I was figuring out what jumps there were, and roughly where, then the second time, I memorise them and where the lines are.

    “I can see a bit with my peripheral vision so I use other jumps as landmarks, and the strings are very useful, although sometimes I can’t see them either and it’s all memory. I memorise roughly where I have to go, then as long as I point Jessie at the right jump, she’ll jump it. She’s amazing.”

    Lucy has been in touch with some other visually impaired riders, including American showjumper Wren Blae, but not many.

    “It’s not a big community, and I want people to know they can do it,” she said. “When people think of para riding, they think of dressage but it’s not just that.

    “I’d love to ride in the Paralympics; it would take a lot of time but I’d love to see some form of jumping there, and if people were more aware, it would boost numbers.”

    Lucy has only really jumped properly since her vision started to deteriorate, which she thinks may have been less difficult than had she previously learned to do it with full sight.

    And she added: “I’ve got a fear of ditches since I nearly had a horse go over on me in a ditch out hacking. Then, when I was walking the championship course, there was one, so I was quite thankful I couldn’t see it!

    “Riding and jumping makes me feel free. It’s my time to forget about my eyes and make me feel not normal, but able to enjoy life more.”

    Amanda said that the family had not been particularly horsey before Lucy’s involvement.

    “I do say to Lucy sometimes ‘I didn’t sign up for this!’ like when I was driving her and Jessie to Eland Lodge in a hired lorry — but I love it,” she said.

    “I’m so proud. When we went to Eland Lodge, it was just the two of us and we stayed in a hotel, and it was like a girly weekend. Then when she went off, I was in bits, completely overcome with emotion.

    “I was so proud, and so scared for her being out there on her own but she absolutely smashed it, and had a ball, and that’s all you can ask for.”

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