A vision for show jumping

Published: May. 25, 2020 at 6:57 PM EDT
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"I've always had an affinity for horses ever since I can remember, said Wren Blae Zimmerman. "I've always loved horses. I've had an obsession with them."

Five, sometimes six days a week, Wren Zimmerman can be found doing the thing she loves to do the most.

"Unfortunately, I didn't get to ride growing up," said Zimmerman. "So it wasn't until after college that I started riding at a therapeutic riding center in exchange for helping with their program, and that was my first initiation into the horse sport."

Her love for horses only grew after she was blindsided with some tough news at the age of seventeen.

"When I was diagnosed at seventeen, it was essentially just a lot of blurriness in my eyesight," said Zimmerman. "Then halfway through college, I became legally blind."

Wren was diagnosed with Stargardt macular dystrophy, a progressive, degenerative retina disease. Instead of letting that news get her down, she got back up on her horse.

"For me, not being able to see, he lends me his eyes," said Zimmerman. "So the first time I rode a horse, it was this freedom from a disability."

Wren's central vision is blank, and her peripheral vision is blurry. Her brain uses what it sees in the periphery to guess what should be in the center. She describes it as a sparkly effect.

"I'll go into the arena with an aid, and I'll walk the perimeter of the arena," said Zimmerman. "I'll walk the quarter and half lines just to make a grid of the arena to get a general idea of the space that I'm going to be riding in."

To compete in the sport takes several hours of preparation.

"My aid will help me transcribe that onto a large piece of paper," said Zimmerman. "So I can make that line out, and we'll go back into the arena and walk the course and count the striding of each jump."

She also gets plenty of help from her horse Valentine.

"He really does know his job, and so he sort of acts like my seeing-eye horse if you will," said Zimmerman.

Wren now has a vision of becoming the first legally blind person to participate in the sport of show jumping at the top level. She hopes to help others who share her vision.

"At this point for people with physical disabilities, there are no resources for them to get involved in jumping," said Zimmerman. "If they want to compete, they're competing at able-bodied horse shows against able-bodied riders, which is great, but there's a lot of resources and pathways missing for those people, and they don't know where to turn. So ideally, I'd like to create more of those opportunities and resources for those people."

*If you are interested in helping Wren in her journey of show jumping, please visit:

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