A blind dressage rider is fighting a new ruling by the International Paralympic Committee forcing riders to wear a blindfold or blacked out glasses while competing.
British rider Verity Smith launched the #BeatTheBlindfold campaign on Monday against the rule, which she is aiming to have overturned. She has only weeks to qualify for the Rio Paralympic Games in 2016.
The ruling, which was introduced two thirds of the way through the current Paralympic training cycle in January, singles out only ‘blind’ riders in each mixed disability category, and dictates they must wear a blindfold while competing, taking away the limited light they each have. The rule change has left athletes just months to dramatically change their training and attempt to adapt to the blindfold in order to qualify for the Games in time.
“I’ve been training for years and with a year to go they completely change the rules. It’s totally unfair,” Smith says.
When riding blindfolded Smith can’t ride at beginner level let alone compete. She believes this ruling not only contradicts the essence of the Paralympics, enabling ability within disability, but also puts her and her horse in danger, and challenges her basic human rights.
Smith says her hopes of taking the road to Rio 2016 have been forced into a cul de sac by the ruling of the governing bodies – the International Paralympic committee (IPC) and the FEI.
“Blind riders are being forced to wear a blindfold which is dangerous, humiliating and debilitating as most registered blind people have some residual light and dark,” said Smith, who is registered blind with 10 percent vision.
“Horses have always been my sanctuary from my disability, allowing me to quite literally ride the storm of my blindness. When I ride I am free and afraid of nothing – in the blindfold I am a prisoner frightened of the dark.”
Smith is currently competing at Prix St George in open competition, the highest level ever achieved by a blind rider in Britain and her dream is to one day be part of Team GB.
Her trainers and mentors are Olympic gold medalist Laura Tomlinson MBE, and Olympic rider and grade 1 listed international judge Sandy Phillips.
Smith’s cross platform campaign will be using the hashtags #BeatTheBlindfold and #GetVerityToRio. As part of the social media campaign, Smith is asking users to take a selfie of themselves in a blindfold, post it to social media and encourage others to #BeatTheBlindfold.
Smith is asking for support to #BeatTheBlindfold and revive the spirit of the Paralympics which invoke the ideals of courage, determination, inspiration and equality.
“The Paralympic aim is to challenge stereotypes and transform attitudes and redefine the boundaries of possibility,” Smith says.
“The blindfold removes these ideals. Instead we want to remove the blindfold and allow blind riders to compete using every glimmer of sight they may still have. No one should be handicapped any further – don’t blindfold our dreams.”
As well as being an accomplished dressage rider, Smith is also a singer-songwriter, author and winner of the Inspirational Guide dog Owner of the Year Award 2014. She also wrote and performed in a French musical trapeze show.
Smith believes in advocating the ability in disability and relishes the challenge of defying convention and breaking down boundaries.
A petition to support Verity Smith’s fight has been set up on Change.org.