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By Amber Heintzberger

R

iding is a science, and if you learn your course and stay on a rhythm it's easy, according to Tory Watters. It's a recipe that she follows to the let-

ter, because if Tory loses her rhythm, the legally blind rider is likely to get lost on course.

Tory has been riding since age two, and won her first blue ribbon at age ten in St. Louis, Missouri at the Grants Manor Horse Show. At fourteen she was like any happy, athletic teenager, doing what she loved, except for persistent headaches; then she was diag- nosed with anaplastic astrocytoma, a form of brain cancer. An operation to remove a tumor damaged her optic nerve, leaving her completely blind in one eye and with limited vision in the other.

She now lives near Cincinnati, Ohio but Tory spent several years living in Wellington, Florida, where she competed actively on the winter circuit. She now keeps a hunt horse and trail horses at home and boards her show hors- es at Equisports Inc., a 45-acre full-service training facility in Goshen, Ohio owned by Anne and Skip Thornbury. In Florida she trains with Ken and Emily Smith at Ashland Stables.

Tory is not completely without vision, she lacks depth perception and everything is extremely blurry, similar to an impressionist painting. Though she has extremely strong glasses that improve her vision somewhat, it is not possible to give her perfect vision.

Instructor Anne Thornbury, who along with husband Skip has worked with Tory off and on since Tory was 16 years old, remarks, “Tory is great to work with. Fortunately she has ridden and shown since before her sight problem but she has learned to compensate too, and has a lot of natural instincts. She probably concen- trates more than other people, because she has too, and that makes her good too. Other people go around with 50,000 things on their mind but Tory is completely focused when she's riding.”

“If I can't get in the ring then I will walk around it and use landmarks to gauge where I need to go.”

Learning the courses is a chal- lenge for every rider, but especial- ly difficult for Tory since she can't just glance over the course map before she goes in the ring. Like other aspects of riding and show- ing, it is part of the game that

Tory used to compete in 3'6” hunters and jumpers, but since she became a mother of two boys - Matthew, 8, and Max, 10 - she decided to stick to 3' hunters. Competing in the Grand Prix jumpers has never been a goal. “With my eyesight, the higher the jumps, the greater the risk of hurting myself or my horses,” she reasons. “I'm not riding 15 horses a day either. I have to spend time taking care of my family, not just focus- ing on my riding.”

She has been extremely successful in the show ring however, and she attributes that success to the fact that riding is something that makes her feel especially capable. “After my brain tumor, riding is the one thing I can do as well as, if not better than, people with 20/20 vision,” Tory says. “When I ride I can see; I don't feel impaired, because I'm so used to doing it.” While

Tory has learned to accept and excel at. “A trainer goes over the course with me, and we usually walk it togeth- er,” she explains. “If I can't get in the ring then I will walk around it and use landmarks to gauge where I need to go.” For Tory, counting strides in lines is an important part of staying on track.

“Some days are better days for me,” she says. “If it is overcast and the jumps are splattered with mud, it's harder for me to see.”

Anne says that she uses plastic drainage pipe as a sleeve to cover white jump rails and standards, providing a con- trast between the jump and sand footing so that Tory can see the jumps on bright, glaring days. “We had them covering the trees around the farm, and Tory kept saying she couldn't see the jumps, so I had the idea to use them,” she explains. “Now I carry them around in the golf cart at shows so I can put them over the jumps in the warm-up area. They don't bother the other riders; some people hang towels or coolers over the jumps, but

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