At the age of twelve, Sue-Ellen was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a hereditary eye disease that over time left her legally blind. This didn’t stop her passion for riding though, with her sight deteriorating every year.
Sue-Ellen is now competing open FEI on her beloved gelding Desiderata in the hopes of making Grand Prix level.
“As a blind rider I need a dependable horse – Desiderata is a lovely boy who looks after me,” Sue-Ellen said.
“Eyesight wise I can see grey fuzz, so to make the best out of our rides I train in the morning which is when the sun is on my left shoulder.
What makes Sue-Ellen truly remarkable is her positive attitude and determination to succeed. Living on a remote farm outside Dubbo, Sue Ellen doesn’t have help to look after her horse and train for her competitions.
“We are really out the back of whoop-whoop so when I am at home I do all my horse activities myself. We are too remote for someone to come out and help me all the time,” Sue-Ellen explains.
“I am able to venture to the paddock and catch my horse – he’s very obliging and comes when he is called. The trick is to always have a carrot! Then we tack up and head out to the arena.
“I put my trust in a 700kg horse to look after me – as soon as my foot is in that stirrup my life is in his hands.
“When riding in the arena I have to count strides so I know where I am and I do most of my work down the long sides.
“I use the shorter sides for my collected work like canter pirouettes, but the majority of our schooling takes place along the sides.
“Desiderata will also turn the corners of the arena for me; we don’t have to be told when to turn so that makes riding easier.”
When it comes to a competition, many of us just need to worry about packing the car, loading the horse and heading off. Things aren’t so easy for Sue-Ellen, who not only has to transport her horse and gear to competition venues, but also her living markers.
“My living markers are people, eight of them stand at a designated letter and call out to me and act as my eyes in the arena. In a test, I rely on my living markers to assist me and there is no way I could compete without them.
“I’m like a moth to the flame – I listen for their calls and ride towards them. It’s a hard job to be a living marker as you need to have an understanding of dressage and need to know when to talk and when to stop.”
It’s no easy task to travel and have so many people available to help with the dressage tests, but Sue-Ellen gives thanks to Terry Snow from The Snow Foundation for his sponsorship this year and making her dreams possible.
“Without Terry Snow sponsoring me, I couldn’t have achieved what I have this year,” Sue-Ellen said.
“He has been an angel, his help has truly been appreciated and he really cares about equine sport.”
Sue-Ellen never takes her horse for granted and makes the most out of every ride.
“My greatest fear is one day I won’t be able to ride – it’s my reason for living,” explains Sue-Ellen.
“When I’m on my horse I have my independence and mobility, it makes me just like everyone else and is such a boost to my quality of life.
“It’s so exhilarating to go into a test and complete it, I just love that feeling.”