Blind girl wins award in state 4-H horse-riding competition

SNOHOMISH, Wash. - A Snohomish girl with a passion for horses is rising through the ranks of 4-H, but her path hasn't ever been smooth.

After years of deteriorating vision, Ali Steenis is legally blind.

But that hasn't stopped the 17-year-old from taking on able-bodied riders, competing in dressage. It's like ballet for horses - relying on precision and detail. It's tricky when you can't see - but Ali is good - so good she qualified for the state 4-H competition in September.

For her, perservance has become a habit. And if seeing is believing, you'd know Ali knows a thing or two - or three dozen - about horses.

She says being blind gives her a different kind of advantage - because she feels more in tune with her horse.

Her wall is covered with ribbons - a tangible testament to talent.

"I can see that there are ribbons; I wouldn't be able to read them," says Ali.

Her mother, Cyndie Steenis, says, "I think people can't even begin to understand how a rider rides blind."

When she was competing for the state 4-H dressage honors, Ali almost didn't make it.

A burst of music spooked her horse Watchman. Even worse, the headset Ali was using to navigate the arena - her ears that are her eyes - dropped.

"My first thought was, 'Oh my gosh, I'm going to have to scratch,'" says Ali.

"All of a sudden she's literally riding blind," adds her mother.

But with patience and a steady hand, Ali completed the test - and placed third.

And so another award was added to Ali's wall - but she doesn't need to look at it. Because who says you need to see to believe at all.

"Just the feeling that it's there and knowing all that accomplishment is up there is a symbol of all I've had to overcome," she says.