By Laurie Largent, Achieve Tahoe Participant

My name is Laurie Largent and I am a woman, 72 years young, who happens to be blind. On the beautiful, bright morning of September 1st, I had the opportunity to participate in Achieve Tahoe’s equestrian program. Previously, I had been horseback riding twice with my younger sister, Marcia, in Yosemite National Park and in Half Moon Bay. I loved both experiences, so when I heard about this opportunity I felt extremely blessed to be a part of it. As a lover of nature and someone who has enjoyed outdoor sports from a very young age, it seemed that learning about horses would be something new, fun, and different. 

During a four-hour period I learned how horses communicate – both amongst themselves and with humans -,how to groom them, how to lead them, how to prepare them for riding, how to mount them, and, best of all, how to ride them and communicate with them while riding. One of the greatest things about this program was that I was surrounded by six helpers and volunteers at all times. I felt comfortable, safe, and at ease. All I had to do was relax and enjoy being with my beautiful, new friend, Buddy. I loved Buddy from the start and I think he knew it. 

One of the first things I learned was how to keep my hand on Buddy at all times when grooming him, especially when I was approaching his tail. This was to let him know that I was there so he wouldn’t get startled and kick me. What most impressed me was getting to ride this beautiful, intuitive animal and being able to tell him where I wanted to go, both using the reins and my voice.

As I was the first visually impaired person to participate in the program, we all had lots of fun experimenting with different ways to steer the horse around the arena with the reins. My helpers had the brilliant idea of identifying the main points of the large, rectangular area by putting letters “A” through “H” on them. As I made my way around the sections of the arena, my helpers would call out the letters as I approached them and keep repeating them so that I could begin to give the horse space to turn in that direction. They would repeat the letter until I straightened out the reins to give the horse space to pass. By the end of the hour I began to get the feel of the process and felt a big sense accomplishment. I also learned how to use my voice to tell Buddy when to go and when to stop by saying “Buddy walk on” and “Buddy, whoa.” He would always respond to my voice commands which gave me the sense that he was truly my buddy and was listening to me.

I would absolutely recommend the equestrian program to any visually impaired person who enjoys the freedom and freshness that the outdoors provides. It is for anyone who has a desire to connect with the world of the wild and the free. It is for those who have enough love, compassion, and gentleness to first get to know and understand horses and their ways, and then to connect and bond with them. Thank you to everyone who helped to make this wonderful event happen for me. Mostly, thank you, Buddy, for your willingness to spend time with me and allow me to ride for a while. Thank you, for your profound and magical ways of connecting with me and for giving me a deeper understanding of who I am and why I am here!

Thank you Laurie for participating in our equestrian program! We look forward to seeing you again soon.