A BHS-approved riding school near Walsall is using Harry Hall hi-viz KIT to help teach riders with visual impairments and other disabilities.

Gartmore Riding School has worked with Birmingham’s Priestley Smith School for the visually impaired for four years. When they came across Harry Hall’s Safety First range — some of which has integrated lights as well as hiviz and reflective properties — their eyes lit up.

Gartmore proprietor Tracy Francis contacted Harry Hall who immediately agreed to get involved.

How is the hi-vis used?
Visually impaired riders first follow someone walking in front wearing hi-viz, to learn how big a distance to leave between their pony and the one in front. That person is later replaced by another horse and rider, again in hi-viz.

Lucy Radford of Priestley Smith, said:

“Some of our pupils now ride completely unattached to a lead rope which is a great step forward. It’s a thrill to be fully in control and we’ve only been able to do that since using the hi-viz. On horseback, these children can do things any other child can do.”

Andrew Hardisty is the (volunteer) chief instructor at Gartmore, he said:

“Importantly, these hi-viz tops and saddle pads are quick and easy to use as we have a fast turnaround between lessons.

“On top of that, the kids enjoy wearing special kit — everyone loves the flashing lights!”

Harry Hall’s Rachel Bowles, explained:

“Our Safety First range has been a big success with riders, but this was a new idea that caught our imagination immediately.

“Harry Hall is all for encouraging more riders to enjoy the fun and freedom or riding in safety and style. The way our kit and clothing is used at Gartmore is fantastic.”

The hi-viz helps riders with other disabilities too. Lisa Simmonds is autistic, blind in one eye and profoundly deaf having suffered congenital rubella syndrome.

Lisa is a rider at Gartmore, for the past three years her instructor Clare Atkins has worn a hi-viz gilet and gloves to help Lisa see and read her body and sign language from across the school. This helps Lisa seen even detailed finger signals, denoting changes of pace and so on.

“I get a lovely feeling from riding,” says Lisa. “I love the movement of it.”

While Clare comments: “I’ve learnt a lot from Lisa’s determined outlook on life.”

Learning out of the saddle too!
Out of the arena, Gartmore’s on-site classroom has worksheets showing points of the saddle in raised print diagrams with braille captions. A model horse also has its points labelled in braille, and is a safe way for children to practise putting on boots, bandaging and so on.

Lucy Radford explains: 

“Velcro-ing brushing boots is useful practice for other life skills like doing up their own shoes.

Then there’s Woody the wooden horse: “Riding him improves our pupils’ posture, balance and spatial awareness — all of which they need when doing long cane work later on,” says Lucy.

A number of children from mainstream schools including Erasmus Darwin Academy and Chase Terrace Technology College in Burntwood, and Norton Canes Primary Academy in Cannock, join a Riding Club at Gartmore that enables them to spend more time with the horses and help out in lessons for the visually impaired.

“It makes me feel lucky not to have a disability, but I can see the bond they have with the ponies and how it teaches them other skills besides just riding,” says Zoe, 13, from Chase Terrace Technology College.