Blind horse rider makes winning endurance debut

Satisfaction: Laura Kelmere celebrates with Pluto after completing her very first distance ride.

A legally blind horse rider in New Zealand has achieved her goal of competing in an endurance event and came away with a red ribbon to boot — and she’s keen for more.

Christchurch mother of two Laura Kelmere, 31, has been rapidly losing her sight for the past few years because of retina dystrophy, a degenerative disease of the retina. During that time has maintained a close relationship with her horse, Pluto, whom she has had since he was nine months old, training him herself before losing her sight. Pluto, a buckskin gelding, is now seven. His breeding is unknown but he is thought to have some Spanish and quarter horse blood.

Laura, who was born in Limerick, Ireland, and moved to New Zealand 11 years ago, had always wanted to compete in an endurance ride. When she heard that Distance Riding New Zealand was running an event at Bottle Lake Forest near Christchurch, she decided to go for it and sign up.

While Laura describes herself as an adrenalin junkie, it was a big step for her to enter the ride.

She chose the 5km “ride to time” class to get a taste of the sport, partly because she had to ride Pluto 6km to the event on October 9 and back home again.

Laura rode with her friend, Mariska Lochead, who positioned her horse, Gipsy Rose, just in front of Laura and Pluto, calling out obstacles such as low-hanging branches and streams.

“One thing I love about Mariska is that she doesn’t baby me just because I can’t see. She treats me like the capable adult that I am,” Laura said.

Laura Kelmere and her horse, Pluto, at home after their very first distance ride.
Laura Kelmere and her horse, Pluto, at home after their very first distance ride.

“Mariska would just yell out ‘duck right’, ‘duck left’, or ‘you’re about to jump a stream’.”

The course started at Brooklands Lagoon and wound its way to Bottle Lake Forest and back. On top of what might seem like a lot of obstacles, Laura rode Pluto the way she taught him – without a saddle or bridle – and in only a halter.

Laura decided to be as competitive as she could be, and managed to complete her ride close to the optimal time. Pluto also had good heart rates, which are checked by a vet and go towards a points system to decide the winner.

As well as a red first-place ribbon, Laura and Pluto also headed home with a huge sense of pride at having achieved such a milestone.

Laura is keen to ride in another event: “I will definitely be doing longer rides — 5km was way too small, but I thought for Pluto’s first event we would start slow.”

Laura Kelmere has had Pluto, 7, since he was nine months old.
Laura Kelmere has had Pluto, 7, since he was nine months old.

Laura had originally thought the sport was only for serious and competitive riders and was pleasantly surprised at how much she enjoyed her experience. She discovered that recreational riders who just want a fun day out are equally welcomed and encouraged to participate.

Some 50 riders turned out for the Bottle Lake ride, and Distance Riding New Zealand has more rides scheduled for 2021/22 in the South Island, with ride distances ranging from 5km to 80km.

» More on DRNZ here and on the group’s website.

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