Legally-Blind Rider Competes In National Horse Show


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.     sp-horse-tory-watters-blind.jpg

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.”


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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Very impressive. I don’t know that I’d have that kind of confidence if I could only see shadows in one eye. My daughter had a brain tumor when she was a little bit younger than this woman but my daughter’s affected her balance so has made riding difficult but she hasn’t given up horses either.

  2. Reading about Smith taking the too high triple combination,I can only imagine what it must have been like for the spectators that witnessed the event. I would have been so scared for her and her horse.

    Reading about how Smith is able to still compete in an event which, as you pointed out, is challenging and holds danger for sighted people, I am totally amazed.

    What a good and inspiring article.

  3. Such courage! And what a remarkable horse!

  4. Interesting and inspirational comment- but a very fool-hearty attempt to run a course you can’t see without assistance. I think that a way it could have been done is for her to wear a helmot with an integrated one-way radio through which a trainer or family member could have given her instructions. I don’t have a problem with someone wanting to do something this dangerous and courageous, I only caussion doing intelligently. Animals rely on us to be their leaders and to get them through hardships properly. While being sightless myself, I would be more than willing to do something like this as an experience, but I wouldn’t want to do this without being adequately or appropriately prepared. There are ways to experience life’s rushes while minimizing the danger for all involved, you know. Maybe the walky-talky helmet might be a safe way to do it for both blind and sighted riders alike?

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