Blindfold the visually impaired: Why a 10-year-old Kamloops equestrian rider can't compete | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Blindfold the visually impaired: Why a 10-year-old Kamloops equestrian rider can't compete

Kyra Bennett has been raised around horses and will continue to ride and jump at home.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Hayley Barrett
August 30, 2019 - 7:00 AM

KAMLOOPS - A legally blind 10-year-old girl from Pritchard can no longer compete in horse shows with the use of her aids after Equestrian Canada has deemed she has an unfair advantage.

Hayley Barrett said as soon as her daughter, Kyra, could sit up, she was on a horse. Kyra was raised riding competitively and continued to do so even after she was diagnosed legally blind, using voice commands to help her navigate around a course. Now, Kyra is facing exemptions from the sport she loves the most, due to a change in Equestrian Canada's rules on her participation.

“The only way Kyra can do it is if she's totally solo with no verbal cues, nobody out there,” Barrett said.

Kyra rides alongside her coach, who offers cues on which direction to turn, and when she is in front of a jump. Barrett said there is no coaching done while she is riding alongside her coach, but she suspects it is the complaints of fellow riders that have led to the revocation of Kyra's aids.

“She doesn't understand what she did wrong and why they won't let her compete, and it's really hard to explain to a ten-year-old, ‘it’s actually not you, it’s just stupidity. Ignorance.’ It's really hard to explain to her,” Barrett said.

Barrett began enrolling her daughter in competitions two years ago, although they would register in the starter or pre-entry class, a way which would not earn them points to go toward the year-end results. This way, Kyra could still compete alongside other riders. Barrett said her daughter placed well in those competitions, to the dismay of other competitors.

“Someone complained about an unfair advantage because this year, Kyra has finished in the top three every show we've done, she's done really well. To our knowledge, someone has complained and brought the attention to Equestrian Canada,“ Barrett said. “We've done this for two years and (Equestrian Canada) have never shown any interest.”

Barrett said Kyra was given permission by Equestrian Canada to compete with her guide horse and coach in March of this year. Now, the organization has said the young girl can compete with able-bodied riders, but only if she does so without the use of any aids.

“Without any verbal cues at all, it's putting so much pressure on a little ten-year-old that it's not worth it,” Barrett said. “Kyra is a way better rider than what they're presenting to her. What they're making her do is quite insulting, so she's not going to do this event.”

Barrett said her daughter is now faced with riding alone, which is unsafe. Barrett said Kyra's form of blindness makes her pupils dilate the opposite way, — her pupils open up to light — which floods her vision. Barrett said on sunny days, Kyra can see virtually nothing. She said she and Kyra discussed it, and they will no longer compete in the upcoming competition at Island 22 in Chilliwack.

Kyra Barrett in competition.
Kyra Barrett in competition.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Hayley Barrett

Barrett said when she realized her daughter needed to ride despite her disability, she researched other blind equestrians around the world. Barrett gathered ideas from the equestrian community in Europe, although her daughter has no one to look up to in Canada. Barrett said by using a coach on a guide horse or a headpiece, a blind rider can complete a course, but Equestrian Canada has now denied those options for Kyra.

The organization offered a compromise — Kyra could compete alongside para-equestrians, but only if they ensured she was at the same disadvantage.

“Their adaptation that they have told me to do is, ’well, you can physically blindfold her, and then she can ride in para-dressage. That's their solution. I can physically put a blindfold on my child who struggles enough in life. It’s already pretty shitty to be blind, but now she has to be even more blind? Or she can compete against able-bodied riders in dressage, and never be able to achieve because it's just physically impossible,” Barrett said.

Barrett won’t bring up the blindfold option to her daughter. She feels it is too degrading and doesn’t want to put her through any more stress.

Barrett noted that even with the use of guides, Kyra can’t go much faster than a trot as it is too dangerous. Time is a major factor in competitions, and her daughter will always have to fall short on that front.

“With every aid I could possibly give my child, they will always win against her, any aid she has is never an advantage,” Barrett said. “So even with all these aids, there is no advantage, Kyra is still the underdog.”

Equestrian Canada has not responded to iNFOnews by the time of publication. A statement posted on Equestrian Canada's website addresses the issue.

“The classification review for athlete Kyra Barrett was based on recommendations from the Canadian Blind Sports Association, and the approved compensating aids follow current (International Federation for Equestrian Sports) Para Equestrian Classification Rules and (Equestrian Canada) Rules,” the post said.

Barrett said Equestrian Canada has been firm on their decision, although they said they would revisit the issue during meetings in the fall.

Barrett said the community support behind her daughter has been "unbelievable."

“I can't get over how big this has gotten. There's a petition that is, I don't even know, 3,000-plus people have signed it,” Barrett said. “People have called into (Equestrian Canada), people are challenging it.’

For now, Kyra will continue to ride at home, and Barrett hopes that the public support will help to change the decision made by Equestrian Canada. If you want to sign the petition to help Kyra ride with her aids again, click here.

Kyra Barrett has been riding horses since she was able to sit up. Her mother, Hayley Barrett, says they found out ways to advance her in the sport even after she was diagnosed as legally blind.
Kyra Barrett has been riding horses since she was able to sit up. Her mother, Hayley Barrett, says they found out ways to advance her in the sport even after she was diagnosed as legally blind.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Hayley Barrett

To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Wheeler or call (250) 819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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