Galloping toward an obstacle during a jumping competition, rider Tory Watters suddenly realized something had gone wrong. The triple combination she and her horse were approaching was much too high.
There were gasps from the spectators, then the only sound was the horse’s hoofs pounding the ground as the pair closed in on the towering triple jump.
Too close to turn away, she had to go for it. Even then, she knew the horse could still crash while attempting to jump high and long enough to clear it.
“You could have heard a pin drop,” she said. “It was a triple setup for the afternoon grand prix riders. We got over it. Thank goodness I was on a retired grand prix horse.
“Afterwards, I pulled up and walked out of the ring hyperventilating. The photographer later told me he couldn’t even pick up his camera to take a picture, he was in such shock.”
She calls it the most spectacular wrong jump she has made in more than 20 years of competing.
Though she walks the courses and memorizes the layout before each competition, she admits it could happen again.
After all, she’s legally blind.
Teaming up with a powerful, spirited horse and guiding it over an intricate course of obstacles is no easy sport for the sighted, let alone a person who can only see shadows in a small, limited area of one eye.
But Tory never has considered giving up riding and competing. She thrives on challenges, and horses are her passion.
Tory Watters was a happy, athletic, horse-crazy teenager, living in Cincinnati with her parents, when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and damaged optic nerves.
Tory had been riding horses since the age of two and had been winning blue ribbons in the children’s hunter division for many years. At the age of 14, major headaches and blurred vision resulted in a life-changing operation.
But Tory went right back to what she always loved and knew best: horses, jumping and competition. While Tory sees life as a big, impressionist painting, she learned to adjust. Her positive attitude has made Tory a winner in more ways than one.
Tory competes at the highest amateur hunter levels. Tory’s riding success has been so great that she was selected to compete in the National Horse Show in Wellington – only the top 20 or so horse and rider teams in the United States, in each division, are invited to compete at The National.
Before a competition, she usually walks the course with trainer Ken Smith of Ashland Farms in Wellington, where she has lived for six years.
Smith will tell her things she can’t see that might slow her down or be a problem. “He might say, you can’t see it, but the footing is kind of deep in front of jump No.1, so help your horse a little bit, give him a little more leg,” she said. “Or he might say, ‘By the way, the photographer is standing right next to Jump 3, don’t run him over.”
She looks for horses, she said, that “won’t have a meltdown if I meet the jump at a little bit of a wrong angle. Or, if I jump a jump backwards, it’s not going to shatter their confidence in me.”
With her wry sense of humor, she always gives her horses eye-related names, like Eyewitness, See For Yourself or Eye Remember Rio.
“I thank God every day for this life. Who knew at 14 that I would have a brain tumor? I know how precious every day is. I could not be here tomorrow.”