You’ve heard the saying, “They have a zest for life.” Well, it really rings true when we’re talking about Walter and his seeing-eye dog, Frommer. Walter started riding with us in 2017 and, like many of our participants, he continues to grow stronger and more determined with each ride. Unlike any other participant that we are currently serving, Walter is legally blind and is accompanied by Frommer most of the time. Walter does have some vision, especially when the contrast in colors applies, but is legally blind – not completely blind, as some may think.
When Walter arrives for his lesson, you wouldn’t know that he’s legally blind, as he’s always so zestful and ready to go. During his lessons, we use more prominently colored cones to create a distinction for him in the arena. Dark purple, dark red, and black cones are favorable for him as they create enough of a contrast that he’s able to tell a difference between the arena flooring and the cones. This then cues him in the various drills that he completes each week. We generally start each lesson with sidewalkers walking alongside Walter while he becomes comfortable and confident back in the saddle. Once the connection is built, we turn him loose. Walter truly has perfected his two-point, trotting, and cone navigation both in and out of the saddle. Each week we give him a new drill or challenge to work on.
Riding is definitely the highlight of each lesson for Walter, but as he shared with us, he understands the importance of caring for the horse, so he does enjoy the grooming element as well. Generally, Walter begins his sessions with grooming Pal and making that initial connection prior to getting in the saddle and beginning the riding segment. It’s gratifying to see the connection between these two and how it grows stronger from each ride.
The day that we caught up with Walter he shared with us that he loves coming to Swiftsure each week because it has allowed him to get regular exercise and spend time outside the home — all while gaining a different sense of freedom, a sense of freedom where he’s truly independent and in control of Pal during the rides. He gets to disconnect from the outside world and really live in the moment. We asked him what he does on a regular basis and he noted that he works with Higher Ground, another amazing recreational therapy program here in the Wood River Valley, and for them, he answers the phone and answers questions participants may have about an upcoming program. Walter is a seasoned veteran within their program after all!
Finally, Walter introduced us to his seeing-eye dog Frommer, the cutest and most well-behaved year-and-a-half-old Lab you’ll meet. This was also Frommer’s first introduction to Pal and the two had a bit of initial skepticism, but quickly made a bond through Walter’s connections. That specific day Frommer assisted Walter in bringing Pal across the arena and preparing him for his weekly lesson. When not in the hands of Walter, Frommer spends time with one of Walter’s brothers and is “relieved from duty.”
From an initial introduction, you would have no idea Walter is visually impaired. When you see the ease at which he moves about when Frommer is by his side, it truly is inspiring how much he can accomplish on and off a horse. Walter’s zest for life continues to drive him each day and inspires us each week.