Returning to riding after serious accident or injuryDec 05, 2022
Our discussion today is with four riders who have each experienced significant setbacks through accidents and injuries, but have lived to tell the tale and have ended up back in the saddle riding happily.
Joining us today are Ivanka, Mel, Rie, and Andrea, all part of our beautiful Performance Riders family.
This is an edited transcript of an episode of The Collectives podcast – listen here or watch the video version above.
I'm Ivanka. I live in Southeast Queensland. I have been riding since I was 12.
So this was in 2016. My son, who would’ve been 15 at the time, gave me a big bear hug and sort of lifted me up, and I heard one of my ribs crack. He felt so guilty!
I kept feeling this little thing popping out and I thought, OK, I've broken a rib, so that's probably a broken rib popping out. But that thing that was popping out got bigger and bigger and bigger.
Long story short, it turned out to be a tumor that was growing out of my 10th rib. So off we went to the Oncologist and he sort of went like, I don't even need to know whether it's benign or malignant, it needs to come out. So I was immediately booked into surgery and the tumor was taken out, it was nearly two kilos, so it was literally the size of a football. And with that, because they didn't know whether it was malignant, they went right around. So they've taken rib number nine, ten, eleven, and all the muscle tissues and everything around it. Then they put a mesh over the top so that my, you know, intestines didn't fall out .
The bear hug in hindsight was actually my saving grace because the rib was brittle because there was this giant sarcoma growing out of it. So if my son hadn't done that bear hug, we would've been way later figuring out what was going on. And the oncologist did say that this kind of tumor can switch from mine, which wasn't cancerous, to being cancerous.
Recovery was tough. The first six months I wasn't allowed to be near horses because I have no ribs on that side, so there is no protection from bumps or whatever. I slowly started riding my mare around Christmas time, like for five minutes and then slowly building up the use of my body, my fitness, my muscles. It was a really long process.
The first couple of months I was so heavily medicated on horrible, horrible, horrible stuff, so I was also trying to get off the drugs as well. I wouldn't have been safe around horses with that amount of drugs in my in my system.
So now fast forward, I've done my five years off oncology checkups. It's clear, I'm riding again, and I have just bought a new horse, which is really exciting.
I do always ride with a corset to give me that sort of exoskeleton kind of thing. The only thing that I'm still struggling with a little bit, but I'm hoping that it, with this smaller horse, it's going to be easier is my sitting trot because using my core, there is nothing because there's literally no muscles, there is no obliques, there is no intercostals, they're all gone. So it's my lower tummy muscles are still there and the mesh is attached to my diaphragm. So sitting trot and heavy core work is very challenging.
I am very, very diligent in wearing that corset. I hardly ever ride without it because I do feel a bit more vulnerable. Two years ago my previous horse got a fright and crushed me into a gate, and the ambulance people were really, really panicky because I don't have the ribs there. They were really scared that I would have internal bleedings.
I'm not constantly thinking about it, but every time I get unseated, you know, when they havea big spook, I'm aware because it hurts because the mesh gets stuck behind the scar or something like that.
One thing I've promised my husband is to never ever do cross country. I do jump my dressage horses because I think it's important for them to have rounded training. So I go to Cedric, the mechanical horse, to do cross-country jumps, and and I've used Cedric a lot before I started riding again. I would have twice a week or once a week a riding lesson on the mechanical horse to get the balance and to really get that muscle memory back again before getting on my young horse.
It's a big black mechanical horse, it's a computer horse, so it's programmed for dressage, jumping, and cross country. It gives you instant feedback on your balance forward and sideways, but also your reins, how much pressure you put on the reins and all that sort of stuff.
Hi. I'm Mel. I live in Victoria, I too have been writing since I was very young. Enjoyed bashing through the bush though, and it's later in life that I've picked up dressage.
It was actually my husband's birthday and I was finishing the day off with an evening ride on a young horse, at the time he was three and a half. I rode him in the arena and he was going beautifully nice and calm so I thought, oh, just go for a relaxing walk out now to a little piece of bush out the back on a long rein.
