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10-year-old legally blind horse rider barred from equestrian competition

A young legally blind equestrian rider from the B.C. Interior has been told she can't compete with the help of guides, and her mother is fighting the ruling. Jordan Armstrong reports.

Kyra Barrett loves horseback riding, especially jumping — even though she’s been legally blind since birth.

The 10-year-old girl from Pritchard, a small community east of Kamloops, B.C., has always been thrilled by the sport and the sense of freedom it gives her, calling it the “funnest thing ever.”

She’s been able to get around her disability thanks to her coach, who uses a guide horse and verbal commands to make sure she knows where to go and when to stop while jumping.

“He’ll tell me to go left if the jump’s on the left, and he’ll block me off so I don’t go to the right,” Kyra said of the guide horse. “If he tells me to go behind him, I’ll go behind him.”

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Earlier this year, Kyra’s mother Hayley Barrett says Equestrian Canada approved the use of a guide horse and certified her for para-equestrian classification.

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That cleared her to start competing in eventing competitions, allowing her to ride cross-country, jump and dressage with able-bodied riders. She’s even placed in the top three at some events.

But after an event last week in Campbell Valley, Barrett says she found out Equestrian Canada had reversed its certification, saying the use of a guide horse doesn’t fall under its list of approved aides.

Worse, Barrett says the decision had been made weeks before without the family’s knowledge.

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“I had no idea that they did this, I never received any confirmation,” Barrett said. “Equestrian Canada has never asked a question, they’ve never seen Kyra ride, they’ve never seen a video. They just made this decision in an office somewhere without being informed or educated.”

In a letter addressed to Kyra dated June 27 but sent to Barrett on Aug. 20, Equestrian Canada’s para-equestrian program coordinator Jamie-Ann Goodfellow says Kyra can compete in able-bodied dressage, but only with a pre-approved list of aides that does not include guides.

“If you have any changes in your medical diagnosis or condition, please feel free to contact us for reclassification,” Goodfellow writes, before passing along “best wishes with all of your competition endeavours.”

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Barrett says the decision was based on a complaint from another rider about Kyra receiving an unfair advantage. But the mother says that’s far from the truth.

“Even with very aide we can give her, she’s still not on an equal playing field with everyone else,” she said.

The family also paid the necessary fees for Kyra to be certified, making Barrett wonder if she’ll get that money back.

The reclassification means Kyra can only compete in dressage, keeping her from the faster-paced riding and jumping events she’s been excelling in.

Her family is hoping to reverse that decision once again before an upcoming event next weekend that they’re banned from competing in.

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Barrett hasn’t told her daughter about the news yet, in the hopes that Equestrian Canada will do the right thing.

“I don’t want to break her heart,” she said. “I don’t want to be that mom if I don’t have to be. I feel like they need to give me better reasons of why they should do that to a 10-year-old.”

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Global News sent multiple requests for comment to Equestrian Canada. None of them were returned Sunday.

Barrett has also not heard more from Equestrian Canada.

The mother is just hopeful she can keep allowing her daughter to do what she loves most.

“She just wants to be out there and be part of a normal world,” she said. “Everything else in her life isn’t normal. But when she’s on the horse she’s equal to everybody.”

—With files from Jordan Armstrong