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Due to several requests I have been asked to write this article about my accident last season and my subsequent recovery. This was requested a while ago, but I have held off writing until I felt that there would be a happy ending! It’s also going to be a bit of a reflective exercise, as I am the kind of person that tries to look forward all the time and find the positives in everything – a trait that I think massively helped my rehabilitation. In fact, I had to have several discussions with friends and look back on my Facebook page to remind me what I got up to.

For those of you who don’t know what happened to me (you are obviously not on Facebook), last July I was cross-country schooling a fantastic four-year-old for an owner – one of the most talented horses I had ridden in a long time – we had finished jumping and I just wanted to walk him through the water to finish (famous last words). What happened was just a freak baby reaction to a shadow in the water and the horse bolted bronking. I had that fateful thought, “I’ve saved this, I’m staying on” but unfortunately my body didn’t think the same. My left kneecap dislocated and my femur came down and acted like a piston on the top of my tibia – crushing the base of my knee joint. This is known as a Tibial Plateau Fracture (TPF). The twisting forces also caused a big spiral fracture of the tibia – as this point my leg lost all power and I fell on my bum. Fortunately, we had gone far and fast enough to clear the water so at least I didn’t get wet! At the time I did think that I had only dislocated my kneecap, I had no idea of the damage I had done and the journey that I was about to go through to get back to strength. I was also supposed to be at Gatcombe with two horses in the British Novice Champs in two weeks, so my brain was on getting there.

X Ray of the injury
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X Ray of the injury

I was taken to Lincoln hospital, where they decided that the injury was too complicated for them and needed a knee specialist, so I was moved to Queens Medical Centre. This was I could do to speed up the healing process. I’m not very good at doing nothing – so at least it gave me a challenge. Several options came up and I was willing try anything. The first thing I did was the oxygen chamber at the MS centre at Lincoln. Several eventing friends had used this with good results for broken bones, so I was keen to try. As soon as I came off my big drugs the doctors passed me fit to drive, so a little automatic convertible was purchased so I could keep my sanity. Off to the chamber twice a week for me then and it wasn’t so bad as I was in there with Guy Martin after his Ulster GP crash – I think bikers and eventers are very similar in mentality! During this non-weight bearing period, I also caught up with all my accounts, marketed my new self-drive lorry business and got addicted to Game of Thrones, so not a total waste of time! I also invested in a wheelchair that would fit in the back of a car – used mostly to go out for lunch and a wander about with my long suffering friends. There were a few particularly memorable moments being nearly thrown out at curbs and trying to get into shops without destroying the place. I was also lucky enough to be loaned a mobility scooter – quickly nicknamed Beryl. This made a huge difference about the yard, and also meant that I could start to teach again. I got quite adept at putting jumps up and down from her. She also saved the day at Burghley – meaning that I could get about and we also put a basket on the front that doubled as a cocktail trolley. Not sure that I was totally sober for most of Burghley. It also meant though that I could do things that I would never normally have the time to do – such as watching all of the BYEH class, great to see how others presented their horses and what the current breeding trends were. This was really educational for me as I had a master plan to go and buy some nice unbroken horses as a consolation prize.

One thing that I was very grateful for was that I had good health insurance taken out many years ago to cover me in the event of accidents and hospitalisation, so this took off some of the financial pressure due to loss of earnings. One word of advice though – read the small print carefully on income protection insurance. To this day I am still fighting them for a payout! I was also very relieved that my ‘grown up’ job as a lecturer at NTU still paid me throughout, and they were brilliant at letting me get back to work gradually too. Within this time I also had a quick trip with a friend over to Ireland to look at three-yearolds. Normally this is an age group that takes too long from a commercial point of view, but I used the time to be able to buy some lovely horses that we could start from scratch. I got a fantastic Womaniser gelding on this trip. A few weeks later I went back to Gorsebridge and found a lovely Silver Banner gelding and a Shannondale Sarco gelding to play with. Exciting times came out of a bit of a rubbish accident. The next phase was partial weight bearing – to be sure that I was doing the most I could without damaging myself I booked into Oaksey House – the injured jockey centre at Lambourn. This is an amazing facility with a fantastic facilities, all geared up to deal with riders trying to get back in the saddle. There were also two people there who were paralysed; one from a riding accident, the other from a car crash. This definitely helped me to keep my injury in perspective. My days consisted of very painful physio – trying to get my leg to bend more and straighten (still working on this), a session with a personal trainer in the gym – mainly on exercise bikes at this stage and the zero-gravity treadmill. This was an amazing bit of kit! You put on what I nicknamed the Wallace and Gromit trousers, zipped yourself in and then the machine blew up so you were non-weight bearing. You then put in a percentage – I started at 10% bodyweight and then walked on a treadmill. This was fantastic to build correct walking patterns again and also to get confidence back. By the end of the week I was up to 30%. I also started to water walk in the pool and do exercises in water. The physios, as well as pulling me about and beating me up also had me working with muscle stimulators to try to build up my pathetic quads which had gone due to lack of use!

This I continued at home, sitting at night electrocuting myself. The week at Oaksey gave me a good plan to use, which I tried very hard to continue at home. I gradually started to load the leg more, with some definitely good and bad days, but tried very hard to stay positive and not get too down. I was continuing with physio and massage at home, and still do this now to try to keep improving. The partial weight bearing stage got more manageable when I was able to get down to one crutch! It’s amazing how inventive you get trying to carry things on crutches! It’s also amazing when your body is healing how tired you get and how important rest is – a very odd concept for someone who works constantly, but sometimes you just have to give in. I also at this stage changed consultants as was getting very frustrated by being seen by different ones and not being told what to expect! My new guy was great and very open with me. His best advice when I broached the subject of riding again was ok but don’t fall off. I managed to also get in a couple of holidays to hot countries with friends as well. The heat definitely did me the world of good and it was also something to look forward to. This helped pass time and boost the spirits while trying to get fit again! It’s much nicer doing pool exercises with sun on your back!! As I work at Brackenhurst, I was lucky enough to have access to their mechanical horse. This was fantastic, as when I felt that I was getting strong enough to ride, I went there to start to get my position back and also to test how my body would react to getting back on a horse. This also meant that I needed to try to fit back into my boots!! Fortunately I had a very old pair that were very stretched, even they were tight!! The first challenge was mounting – the psychological thing of loading the affected leg was daunting. But it was a huge boost to feel that I was starting to go the right way! My leg felt very painful and weak, but my rule of thumb is that pain is ok as long as it’s not a sharp pain. Rising trot was challenging as the knee was having to move and my quads were so pathetic, canter was much better. I rode in a dressage saddle for a week as with the knee straighter it was more comfortable. I then graduated to a jumping saddle. I went as often as I could and got myself to the point of being able to go up into balanced seat and canter for a few minutes. This really helped build my confidence to get back on. After approx two months of building up levels of weight bearing, I went back to Oaksey for another week to be passed fit to ride – this involved much more intensive training sessions in the gym and trying to improve my walking pattern as I would never pass a vetting. They were all very positive – unlike the NHS whose standard line is don’t ride. I also then started to go back to doing my Pilates classes, that I have done for the last 3 years. I do what’s called a reformer class – on sliding benches and this was great to try to build up strength and mobility in my leg. Ironically I discovered this class when trying to mend a groin injury! So the next step was to be brave and get back on a live one!! The story will continue next month with all the trials and tribulations of getting back on, trying to get fit, having more metalwork removed and finally getting out competing.

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