He was walking long, nice and smoothly, so I thought, let's go for a little trot. Long rein, three and a half years old. Very agile, very spooky. Did quite a non-eventful shy, but it was sort of like sideways about three to five meters. I expected the usual, I knew I was off the saddle and I expected just to land on my right shoulder. As I was midair though, he's kicked out. He'd never had anyone fall off him before. I felt his hoof collect my shin and basically it snapped my tibia like a carrot in two.
I hit the ground and you know, usually like that there's that thud and you get over it and you peel yourself off the ground. But I pretty much knew straight away that my leg was broken, and it was traumatic because I couldn't move, when I moved I could feel the bone move.
I was on my own without a phone, and I think I was more afraid than anything else because the adrenaline kicked in, so there wasn't so much pain.
Fortunately my neighbor heard me and she came to help me, and one thing led to another and I ended up at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. I think a lot of it I don't remember, there's part of my mind that protects me from remembering.
Part of the procedure was to get a rod put through my shin bone and through my knee, so the knee was actually what took a long time to recover. Also the body, when it's a traumatic event like that, I think there's a lot of things that go on in our body that we don't even really know, you know, holding trauma in different sections of our body.
The surgeon said that it was the fastest bone healing he'd seen in a long time. So five and a half weeks and I was good to go out of the boot and they said I can ride and do whatever I want in, but that was from a bone surgeon's perspective.
Six weeks after the accident, I then started physio once a week for about six weeks and progressed crutches to a walking cane.
I wasn't back in the saddle until four months after the accident. So that was 2017, but during 2020 I really applied myself to yoga, and it wasn’t until then that I realized there was still a lot of stuff going on in that leg that was holding me back. I couldn't bend the knee properly, I couldn't use my hip properly and all the rest of it. So it's really, nowadays it's, it's more just, I've still got a lump on my leg with a horse kick me and I've got a great scar on my knee.
I ride on the same track almost every day and I think almost every day it does pass through my mind. Not only from that accident, but actually six months later I came off that same horse again and did my rotator cuff because I didn't fall like I normally fall because I was afraid of him kicking out and getting me. I fell and held my hand out, which is then pushed my into my rotator cuff, and shoulders take a really long time to recover.
These days that I'm just a little bit more cautious and careful because it does take a long time to be pain free and to be able to using your body to the full extent. So I think about it fairly regularly.
When I was in the hospital, I thought for a moment – I'm not going to ride again. Just for a split second, and then immediately I thought – no, that's actually why I live. It's my love in my soul. So, there was never a question of whether I should get back in the saddle again.
I live on the northern beaches of Sydney. I have got two horses, one of them I bred myself and I am competing her medium and I'm definitely training for Grand Prix, whether I will ever compete or not, I'm training for myself.
I was riding my green warmblood that I had broken in myself, and I'd done so much spook training with her. But somebody moved a big wheely bin right next to as I was cantering around and she just exploded. I flew up in the air and landed on her really hard and then she just bucked me off.
I knew straight away when I hit the ground that I had broken my back. There was no doubt, and I just, I screamed for life. I felt like screaming – I'm still alive! I kept thinking I could feel my toes, I could feel my toes, I'll be okay.
I felt like somebody was standing with a thick metal rod and just crashing it at the beat of my heart. It was just horrendous. I just hit the ground and I stayed there, but then from the minute they had me in the ambulance, from the minute the ambulance got there, it was just ‘I'm going to recover from this. I can feel my feet, it's going to be okay’.
When I was in Emergency, two of my kids came in and looked so worried. I said, don't worry about it, I'll be out riding next week.
So that was on Boxing Day and I was totally immobolised. They knew I had crushed my L1, so I was totally immobilised. So for five days I was lying, and then after that then they realised there wasn't a break in my neck, it was bulging disc.
On day three, I had a really hard day where I could feel myself mentally get really scared, and it felt like a dark hole sucking me in. And I went, I can't do that. So from then on, it was lots of positivity, lots of laughter. You know, I had great friends coming into the hospital, somebody came in and put big posters with the horses in front of me.
But it was all about the crush of the L1, it's the shock absorber from the body. So really hard riding with that because it just doesn't function. The surgeons came in and said – you’ve got three options, we can try to glue it together, we can fuse it together or you can do absolutely nothing and hope that the body will recover it. My first question is, what's best for my riding long term? They said doing nothing and hoping the body would fuse together, because that L1 was like crushed glass. It was like a windscreen that's crushed.
