Verity has had her fair share of setbacks, from becoming completely blind at just 15 years old, to then being involved in a car crash that left her seriously injured and out of the saddle for more than a year
Verity Smith isn’t just a Team GB dressage rider. She’s also an author, a singer, and a songwriter. She lived an extraordinary life; at just five years old, Verity contracted encephalitis and meningitis and increasingly began to lose her sight. But while Verity’s inner world gradually became darker and darker, her love of horses grew stronger and stronger. Coupled with that, her fiercely independent and inquisitive nature would fuel her to where she is today. Verity is proof that no matter what, we can always find opportunity, even in difficulty.
A rhinoceros cantering through the roadworks
That’s Verity’s own description of herself. Despite her world growing darker at age five, Verity kept pursuing her dreams of becoming the world’s greatest showjumper until the age of 15.
“At this point, I was registered blind; I decided to hang up my showjumping ambitions, which was heartbreaking. I was actually sent away to school for the blind and the disabled. And I went there with apprehension, but I realised that it was the most inspiring place when I got to the school. And it opened my eyes to a whole different perception of ability. It also reignited my belief in competition and sport because, at our school, and no matter what you were missing — legs, arms, sight — together, we made a whole. And we were able to work as a team. And funnily enough, I was made sports captain within, I think, about two weeks of getting to the school. It was from that school that I took on the need to find a discipline that I could compete on equal terms with all comers. And that’s how I discovered the beautiful, disciplined dressage, which has been my passion throughout my adulthood.”
At just 18 years old, Verity did indeed end up competing for Team GB at the World Championships for dressage. This became the launchpad for her career in sport. “And I figured that if I really worked hard, I could be the best I could be without my disability, getting a look in. Itwas about my talent and finding my own limitations.”
Without the negative, there’s no positive
“I think I was very, very lucky to go blind as a child as children have a naivety and an ability to adapt. When I started to go blind, I had no idea that the consequences of this would be, perhaps, a restriction on my independence. This is the beauty of which we generally lose as adults, we move into situations, we adapt and roll with it. I went blind over a period of time [so I thought] ‘I’m going to get really good at it’. So I used to test myself; I used to pull the curtains in my bedroom, try and create blackouts, rearrange my furniture, get my sister to rearrange my furniture, and then try and explore my bedroom through my other senses. So I thought, ‘I’m actually quite lucky here, I’ve got five senses, and I’m losing one of them’. And actually, if I can maximise my ability to listen and to read my other senses, there’s no reason in the world that I can’t function. And I saw it as a game. “
“It was like playing Blind Man’s Bluff. Some might say that my parents were quite ‘Kamikaze’ in their attitude because they never told me I couldn’t do something. They always said you need to find your own invitations. You need to embrace what you have and do the best you can do. I don’t actually think my blindness is a negative. But there are so many other things in my life that I could hold that are negative. I think it’s all about perception.”
Getting back in the saddle
Despite a successful early career in dressage, Verity had her fair share of knockbacks. A car crash left her severely injured and out of the saddle for more than a year.
“What do you do with that? My attitude was okay, I can’t do any sport right now, my back is bad. What can I do? And I wrote a book, I thought just having a back injury isn’t going to stop me doing that. So if you’re faced with a problem and there’s an obstacle in your way, [there is] a quote from Marcus Aurelius. He always says ‘the obstacle is the way’. And maybe you can’t navigate this. But think, how do we get around this? How do we move forwards with what we’ve got? And I think it’s about getting on with it. That’s how I perceive stoicism, it’s not suffering in silence, it’s really focusing on using our ability and the gifts of the present to enable the future.”
“I think humor is a perfect way of, [or if you have] just a safe thing that you say in your own head — that allows you to just take a moment for yourself, think of yourself as your own life raft, and you’re safe within yourself. You just have to be strong and centered. I’m fortunate because the sport that I do is horses for me and my freedom. When I’m on the horse, I forget I’m blind. And so for me, it’s an emotional, psychological fix, as well as a sporting fix.”
To read more about Verity’s incredible career, her experience in the music industry, and more of her top tips, open the Dialogue app. Not on Dialogue? Find out more about our Health and Wellness Software solutions.