We commonly describe horses as the purveyors of wings. For 32-year-old Wren Blae Zimmerman, the horse also provides her with eyes.
When Wren was 17, she was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Macular Dystrophy, a rare genetic degenerative eye condition that renders her blind. After discovering horses via a therapeutic riding program, Wren knew she wanted to do more.
“Horses give me freedom from a disability,” Wren describes. “And I can do a lot on the horse that I can’t do by myself.”
Partnered with former grand prix jumper, Cassicasca or “Valentine”, Wren’s learned the ways of the show jumping ring with a few tweaks to her course walking technique. In a new arena, she’ll walk to divide the space into a grid using the outside, quarter-lines and half-lines. From there, she’ll walk to each jump with an aide, who helps point out landmarks and other jumps to create a “visual map” in Wren’s head. Then, they’ll draw the course onto a white board or sheet of paper, along with a description of the track written out.
“There’s all these different things that I’ve done to sort of make this stay in my mind so that when I actually go into the arena on my horse, I have a plan, I know exactly where everything is, and I know how to ride my course.”
“My hope is that what I’m doing will change the perception about what people with disabilities are capable of,” Wren says. “But also to push anyone to try horses. Your own strength comes, for the most part, from inside of you, so I think it’s important for people to believe in themselves and I think anyone can do anything they put their mind to.”
Wren is also involved with Para Show Jumping North America, which helps to recognize and grow this newer subset of para equestrian and welcome new riders into the program. You can follow Para Show Jumping on Instagram here.
Wren was featured in the latest video out of the I Am US Equestian series, and you can watch the full short feature here.