I CAN’T Read! WHOA!
Life passions…is encouragement to read. I grew up loving everything ‘horse.’ I would sit by the hour and read and look at pictures of horses and dream about the buckskin I wanted to own some day. Through dance lessons, I met another girl my age who had the same love of horses. Our favorite book to read together was Misty of Chincoteague.
Soon both of us were dreaming about the horse we would own one day.
Around the age of eleven, I was allowed to take horseback riding lessons. I couldn’t have been more thrilled! The smell of sweet hay from the stables filled the air. The sound of hoof beats as I walked my horse to the arena to the count of four–clip, clop, clip, clop. The smooth feel of the leather reins and the soft muzzle nuzzling my hand made my day.
In the arena, the instructor would say, “Rider, mount your horse.” What a challenge at first. I thought with my dance training there would be no difficulty. Boy, was I wrong! It required upper leg and arm strength which I had not yet developed. “Riders, walk your horse,” was the next command. Thanks to my dance training, I had the balance and posture required, sitting tall with square shoulders in the saddle. With reins in hand I guided my horse around the arena and I saw when we reached the end curve of the arena and used my hands and leg cues to guide my horse around the curve. As part of a group of riders, I could see when to adjust my spacing from the other riders. I loved every minute of my riding time! I soon became an accomplished rider.
I rode every chance I got into my adult years. I had achieved a high level of confidence and security on top of a horse. I eventually relocated to the desert Southwest where cowboys still roamed.
This is where I met, Joe. Joe was a young man of about 25. He had come to our riding program a couple years before my arrival. I marveled at his abilities atop a 1300 pound animal. Fear did not follow him into the saddle. Strength allowed him to easily mount up. He sat tall and square in the saddle, feet down in the stirrups, knees hugging the saddle while his calves held snug to the side of his horse. He was stoic and balanced. Reins in hand.
One day, Joe asked to ride alone in the arena with just himself and his instructor. The instructor was standing in the center of the arena.
“Rider, walk your horse.”
Joe squeezed his calves to his horse’s side, leaned forward in the saddle and touched the heels of his boots lightly to the horse’s belly. As Joe ‘walked-out’ and approached the end curve of the arena he gently pulled the reins to the right and steered his horse across the end of the arena. Joe’s trunk, pelvis, and upper body followed the motion of his horse, as the change in the sound of the hoof beats told Joe he was at the end of the arena.
“Rider, turn right and trot your horse to me and stop your horse.”
Again Joe turned the reins, then squeezed with his legs, leaned forward in the saddle, and gently kicked his boots into his horse’s belly to get his horse to trot toward the ringing bell in the instructor’s hand.
As the sound of the bell rang stronger, Joe knew he was getting closer to his instructor. He sat down in the saddle, heels down, knees hugging the saddle. He pulled back on the reins, uttering ‘whoa’ and brought his horse to a stop.
Applause rang out from those of us watching Joe’s lesson. You see, Joe had been blind since birth.
When Joe entered our riding program he set one goal. He wanted to be able to guide his horse around the arena without the aid of any horse leader or side helpers. Joe had learned to compensate for visual impairment using touch, body movement, and verbal cues to develop his navigation skills. Joe was truly inspirational. Joe had shown us that with hard work and determination, goals can be achieved.
What many saw as disability, Joe turned into ability.
As a Reading Specialist, whenever I work with a struggling reader, I think of Joe. Often I hear, “I’ll never learn to read!” I then share my story about Joe, to inspire.
Work hard, and
Most importantly, “believe in yourself”
and you too will achieve!