Transitions: Close Call - Dressage Today

Transitions: Close Call

What appears to have been a minor fall turns out to be a narrowly averted near-fatal accident thanks to safety gear and a trip to the ER.
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Credit: Photos by Miranda Van Kol Mary Lauritsen and Rossignol-ISF

Credit: Photos by Miranda Van Kol Mary Lauritsen and Rossignol-ISF

It was a day like any other—full of horse activity. All was going smoothly with the green mare I was riding until I asked for a few steps of canter. Suddenly, all four hooves lifted straight off the ground. I was now riding a bucking bronco, the timer was running and my cowboy riding skills were meeting their demise. My time was up after a series of rears, bucks and leaps, as the mare jumped with all her strength to the left, catapulting me to the right and sending me head first into the arena’s sand footing.
My mother came running to my side. In a stubborn fashion I pushed her out of my way and plopped down on the arena bench. I was covered in sand and watched as my mom caught the young horse. “Your helmet broke,” she said as her eyes focused on my head. I unstrapped my beaten helmet and examined the side where it had completely separated from the insulation and the outer shell.

Mary’s damaged helmet

Mary’s damaged helmet

Soreness began to overtake my body as I marched to the house, defeated and frustrated. Soon my parents and I circled around the kitchen table to decide whether a trip to the hospital was necessary. I felt fine. If anything, I felt like I had a bad case of whiplash and muscle strain in my neck and shoulders. Finally, the decision was made to go to the closest emergency room—just to be sure. After all, my helmet was proof that this was not just any fall.

After hours of waiting, I was finally seen by the doctor and sent to have X-rays of my back and neck taken. I remained cavalier about the whole situation. A series of X-rays and a CT scan later, the doctor walked into the room where my mom and I were awaiting news that I thought surely would be positive. The doctor delivered first the good news: My C5 vertebra was not broken but was noticeably compressed, though he reassured us this could have been from an old injury.
All worries left me for that split second between the good news and the unexpected: I had suffered an alarming fracture at the base of my skull. I was whisked away by ambulance to one of Boston’s most reputable hospitals for a closer look at the ominous injury. Neurosurgeons and nurses once again put me through a claustrophobic CT scan, this time to be sure that there was no bleeding in my brain or spinal column. All the while, I refused to believe this was happening to me. But I was fortunate: There was no bleeding and both the fracture in my vertebra and the fracture at the base of my skull had occurred away from my spinal column and arteries.
After a life-changing 24 hours, I was back home, restricted by a neck brace. I was to stay away from driving, lifting and, most importantly, riding. The frustration of not being able to ride hit harder than I had hit the ground. I felt like part of my identity had been stolen and I feared I would never get it back.
Fortunately, I am riding again, with a new helmet and a new outlook on life. In fact, riding has never felt more like a gift. I like to believe this experience happened for a reason; a pause in my restless Young Rider life came to me as an opportunity to reflect and reevaluate my aspirations.
My helmet made the outcome of this fall different than it could have been. When the neurosurgeon was asked, “What would have happened if she was not wearing a helmet?” he replied, “The damage you see to that helmet is what would have happened to her head.”
Though unfortunate, this accident, like those that happen every day, was a wake-up call unlike any other.

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