Blind Rider Hopes for an Olympic Medal

Blind Rider Hopes for an Olympic Medal

Verity Smith was born sighted. She began riding horses at the age of three, and competing at five. At eight, after contracting encephalitis and meningitis, Verity began losing her vision. By the age of seventeen, she was 90 percent blind, France Today reports.

Through the years, as Verity’s vision slipped away, the shining light in her life was riding. She won dressage competitions even against able-bodied riders.

In 1992 she joined the British Equestrian Paralympics Team at the World Championships in Denmark. She seemed destined for a place in the 2012 Olympics in London.

But then Verity’s horse became ill with cancer. Verity herself was involved in an automobile accident. It took over a year in rehabilitation to gain back her strength and her confidence. With a new horse, Szekit (Kit), Verity got back into the saddle and rose quickly in the rankings again.

Midway through training for the Brazil Paralympic games, Verity learned about a new rule for blind riders: they would be required to wear blindfolds to compete, meaning that the small amount of light that blind riders depend on for balance and equilibrium would be blocked: a dangerous proposition.

Verity challenged the ruling, meaning she would have to drop out of training to concentrate on the effort, but she did it — and won. The ruling was thrown out.

Next up is the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Verity and Kit were winning competitions at the highest level — against sighted riders. They were selected for the French para-dressage squad to compete internationally.

Misfortune again: her beloved horse Kit contracted laminitis, and hovered near death for months. His days of competing were over.

Now she has found a new horse: Daizy, a ten-year-old Hanoverian mare.

“My goal is to train hard,” she told France Today. “With perseverance and a bit of luck, I will bring home a gold medal from Tokyo for the French Para Olympics team. In Paris, 2024, I hope to become the first equestrian disabled athlete to represent her country as a member of both the Paralympic and the Olympic teams.”

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