WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #121
FROM HORSE AND RIDER - JULY 2011
LOVE IS BLIND... AND EMPOWERING
A potential ending was just the beginning for this determined
young woman and her remarkable gelding.
BY BEKA WEAVER, WITH CHELSEA TOY
SIX YEARS AGO, A VETERINARIAN advised me to euthanize my
then-9-Year-old gelding. Stormy had lost 100 percent of his
eyesight to equine recurrent uveitis. He was stumbling, and the
vet said he'd likely only be able to live in a small stall the
rest of his life.
I was 15 and had owned Stormy, an unregistered Appaloosa, since I
was 8. My parents bought him for me from a man who saved him from
the slaughterhouse. I trained him myself, and eventually we were
competing and winning at local shows in everything from jumping
to barrel racing.
The thought of losing this horse, and the bond we'd built
together, made my heart sink. So I took a gamble. I set out to
prove that I could retrain Stormy to live life in the dark. We'd
already developed a great bond of trust, and I knew we'd need
every ounce of that-and then some-now that my eyesight had to be
enough for the both of us.
I started back at square one with groundwork. Stormy's respect
for "whoa" needed to be absolute. I led him around the arena and
told him whoa before the fence, and after he bumped his nose
three times, he learned that he had to listen and respond to my
voice. Eventually I progressed to leading him on the trails
around our house, telling him to "step up" over logs. He quickly
learned that responding to my voice commands would keep him from
Stormy was anxious the first day I rode him again after a few
weeks of only groundwork. But the trust we'd developed quickly
took over. After working in the arena for a few days, we moved
out onto the trails in the rolling hills of southeast Ohio. Soon
my brave gelding was crossing creeks, stepping over logs, and
swimming in ponds. He even learned to pull a cart on the roads
around town. With nothing holding us back, Stormy and I began
entering competitive trail rides. We traveled across the state
for many such competitions. Other entries would joke that we had
an advantage because Stormy couldn't see objects like tarps and
flags that spooked so many other horses. They weren't always
Our definitive test, though, was yet to come. Stormy and I
compiled an application video for the ultimate test of a horse
and rider's trust and communication: Craig Cameron's Extreme
Cowboy Race. This daunting obstacle course tests top riders' and
horses' skills and communication.
"What better communication can you get than between a blind horse
and his rider?" I thought. As it turns out, Craig Cameron thought
the same thing. We were one of only 36 horse-and-rider pairs
accepted to compete at the 2010 Equine Affaire in Columbus, Ohio.
Stormy would become the first blind horse ever to compete in an
Extreme Cowboy Race.
The day of the competition was a dramatic change from anything
Stormy had known. With thousands of cheering fans in the
audience, my gelding was alarmed and fearful as we waited our
turn; he could barely hear my voice over the crowd. We were
supposed to make one running lap immediately upon entering the
arena, but I knew my horse wasn't focused on my voice well enough
then to manage that, so we loped instead. Then we took our time
with each obstacle, and whenever I felt him get confused or
nervous, my focus shifted from the competition to his comfort.
As we progressed, he began to relax, and we were even able to
jump a series of three 55-gallon barrels turned on their sides!
I'd taught him a cue for jumping, and as we approached the
barrels slowly enough for him to sort of feel his way along, I'd
give the cue and over he'd go. By the third successful jump, the
tears were so heavy in my eyes I could barely see.
Then, when I opened him up to gallop around the arena as the
finale to our performance, most of the crowd joined me in tears.
We didn't win the competition, but we defied the odds in front of
Stormy's new adoring fans.
In 2011, Stormy and I were again selected to compete at Equine
Affaire, this time in the Versatile Horse and Rider Competition.
We'll continue to tell Stormy's story, showing people that a
disability is not the end of the line for horses and humans
Beka Weaver is a 21-year-old from New Marshfield, Ohio. She's the
barn manager at Uncle Buck's Riding Stables there, where she and
Stormy guide trail rides and give regular riding lessons.
Watch it! To see a video of Beka and Stormy's incredible
performance, go to HorseandRider.com this month.
Have a poignant or humorous story to share? E-mail
firstname.lastname@example.org; 700 word maximum.
To be continued