A Walsall riding school has brought hi-vis off the roads and into the arena in an innovative attempt to enhance riding lessons for visually impaired children.
Gartmore Riding School has been working with Birmingham’s Priestley Smith School for the visually impaired for four years, and recently introduced the kit to lessons to help the children to position their ponies in the ride.
The children first follow a helper walking in front wearing hi-vis, before the person is replaced by another horse and rider also wearing the bright clothing, helping riders learn to keep their mounts at the correct distance.
Priestley Smith’s Lucy Radford said using hi-vis had helped the children gain confidence.
“Some of our pupils now ride completely unattached to a lead rope which is a great step forward,” she said. “It’s a thrill for them to be fully in control and we’ve only been able to do that since using the hi-vis.
“On horseback, these children can do things any other child can do.”
Andrew Hardisty, volunteer chief instructor at Gartmore, said the tops and saddle pads are also “quick and easy” for the riding school to use as there is a “fast turnaround” between lessons.
“On top of that, the kids enjoy wearing special kit — everyone loves the flashing lights!” he added.
Gartmore’s proprietor Tracy Francis decided to try using the clothing after spotting a hi-vis range that included not only bright colours but also reflective strips and integrated lights. She contacted manufacturer Harry Hall, which was happy to help out by donating the kit.
“Our Safety First range has been a big success with riders, but this was a new idea that caught our imagination immediately,” says Harry Hall’s Rachel Bowles. “The way our kit and clothing is used at Gartmore is fantastic.”
Riders at Gartmore with other disabilities have also benefited from using hi-vis, including Lisa, who is autistic, blind in one eye and profoundly deaf having suffered congenital rubella syndrome.
Her instructor Clare Atkins, who has taught Lisa for the past three years, uses a hi-vis gilet and gloves to help Lisa to be able to see her body and sign language at a distance. This has enabled Lisa to read even detailed finger signals from Clare.
“I get a lovely feeling from riding,” says Lisa. “I love the movement of it.”
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The hi-vis is just part of a number of aids used at Gartmore to help teach visually impaired children. Their other specialist equipment includes a model horse which has its points labelled in braille, and is a safe way for children to practise putting on boots and bandages, as well as Woody the wooden horse.
“Riding him improves our pupils’ posture, balance and spatial awareness — all of which they need when doing long cane work later on,” Lucy added.