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How a Blind Equestrian is Changing the Game of Show Jumping

As a para-equestrian who is legally blind, Wren Blae Zimmerman stands out for all the right reasons. Contributor Julie Saillant discusses how Zimmerman approaches show jumping and life.

The jumps are up and the course is set. One rider enters the ring, sails over the jumps and delivers a flawless ride. The crowd claps as the rider leaves the ring without knowing the one crucial difference between this rider and the rest…

She is blind!

Wren Blae Zimmerman is a very special person who stands out for all the right reasons. She is a para-equestrian who is legally blind and loves show jumping.

Wren has a rare incurable eye disease called Stargardt’s Macular Dystrophy. As her vision continued to deteriorate, she came to realize how important her quality of life was. She knew that having a disability meant she could inspire others who are disabled to move towards their goals.

She completed a Bachelor’s degree and began training for two Master’s degrees, but decided to pursue her lifelong passion for riding and jumping horses competitively instead.

Photo by Julie Ward

WHAT WREN CAN SEE

When you get out of the shower and the mirror is blurry and foggy, that is what Wren sees peripherally (side view). Compound that by erasing the center of where one’s head would be and instead of being blank, it looks like a sparkly blob. The ‘sparkle’ is her brain using the colors from her peripheral vision and connecting it to what she sees in front of her. This results in her not being able to see small objects or a person walking towards her. She can’t see people’s faces and colors blend together.

It’s an invisible disease that instead of holding her back, propels her forward in both the sport and her life.

When Wren decided she wanted to begin jumping, many trainers told her it couldn’t be done.

Some of their comments were:

“I don’t want to work with you,” “I’m not comfortable putting you on my horses,” and “You will never be able to jump horses no matter how good of a rider you become.”

This only motivated her more to chase her dreams.

It took someone very special to help her on her way. Her current trainer, Nea Stevens, keeps her focused and mindful towards reaching her goals. She offers Wren a balance of support and correction, giving her guidance to stay on track.

WREN’S 3 STEP PROCESS FOR LEARNING THE JUMP COURSE

One of the most complicated elements in Wren’s riding is her system for learning the jump course. For most riders, it’s a simple process of walking the course, counting the distance between jumps and taking note of where each jump is and seeing the pattern. It’s a procedure that doesn’t take long to learn and is fairly easy to remember.

Wren has a different approach to learning the course, which is a structured and meticulous process.

STEP 1: She walks the perimeter and divides the course into a four-quadrant grid, then she stands at each jump with her coach and is told how far away the jump is and its angle.

STEP 2: Next her trainer has a white board with magnets which turns into an exact replica of where each jump is on the course. Each magnet has the correct color that corresponds to a specific individual jump.

STEP 3: An aide draws the course in one color and the jump off round in a second color. Each jump will have a name, a color associated with it and a specific direction so it will look something like this:  1st brush jump is red, go right, 2nd flower jump is green, go left. Memorizing the course takes Wren a few hours, which means she needs to start early to be prepared for her class.

When I asked Wren how does she know how far away her horse is to a jump, she said, “He knows his job” and she leaves the jumping to him. She projects confidence in the saddle so that her horse stays calm and collected, saying, “He always gets me to the other side of the fence.”

MAKING STRIDES

In three short years, Wren went from barely riding a horse to successfully jumping an entire course and winning Champion in her division at the 1.00 Meter jumper level against able-bodied riders.

Wren receives messages from parents who tell her they have a blind daughter or son and want to do what she does. She is a very upbeat person who is happy to help other aspiring riders who want to enter the sport despite their perceived inabilities to do so.

WREN’S VISION

Wren has her sights set on making the USEF Show Jumping List, riding against able bodied riders, with a long-term goal of competing in the Olympic and Paralympic games.

She wants to become the first blind show jumper to compete at the Paralympic level.

Her mission is to change the perception about what the blind and visually impaired are capable of by raising awareness that the disabled can compete, despite their inability to ‘see’ the jumps.

Her vision is to inspire others to chase their dreams, no matter what their disabilities are. Her hope is that her equestrian efforts will contribute to the growth of the horse sport with the ultimate goal of having show jumping be a Paralympic sport.

Wren currently trains with Nea Stevens at Finuel Farm in Lexington KY. To support Wren with sponsorship and her mission, visit her website at: https://www.wrenblae.com/

Julie Saillant is a Certified Life Coach, Empath, Equine Communicator and Lifestyle Influencer. Her goal is to empower you to awaken your intuition and motivate you to take inspired action to live your best life. She is the bridge between horses and people and is here to give you the knowledge and tools to interact with your horse on a deeper level. Using her empathic intuition, Julie will guide you towards a stronger understanding of what you want your life to look like, while giving you the means to manifest your biggest dreams and make them a reality. Learn more at www.motivation-addict.com.

Photo by Kristin Lee Photography

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