Competing With Blind Ambition
Wednesday - July 23, 2008
The equestrian sport of dres-sage - remember to pronounce it with your best French accent - is often referred to as “the horse ballet.” It’s about horse and rider working as one, showing precision and passing exacting tests in competition. It’s a sport that goes back to ancient times, developed a surge in popularity during the Renaissance and is now a well-respected Olympic sport.
The bottom line is whatever the competition level - from amateur to the Olympics - it’s a challenge every time horse and rider prance into the arena.
Imagine then, how challenging it would be if one of them was blind?
That’s exactly the case of a 17-year-old Appaloosa from Waimanalo. The horse’s name is Gypsy King. Georgia Tien, who has owned her beloved horse for the past four years, calls the gelding “G.K.”
Tien says G.K. has been blind for about a year-and-a-half after suffering an auto-immune eye disease commonly called U-V-itis.
“He has no sight activity in one eye and only a little bit in the other eye,” she says.
That makes the horse, who is seen regularly by a veterinarian or veterinary ophthalmologist, legally blind. But it doesn’t stop G.K. from doing his thing in the ring- and elsewhere.
“He really can do anything but jump,” Tien says. “We ride the trails, go to the beach, ride along the back roads of Waimanalo and we do dressage.”
Tien and G.K. participate together in the Aloha State Dressage Society shows. The next show is scheduled for Hilltop Equestrian Center in Waimanalo Aug. 9-10. It is open to the public with free admission. Many of the horses on display have competition names different from their barn names, and G.K.‘s name in the competition is “Moonlight Sonata.”
Dressage fans who have seen Tien and G.K. compete together say it’s quite a remarkable sight - no pun intended. “It’s an amazing tale of love, respect and trust,” says Cheryl Tsutsumi.
Tien calls it “the dream of a lifetime. This is my first horse.”
Tien grew up in Massachusetts and learned to ride as a little girl. She moved to Kailua 25 years ago and began training and performing in dressage only recently.
When she purchased G.K. about four years ago, he already had some sight problems and then eventually got to his present stage.
“It’s been a difficult transition period,” she says, “but we love each other so much, we’ve gotten through it.”
In some respects, Tien believes that G.K.‘s sight difficulties may have actually helped him in competition.
“He used to be in a state of panic a lot because his (limited) vision played tricks on him when he was around other horses. Now, he’s actually calmer,” she says. “Dressage is perfect, because you’re in the arena by yourself (horse and rider are alone together, with no other horses competing at the same time) and if he’s listening to my cues, then that works perfectly for him. We learn and accomplish so much because he’s so open to my direction.”
Working together makes that happen.
“People think it’s because of our close bond that this is possible,” she says, “but I believe that with the additional voice cues that he has learned, that anyone with a strong riding background could ride him.”
So Tien and G.K. continue to work together as much as they possibly can. Dressage fans are encouraged to come out and see them perform next month.
“Some people say ‘oh, it’s sad. He’s blind.’ But this horse enjoys every day,” she says. “He’s a very intelligent horse. I don’t think a non-intelligent horse could have accomplished what he’s done.”
And that’s a sight to behold.
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