British Columbia

Meet the 9-year-old legally blind athlete who is happiest on horseback

Kyra Barrett is nine-years-old, a horse rider, and legally blind.

'When you jump it feels like you’re flying,' says Kyra Barrett

Nine-year-old Kyra Barrett performing jumps with her horse Cheeta. (Jim Bradbury)

Kyra Barrett is nine years old, a horse rider, and legally blind.

Barrett, who lives in Pritchard, B..C., is a three-day eventer. That means that she rides dressage and cross country and does show jumping. And she does it all without being able to see much of the course.

Not to mention, she's a 60-pound girl on a large, powerful horse.

Kyra says there is nothing about riding and competing that scares her. In fact, she loves jumping the most.

"When you jump it feels like you're flying," she says.

Coach Sara Sellmer, who runs Z-Eventing in the Cherry Creek area of Kamloops, has been teaching Barrett for three years.

"When I got into it, I was really nervous," Sellmer told CBC's Shelley Joyce. "I was always worried something would go wrong. But we've figured out a recipe that works. So it's actually gotten really exciting and fun."

Hayley Barrett (front) walks in front of Kyra Barrett and Sara Sellmer (right) after Kyra performs cross country. (Jim Bradbury)

Legally blind

Kyra has been riding horses since she was a baby with her mother, Hayley Barrett.

She has retinal dystrophy and is on the lower end of the legally blind scale, her mother said, with next-to-no depth perception. But Barrett has never worried about Kyla's ability to ride or compete.

"I never considered it a big deal. But it is I guess," said Barrett.

A cross-country course can be up to five kilometres in length. The height of the jumps Kyra typically tackles is 76 centimetres.

When she is riding, Kyra wears a visor to help shield the sun, along with the darkest sunglasses her mother can find. 

Her mother said sunlight affects Kyra's eyes differently than people with better vision. For most people, the sun causes their pupils to close to prevent the sun from getting in. But Kyla's pupils dilate, letting the sun's rays stream in.

"So she goes basically blind if it's bright blue sky and sunny," said Barrett.

This means overcast days are best for Kyra's ability to make out some aspects of the course.

Despite her poor vision, Kyra has remarkable physical ability.

"She has an insane feel for the horse," said Barrett.

Competing

Even though Kyla is entering her second year of participating as a three-day eventer at competitions, she has never been judged on her skills. She is permitted to take part in dressage, jumping and cross country riding, but is not scored and cannot win ribbons.

In order to be scored, she must have para-equestrian classification, says Sellmer. 

Barrett has started the process of obtaining this classification from Equestrian Canada, which would allow Kyra to be scored at competitions like other riders.

The only thing that scares Barrett about Kyra's love of riding, is the possibility of her not being allowed to compete anymore.

"[I'm worried] that someone is going to stop us … that would be heartbreaking for her."

Kyra Barrett jumps in a dressage stadium with her horse Cheeta. (Jim Bradbury)

Nothing scary about it

Sometimes Kyra crashes or falls off her horse. But she's dedicated and climbs back on, says Barrett.

She says riding is special to Kyra because she is able to be just as good as her peers, or better.

"When Kyra is riding, she is no different from anyone else. She has a smile from ear to ear."

Listen to the full interview here:

Kyra Barrett is nine-years-old, a horse rider, and legally blind. Barrett, who lives in Pritchard, B..C., is a three-day eventer. She rides dressage and cross country, and does show jumping. And she does is all without being able to see much of the course. 9:02

With files from Daybreak Kamloops.

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