For as far back as she can remember, Wren has always had a love for horses and fascination with horseback riding. From a very early age, these giant, powerful, graceful animals captivated her entirely and they have remained her one true passion ever since. Unfortunately neither of her parents shared this affinity for horses and so, horses were neither supported nor allowed while growing up.
Then, when Wren was a senior in high school, she got a diagnosis that would change her life forever. It wasn’t until years later however, that she would truly and fully understand just how much.
In the Fall of 2006 doctors first started noticing that there was something wrong with Wren’s eyes. She had worn glasses/contacts for several years, and the prescription had always fixed her vision and returned it to normal. The problem on this day was that there wasn't any combination of lenses that the eye doctor could use to allow Wren to see the 20/20 line. This was a huge red flag and so Wren was sent on to a long line of ophthalmologists and retina specialists, each with their own host of tests (there were a lot of bright lights, dye-injecting needles, poking and prodding, and tedious long hours of vision field testing). In school, teachers had started getting mad at Wren for not being able to read the board (even when sitting in the front row) and not being able to read from the textbooks (they simply thought she didn't want to) . But Wren had no explanation and no idea what was happening to her vision — it was both frustrating and scary.
In December of that year Wren learned that she had a form of juvenile macular degeneration — a rare condition that is found in one in 20,000 children and teenagers. The disease was called Stargardt’s Macular Dystrophy — a progressive degenerative eye disease that would eventually render Wren legally blind (registered as blind even with the aid of corrective lenses).
Over the next few years Wren continued to lose more and more of her eyesight along with many of the things she once took for granted (such as her ability to drive, read, and recognize faces), but she went on to receive a Bachelor’s degree with Honors distinction from Queen’s University (Ontario, Canada) and started two Master’s degrees (one in business and the other in Sports Management).
But as her vision continued to get worse, the harsh reality of Wren’s situation began to set in and she began to contemplate the importance of quality of life and happiness. Wren realized that her life would never be the same and that she would likely never get her vision back. This was when Wren decided to put everything on hold and pursue her unrealized lifelong dream of learning to ride and jump horses. Over the past five years, even with the odds stacked against her, Wren went from never having jumped an entire course and competing in her first ‘schooling show’ to successfully competing against able-bodied riders in rated shows at the 1.00 meter jumpers.
Wren’s horse journey began five years ago when she started taking lessons at a therapeutic riding center in exchange for helping with the program. She became comfortable with horses both on the ground and in the saddle, but all she really wanted to do was jump! It was here that the therapeutic riding instructor told Wren that because of her vision, or lack thereof (no matter how good a rider she was or could become), she would never be able to jump horses. Being competitive by nature, this just made Wren more determined to prove that it was possible!
By the time Wren found her first trainer, Vicki Zacharias, she had already contacted, and been turned away by, several other trainers. Wren was used to hearing variations on how unrealistic her goals were and that “there was no way she could control a jumper horse and get around a course, let alone ride it well’. But even with the odds stacked against her, Vicki took Wren on without hesitation.
Within the span of three short years Wren went from never having jumped an entire course and competing in her first ‘schooling show’ (winning Champion in the beginning hunter division) to successfully competing against able-bodied lifelong riders in rated shows at the 1.00 meter jumper level. A year ago, after the 26-year-old horse she had been riding could no longer jump higher, Wren decided to move across the country from Portland, OR to Louisville, KY to pursue her dream more seriously.
Wren’s sights are now set on making the USEF Show Jumping Ranking list and competing in the 2024 Olympics, becoming the first blind showjumper to compete in the Olympic Games!
Wren’s mission along the way is to raise awareness of visual impairment and what it means to be legally blind. Exposure raises awareness, which in turn fosters understanding. Wren is optimistic that this will promote more tolerance and acceptance of individuals with physical (and often invisible) disabilities. Wren’s long-term mission is to contribute to the growth and accessibility of horse sport. By personally competing against able-bodied riders, Wren hopes to spur more riders with disabilities to become involved in show jumping competition. Eventually the hope is that this will empower change and encourage interest and acceptance of the emerging sport of para-jumping, with the ultimate goal of it becoming a competitive international discipline and Paralympic sport.
Wren’s ‘vision’ is that her endeavors will inspire others to have the courage to face their own challenges and pursue their own passions, whatever they may be!
But the reality is that Wren has limitations. What she knows now that she didn’t before she lost her eyesight, is not only how challenging, but how taxing, in many ways, it is to live with a disability. There are physical, psychological, temporal, social and financial costs of being legally blind that don’t allow Wren the luxury of pursuing her endeavors to the level that she would like. The reality is that the costs of being legally blind don’t allow Wren the luxury of being able to live what most people would consider a normal life.
“But I don’t let that stop me! I ‘see’ everyday as a new opportunity to overcome whatever challenges the world may throw my way and to continue working towards pursuing my goals and making my dream a reality!”
“I’ve fallen in love with every aspect of this sport and I want to share the joys that horses have brought me with others, regardless of ability or disability.”
Wren can’t put into words what it is like to lose your eyesight. But she explains that “horses have given me windows of freedom from a disability. Riding has given me back my confidence and a sense of independence that I thought I’d never have or feel again. This sport has allowed me to look forward; to dream and to hope again.”