So I spent 49 days flat on my back, not moving. Then I had seven weeks in a full body cast. I don't know whether you know, but in 10 days when you do not move at all, you lose 30% of your muscle mass. It just falls away. I could stand for a couple of seconds when I finally was standing up, and I had to learn to stand up for three minutes to be able to fit my body cast. It was mountain so high, but the whole time I was like, I'm going to ride. Some doctors said I wouldn't, but I was always going to ride, I was so certain that I was going to get through this.
As soon as I could start walking again, the first thing I did was bought a really expensive helmet because I was going to require that. That was my goal.
And after about a year and a half, I started sitting on my Welsh cob. I rode him very, very cautiously. I still had enormous amount of nerve pain. I was okay with riding him because he was the most amazing horse that looked after me, but I wasn't sure whether I was ever going to ride my warmblood.
I went to a pain clinic that's a three week clinic where you learn to deal with your pain and, and one of the questions there was, what will you do if you never get rid of your pain? What sort of life do you want to have? And I just said, I want to ride. I wanted to ride my warmblood Char. And so at the end of that three week, I braced up with what I had to try to hold it all together because it felt like it wasn't stable, and I got on my horse, but it was with a lot of fear.
The other thing I did is when I was riding in the beginning, I much prefer there was somebody there because if something happened, I wasn't alone. And the second thing was, if there was nobody, I would text my daughter saying, I'm getting on.
I took Char back and I did a lot of ground work. I did a lot of, and I, all the time I kept thinking it's going to get better. It was sort of probably down the line two years later, I got to stage where I could go out to a clinic with my mare, and as I lead her into the float, she reared and took my shoulder right up and tore my ligaments.
I had a total reconstruction of the shoulder, so that was nine months recovery for that. I was thinking – keep swimming, keep swimming. That’s when I really got stuck into my groundwork. I was doing it with my left arm and I still got a kick out of being with the horses. I knew that they were just part of my life and I was much happier with them in my life than without.
It’s seven years now and I still unfortunately have a lot of nerve pain. Most of the time I love riding my mare, but I am fearful and as soon as she spooks, I still get that feeling of hitting the ground. So when it's very windy, I don't ride. If I feel she feels really hot, I get off. So I'm a lot more cautious now.
Certain types of riding increases the pain, it feels nauseating, horrible and I can't sleep. I got off a lot of the severe drugs, so I'm a lot better, but it is still a journey.
It’s a daily battle. I hate to admit it, but it is a daily battle.
I'm Andrea, I'm on the border of New South Wales and Victoria, I live on a property and I have four horses in work.
In the last 10 years, I've had three nasty accidents. I'll only focus on one because that's the main one, but I'll just quickly go over the others because they're relevant to the one.
In 2012, I had a serious farm accident, which was related to a horse, but I wasn't riding the horse. He got caught on a gate. He was a 17-hand warmblood. I'm not sure exactly how it happened, I may have been knocked out, but I ended up sliding underneath the gate and he went over the top of the gate and got stuck on the top of the gate, with me underneath the gate, and he couldn’t get off. He was thrashing around on top of the gate and I was under the gate screaming for him to stop.
Anyway, I was actually getting him out of the paddock for the farrier, who happened to arrive on time, and he ran down. He was a small guy and the first thing he said was ‘I don't know how I'm going to get you out’, and I'm saying ‘I don't want to hear that.’ I thought either I'm going to get killed here or I'm going to lose my leg because the horse was jumping up and down the gate, and I knew that it was biting into my leg and it was going to chop my leg off.
The farrier basically just grabbed the gate as best he could, I don’t know how he did it, and lifted the horse and the gate up and I dragged myself out and the horse sort of tipped its balance and got its front legs on the ground and then sort of went off like a mad thing.
I ended up with a broken leg, but that was the minimal thing. I ended up with a crushing injury and I had to have a skin graft and I couldn’t walk for four months, because they kept telling me I was 51 old woman with a lower leg injury, which doesn't heal very well.
