In 2016, young Tamsin Mbatsha Bouwer was the designated reserve rider for the South African Paralympic Equestrian Team. Born with cerebral palsy to a horse-loving family, riding and having a good long gallop were never a question. She grew up in Johannesburg competing in show-jumping and dressage, culminating in competing overseas for a spot on the Paralympic team.
“I’ve always said that when I’m on a horse, a lot of people don’t see that I’m disabled and a lot of them don’t know that as a disabled person I show-jump or do dressage or whatever it might be,” said Bouwer. “It’s amazing because I can just ride and control this big animal, and that just does something for you in your head, that you have that kind of ability.”
Now, nearing her 21st birthday, Bouwer lives in Port Alfred and enjoys working, reading and watching movies when she’s not riding or volunteering down the coast in Kleinemonde at Healing Horses. Bouwer was invited to speak to Rhodes University students the evening of 4 September in honour of the university’s disability week.
Bouwer’s greatest success, however, has nothing to do with the Paralympics but with her own attitude towards life.
“I don’t want to point to myself,” she said, “but often when I talk to people they compliment how cheerful or how happy I seem as a person. For me, that’s a major thing because when you think of a disabled person you don’t really know that they are happy. At the end of the day, we are just normal people and we are happy and cheerful.”
Bouwer’s disability doesn’t define who she is. “For me, I can’t explain it any more than just to say it is what it is. It’s only for me to make the best of it. I make do with what I have,” she said.