‘It takes all the pleasure away’: para dressage rider joins campaign against blindfolds

  • A blind rider has dropped out of the para dressage winter championships due to a blindfold ruling she believes “takes the pleasure away”.

    Nicola Naylor is now focusing on able-bodied competitions while supporting Verity Smith’s Beat the Blindfold campaign (news, 17 December, 2015).

    In January last year, a ruling was brought into play stipulating the visually impaired riders must compete in their allocated grade.

    Prior to this, “profile 36 riders” such as Nicola (those who are completely blind) were permitted to compete alongside riders with better eyesight, with the option to ride with or without a blindfold.

    Now the most severely visually impaired riders cannot compete in para competitions without wearing a blindfold.

    “I spent 2015 trying to ride in a blindfold so I would know what it was like,” Nicola told H&H.

    “It was horrendous and frightening. I can perceive a little light in my left eye, that’s how I am in my everyday life. If you take that away I am like a novice rider starting from the beginning again.

    “I qualified for the para dressage winter championships (19-20 March) with really good scores, but afterwards I failed to see the success in competing with some artificially imposed disability, which is not the one I actually live and deal with.

    “After the last para test I won I came home and all night I was replaying being in pitch blackness — it takes the pleasure away.

    “I don’t want the trauma of losing that last bit of light left to me every time I compete. Increasing anyone’s disability is really not what para dressage should be about. It is wrong.”

    An FEI spokesman said that the organisation is reviewing the para dressage classification system.

    “Within this wide review, the classification for visually impaired athletes will be studied alongside our other classifications,” said the spokesman.

    “We are of course conscious of cases where athletes do not want to ride with a blindfold, and we are listening to our national federations and athletes on this issue.”

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    British Dressage (BD) discussed blindfold ruling at a recent board of directors meeting.

    “A decision was taken to set up a working group to consider the FEI’s ruling concerning blind riders,” said a BD spokesman.

    “BD will consult with all the parties involved to determine its position on this ruling. It’s not anticipated that any conclusion will be drawn or representation made to the FEI until after the Rio 2016 Paralympics.”

    Ref: H&H 18/02/2016

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