That was traumatic, but it didn't ever make me feel like I couldn't get back on a horse, I think because it didn’t happen on a horse.
I have a lot of nerve damage in that leg, and it was a struggle when I first got back on, but over time it's, it's come good.
Then 10 weeks ago I had a stupid incident where the horse fell over on top of me and fractured my sacrum in two places. Just a stupid decision, riding on a bad day, just slipped and plopped down.
We weren't going fast, but the fracture on the left of my sacrum is like in the left leg. So that leg is a bit weak and it's, it's just causing it me to feel like I'm going to have to go and do a bit of work on this left leg because now I'm back in the saddle, I'm still not riding quite as well.
The main story is when I was riding my special horse that I bought in retail therapy after the farm accident. I bought him as an 18 month old to sort of have something to look forward to. And I've had him ever since. I started him myself and I'd been riding him for three or four years. He'd never, ever done anything. I loved him. He’s my heart horse.
I was riding him on the arena and I remember I was doing 20 minute circles in canter. Then, I don't have any inclination as to what happened, but my next memory is being sort of in the saddle going at 120,000 miles an hour. I thought, this is not good, I'm getting out of here. So I let go and I hit the dirt and I think I got knocked out again. I smashed my arm into 16 different pieces.
So that injury, that accident knocked me.
I've been riding since I was seven, I've been a rider that has taken other people's difficult horses, I ride very confidently and strongly. That accident, it nearly finished me. I thought, can I do this again?
What I ended up with was a shattered arm with all this medial nerve damage. I had no sensation in my thumb, my first finger, my second finger and half of my third finger. So my hand was just like a claw for months and pain, nerve pain. And nerve pain is crap, it’s really debilitating.
I had this feeling of a bit like a romantic relationship had been completely torn apart. The trust I had in this horse was completely broken and I just thought, I don't think I can do this anymore. He broke my spirit.
It was awful.
I'm a very independent person. I live on my own. I'm 61. I've had a lot of support from my mother, but not from anybody else. And I had to ask for help. I had to ask for serious help.
Physically I started to get bit better, but it took a long time, months and months and months. My hands started to get feel back in them again. I started to feel a bit better and I thought, oh, maybe I overreacting. So I did a few things. I joined Tristan Tucker's group which really helped me reconnect with the horses.
I learned in that time was if I was going to get back on, I needed more help. I couldn't do it again on my own. I used to break in on my own, but I just thought, I just can't do this. This is too much. So I fortunately had connected with a family whose father was an amazing horseman, and he very kindly offered to come and work all my four horses at my place.
Not only am I very independent, I'm a control freak and I'm the only one that's ever ridden any of my horses. But I am the sort of person that once I make my mind up, I sort of say – right, we're going to follow this through to the end. I'm not going to interfere. He was amazing, he was so respectful. He was humble. He treated every horse like it was going to kill him. He was thorough. The one I came off, I'd say that he's completely reprogrammed that horse.
He rode them all and he said they're all fine, so I thought, okay, and I got back on after he finished. So I rode them a bit with him. After he left, I, some strategies were that I spent a lot of time in my round yard. If I had a few days off, I went back to the round yard.
Then, when I felt like I was riding and not just sitting on them, I thought I need some more help. Help became my big thing. Wow. Once I embraced it, I thought, oh, I'm going to get all this help. I said to myself – why didn't I get all this help years ago?
So I had an amazing coach, she'd been my coach for 15 years, but she lived on the other side of the border. We were in COVID, and she wasn't in a position to be able to come to me. I couldn't float cause I couldn't lift the tailboard. So I contacted a really lovely woman who's a very high-level judge that lives very close to me, and she was prepared to come to my place, and be a bit more of extra support for me. That really helped, because I felt like I needed that bit of support to start putting a bit of pressure on the horses.
One thing that I think my takeaway is from all of this is that to get back in the saddle, we must make a commitment to keep turning up. I spent so many days riding in the round yard thinking – I'm not making any progress. But if you just keep turning up, you keep getting on, even if you can only walk, you’ve just got to keep doing it. The journey seems endless, but my message to anybody who's going through it is, you've just got to keep turning up, keep getting on, keep doing what you can do, and be patient.