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Visually Impaired Riders Are Handicapped Only If There Are No Horses To Ride In International Competition

HUNTINGTON, NY – May 3, 2002 - Close your eyes and picture this: your wonderfully talented horse, precise in his transitions, follows the lead of his rider and partner. In less than a week of training together, they move freely around the dressage arena exhibiting the finesse of champions. Horses and riders listen for signals that guide them through the next movement. They track right to A and counter canter to B. And then you realize with a thrill: The rider cannot see!

Blind or visually impaired, the only real handicap these equestrians face is not having a competitive horse to ride in an exciting new international dressage championship scheduled this summer on Long Island in New York.

Hopefully, generous horse owners will see the need to make available sound, trained and fit horses up to Level 4 as mounts for blind and visually impaired riders, as well as other riders with a disability competing in the first Inner Vision Championships (IVC) for Riders with a Disability. The competition will be held July 9-13 at Willow Tree Farm at Caumsett State Historic Park in Huntington, NY.

Just as horse owners develop partnerships with leading able-bodied riders, owners can do the same for top riders who have a disability, according to Denise I. Avolio, chairman of the IVC Organizing Committee and the Equestrian Sports Manager for the National Disability Sports Alliance (NDSA).

“We see owners sharing their talented horses with riders at the upper levels of competition all the time,” said Avolio. “This is the same. These riders are top-quality and are very sensitive to every nuance of a horse’s movement.”

The NDSA is also seeking top quality dressage horses on loan for the 2003 World Championships and the 2004 Paralympic Games for riders with disabilities. Other than the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games, the Inner Vision competition will be the first international championship for riders with disabilities held in this country. The NDSA, along with Pal-O-Mine Inc., is organizing the Inner Vision Championships that has attracted competitive riders from nine nations.

"Borrowed horses are often used because the sport is still young, and many of the riders do not yet have the financial support to bring their own horses to international competitions," Avolio said. "It would be prohibitively expensive for countries to send teams if they had to ship horses from abroad as well."

Talented riders from Russia, Japan, Canada, Great Britain, Portugual, France, Israel and Germany will join those from the United States for the dressage competition, which has been approved and recognized by the International Paralympic Equestrian Committee.

The Inner Vision Championships are a special competition for blind and visually impaired riders who perform dressage tests that are equal to Level 4 tests for sighted riders. Competing in the same dressage arena as sighted riders, visually impaired equestrians may use "living letters" to help navigate their tests. Trained volunteers call out "A," "B," or their assigned letter enabling the riders to visualize where they are in the arena. The aid from “living letters” is the only concession to their disability.

Adding to the challenge, these equestrians will have less than a week to practice with their horses before the competition. Unlike sighted riders, who often train for years on familiar horses, these visually impaired riders will be allocated horses through a draw, with only a few days to train on their volunteer mounts.

"It is truly a challenge for these riders’ skills," said Lisa Gatti, Competition Manager, acknowledging increased popularity of competitions for riders with a disability. More horse sport organizations are initiating these competitions, but quality horses are needed for these talented riders, she stressed.

"Watching a horse respond to this challenge, an owner will envision a medal, but I doubt he has ever experienced such pride," she added. "We invite horse owners who are willing to loan their competitive horses for an amazing experience."

Horse owners interested in lending a horse for this very special event should contact Lisa A. Gatti, Competition Manager, at (631) 423-7183. Anyone interested in sponsorship opportunities or other ways of supporting the Championships should contact either Lisa Gatti or Denise Avolio at (914) 949-8166 or

The NDSA is that national governing body for equestrian sport for riders with disabilities. It is responsible for the development and selection of riders for national championship and international competitions, including the Paralympic Games, and provides training, competition and advocacy for riders with physical disabilities.

Pal-O-Mine Equestrian, Inc., is a therapeutic riding program located in Huntington, NY, that provides therapeutic, recreational and competitive horseback riding opportunities for people with physical, emotional and cognitive disabilities.

Both NDSA and Pal-O-Mine are 501(c)3 organizations. Donations and sponsorships are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.

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