From a Wheelchair to the World Equestrian Center: An Average Equestrian’s Quest Through Pain

Photo courtesy of Hannah O'Bie

BY HANNAH O’BIE

If I had to pick one word to describe my life it would be ‘average’. I work at a pharmacy, change into riding clothes and grab a coffee on my way to the barn. I recently moved two OTTBs, Ricki, my 17hh nine-year-old that’s extremely goofy, and my sister’s horse, Oakley, a twelve-year-old that I have a lot of history with, to a new barn where I get the full self care experience. They taught me what it’s like to work with track horses, and I love the journey of trying to make it in the hunter world with my favorite gazelle of a horse.

Then there’s me — a 23 year old adult amateur who pays for everything myself, including a truck and trailer that I use to haul my ‘kids’ to indoors in the winter and local parks in the summer. I lesson weekly to get to the show ring, where I’ve worked hard to finally get to rated shows. Do I sound like every other go getter yet?

Photo © Alix Toler

Two weeks after our debut in that ring that I waited so long to ride in, my vet gave me the news that Ricki had a suspensory injury and would be on stall rest until spring 2019. It seemed my goals came and went just like that. While I’m fully aware such is life with horses, the goals that seemed to be in arms reach were taken far far away. And there was nothing I could do about it.

Luckily my other horse, Oakley, came back to the barn after an unexpected end of his lease. I put all my efforts into re-learning how to ride him best. He blew me away with his willingness, and we made a goal to show at the World Equestrian Center in Ohio. I worked on my flatwork and my position vigorously. I watched old videos of my lessons to review the homework my trainer gave me. I was ready. Things were back on track. 

Photo © Alix Toler

The night before Thanksgiving, I left my boyfriends house to go take care of a client’s dog. At 9:00pm, I left the apartment. Just ten minutes later, I stood in the middle of the road looking at my car, its air bag deployed and smoke filling the air, and tried to process what just had happened. 

A car ran a stop sign, and pulled out in front of me. I slammed on the brake and the clutch of my little Honda Civic, trying to turn the wheel in an attempt to not hit him. Despite my efforts, I couldn’t stop and smashed into the other car. Once mine stopped spinning, I got out and repeated Oh my god countless times. I walked to the other car and asked if the driver was okay. No response. I asked two more times, until the adrenaline wore off and I realized I couldn’t stand anymore. I sat down until a witness came and carried me to the side of the road.

My knee was wet with blood. A nurse happened to be on scene, and she cut my favorite pair of jeans to explore a laceration. Minutes later, I was in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. My biggest fear (or so I thought) was stitches. I’m petrified of needles, but after the dreaded stitches and a series of x-rays the doctor gave me news that changed my life. I broke both of my feet, and one of them would need surgery.

Not one broken foot, but two? I covered my face, and cried. The whole night felt like a joke. How could this happen to me? I had a seatbelt on, was driving the speed limit with my phone in the cup holder. My life was average. I was a determined nobody trying to make it to the top of hunter land with my horses, but I was nothing special. I had no idea how I was going to survive this setback. Only extraordinary, strong willed people could get through something like this and get back to the ring. 

Photo © Jennifer MacNeill Photography

The next few days were… different. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking it had been a dream, but when I felt the boot on my left foot I cried until I fell back asleep. I wanted to feel sorry for myself, but remembered a Boyd Martin documentary I had watched a few years back. I needed to think of myself as an adapter. Even though I was in a wheelchair, I had to figure out how to do things on my own. Building a little upper body strength never hurt anybody, especially because I knew it was what I lacked in my riding. My arms were going to get a workout at least!

While physically I was a little banged up, mentally I felt defeated when it came to the horses. Ricki was on stall rest, Oakley was once again on the back burner and I was out of commission for a long time. Man, what a group! All I did was lay around all day, looking for the silver lining in the situation. After three casts, three stitches, three pins, three different boots, one surgery, one hospital stay, one wheelchair, a set of crutches, some nerve damage and a ton of time spent trying to find my balance again, I am beyond ready to get back to normal life.

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After earning the nickname “princess” from my podiatrist from always needing to know what the next step would be and asking a million questions (Will I get a 4th cast? Will the pins hurt getting pulled out of my foot? Will I need to Ace myself for this entire process?), I finally was cleared to ride on January 17th, 2019. You best believe that two hours later I was in the car with a good friend on my way to start this long road ahead of me to get back to show shape! Oakley was a saint, and let me hack him around like he knew he had an important job to do. Man, I love that horse. I couldn’t have been more happy that day if I tried. 

I still have a long road ahead of me and my horse show dreams, but I’m fortunate to have the family I do. The help and love I received from all eleven family members (yes evelen, both my parents and 9 siblings) was overwhelming. From helping me get out of the house a few days a week to helping me learn how to stand and walk again; for that I am forever grateful. 

Photo © Alix Toler

The most important thing I’ve learned and now keep in my back pocket, is the knowledge that pain is temporary. I will get through this. I will get to show at WEC in February. I’m blessed it wasn’t worse and for that I thank God every day. The next few weeks will be very trying, but even though I’m an average equestrian… I’ve never had more drive than I do now.