Becoming a para rider: An introduction

Hi there, my name’s Sallyanne and I’m a 43-year old mother to two amazing children Harry (15) and Stella (13).

I’ve decided to write a blog of my life and will tell you about my injury and journey of dreams of riding for the British dressage para team.

Back on the 10th of October 2015, my life as I knew it changed forever while attending an organised rally day with Severn Vale Riding Club.

I was enjoying riding my horse Greyhill Oublie (or Oubles, as she was known!) and the day included structured teaching in flat work, show jumping, sessions on horse health, massage and the afternoon was spent doing cross country.

At about 2.30 in the afternoon, I was a third of the way round the cross-country course. Oubles had just refused one of the fences and as I approached it again (more aggressive this time), she reared up.

Unfortunately for us, we were on a slope and she fell over backwards on top of me. I didn’t fall off and stayed sat in the saddle! Ouch. I can tell you it hurts having half a tonne horse fall on you.

It was then that I realised it wasn’t good. I was in a white tunnel and had an overwhelming feeling to go back. My children needed a mum and I didn’t want to die in a field.

My mum (who had passed away four years previously) told me to go back and be a mum. “Your children need you,” she said.

When I came round, I was lying on the floor and the pain was unbelievable. I was able to talk and tell that my friend was with me, but I needed an ambulance very quickly. It took ages for the ambulance to get there and when it arrived, everything still seemed to be going in slow motion.

I remember saying to the paramedic “please don’t cut off my Ariat boots!”

I’m a nurse of 20 years by profession, so being on the other side of healthcare was quite scary.

The Great Western Air Ambulance attended to take over and I knew things didn’t look good. I couldn’t move or feel my legs!

There were three doctors on board that day and I'll never forget the doctor named Greg, who held my hand all the way and the reassurance he gave me was amazing. Things were a little more comfortable after 15mg of IV morphine.

The last time I was in a helicopter I was in Las Vegas flying over the Grand Canyon! It wasn’t so exciting this time lying flat on a spinal board with a neck collar. Unable to move, little did I know this would be the position I would stay in for eight weeks.

On arrival at Southmead hospital, the A&E major trauma team were waiting for me. Following assessment, X-rays, MRI and lots of poking and prodding, my family were taken into the visitor’s room and given the worst news possible. I wasn’t going to die, but life was never going to be the same again.

I’d broken my back from T12-L2, and had a complete spinal cord injury at L1. I’d also broken ribs and sustained facial trauma. The broken ribs and facial trauma would heal, the broken back needed emergency surgery, but the spinal cord damage was going to leave me paralysed from the waist down forever.

The consultant neurosurgeon Mr Patel was the most amazing gentleman I’ve had the pleasure to meet and it was a shame that we had to meet in such circumstances. He did what he promised and stabilised my back.

I had an emergency seven-hour operation, which resulted in major surgery and six weeks flat bed rest. It’s very difficult to eat and drink lying flat on your back (a drastic way to lose weight, but could do to lose a few pounds!).

The next six weeks went by in a bit of a blur and I was told I’d be on the waiting list to be sent to Salisbury Spinal Unit. I spent a total of nine weeks at Southmead Hospital, by which time the physio team were sitting me up and working towards sitting me out of bed.

I actually had to learn to sit up again – I had no control and was like a weeble! I couldn’t believe what had happened to me. It was so scary being hoisted out into a wheel chair and not being able to sit.

Then I got the news I was waiting for –  a bed at Salisbury spinal unit. I was really looking forward to being transferred as the doctors and spinal nurse specialist had made it sound like utopia. After a three-hour journey on Friday 11th December, I arrived. Utopia it wasn’t. Let’s just say it was a very dark Christmas and I thank God for my amazing friends and family who kept my spirits up.

My main focus was to get home ASAP. I asked the consultant what I had to do to get out of there (but I’m not sure that went down too well!). I was promised individualised care with intense rehabilitation and I had no choice but to get on with it. Let’s just say I cried a lot.

The next 11 weeks were extremely difficult. I had to relearn how to live in a wheelchair, be independent with bladder and bowel management and try not to lose my mind.

Once I’d made some friends at the unit and we’d established a cheese and wine night, things got a little bit more bearable. The special people you meet in a place like this makes you actually appreciate what you can do and they will be friends for life – a bit like this bloody spinal injury! I can’t change it so it’s best to embrace it.

While at Salisbury, I went to Wilton RDA three times, to get my fix of smelling horses. The staff there were fantastic and really encouraging about the possibility of me riding again. I spoke to the consultant and she advised waiting for at least a year post injury, so with this in mind I had a goal.

The main aim of this blog is to describe my trials and tribulations of coping with my spinal injury and my goal of getting back up on the horse. I’ll keep you updated on the ups and downs and hope you’ll join me on this journey.  

Thanks for reading.   

Sallyanne