Future Reflections        Winter 2012

(back) (contents) (next)

"Put Your Head Up and Smile!"

by Aleeha Dudley

Aleeha walks beside her horse.Aleeha Dudley leads her horse in the judging ring.

From the Editor: Aleeha Dudley is a freshman at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She plans to become an equine veterinarian. In 2011 she was awarded an NFB national scholarship.

For me, horseback riding is perfect harmony. I am one with the horse. I don't have to rely on any alternative methods to help me participate with the rest of the sighted community. I can ride confidently in an arena full of my sighted peers. Some of them don't even know that I'm blind.

I turn to horses when I'm the most stressed. When I'm on the back of a horse, I can let everything else go. I focus on the relationship between me and the twelve-hundred-pound animal underneath me.

 I was in sixth grade when my aunt gave me four free riding lessons. When I first met my instructor and the horse I was about to ride, I have to admit I felt a little intimidated. However, my instructor helped me learn to love horses. She never said that I couldn't ride. She always treated me as though I shared a level playing field with everyone else at the barn. To help me learn, she even rode blindfolded so she could experience riding as I did. Over time I became acquainted with the other horses and the people who worked in the barn. Other riders never seemed apprehensive when we rode together in the same arena.

Riding always comes with a bit of risk. Once, during the summer after my eighth-grade year, my horse spooked and threw me into the wall of the arena. I walked away with a few scratches and a nice dent in the riding helmet that we all were required to wear. I got right back on that horse, and I continued to ride--not without a little apprehension at first! Eventually I regained all of my confidence as an equestrian.

By the winter of my sophomore year in high school, my instructor thought I was ready to show at the Preble County Fair. We approached our county's horse committee to see if it would be possible for me to ride in their show, since I already showed my rabbits there. The horse committee flatly refused, and their decision had nothing to do with rabbits. They did not believe that I could be safe on a horse, and they were convinced that I would be a danger to those around me. I was more than a little disappointed. I had known these people most of my life, and I expected more from them.

As it turned out, this decision had some negative consequences for my county's horse committee. Some of my friends, who had been supporting the equine events financially, pulled their funding when they found out what the committee had decided.

Aleeha on her horse.Aleeha Dudley sits on her horse without a saddle.

Meanwhile, my instructor approached the horse committee of the Wayne County Fair across the state line in Indiana. At first the Wayne County committee was just as skeptical as the committee in Preble County, and came very close to refusing me. When we asked why they did not want me to ride, they gave all the answers we had heard before. However, one of the committee members traveled to the barn one evening to observe me during a lesson. He was very apprehensive in the beginning, acting as if I couldn't saddle and ride a horse on my own. When I dismounted an hour later, covered with sweat and mud, I felt exhilarated. I knew I had done well, and I had shown the committee member that I could ride. With his help, I was allowed to show in the fair. I showed in Wayne County for three wonderful years.

During the first year that I showed horses at the fair, I ran into a small problem. The second class I was entered in was a halter class; the rider leads the horse past the judge at various gaits. The wind blew a large, white hat off another exhibitor's head. My horse spooked when the hat landed close to his front feet. He reared up, turned around, and walked about six feet away. I knew that if a horse spooks you should not try to hang onto the lead rope because there is a danger of being dragged. I dropped the lead rope and nervously waited for help.

Fortunately my instructor was close by. She entered the arena and brought my horse back to me. I distinctly remember every word she said. "Take this lead rope in your hands, put your head up, and smile. If you don't, all of these people will see that you can't even handle a little spook. Keep on showing." And so I did. I was not afraid. I knew the truth of my instructor's words.

Later that day, I finished my riding class and was surprised to find that many people were in tears. From my point of view, nothing very special had happened. But many people in the audience felt they had witnessed something moving and powerful. They hadn't believed that I could ride a horse just like everyone else did, and I had just proved them wrong.

During my senior year the Preble County Horse Committee approached me and offered to let me show at their fair at last. They had seen that I could be safe around others while I was on horseback. However, I refused their offer. By that time I was fully established with the show in Wayne County, and I did not want to leave.

For me as a blind person, horseback riding has had its challenges, but it has helped shape me as a person. Through riding I learned to be confident. I learned to overcome my shyness around strangers. Most of all, I learned that I can do whatever I set my mind to. I have laughed, cried, shouted in anger and frustration, smiled in exhilaration, and, most of all, I have had fun.

(back) (contents) (next)