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My Riding Accident & My Journey Back to Confidence

Cheryl Fryer
(Photo Credit: Robert E Wilson)

(NOTE: This testimonial is adapted from a Facebook note originally published Tuesday, July 10, 2012. This rider asked us to share her story on our Headsmart Testimonials in hopes that it would encourage more riders to wear a helmet. We gladly agreed.)

It was a bright sunny day on Saturday September 6th 2008. I was meeting friends at our local annual Rodeo at noon, and decided to stop by and go for a quick ride on my mare beforehand. She had just come back from 4 months of reining and trail training and I had been riding her quite a bit during that time. Just the weekend before, her and I spent a wonderful long weekend bonding at a retreat for women and their horses that was hosted by a friend. I had owned her for a year and a half at that point and I was so excited about our future together. She was a gorgeous dark buckskin with a white stripe and snip. The prettiest horse I had ever seen.

I went to Sheldon's place where I kept her, got her out of the pasture and tacked her up. I lunged her as I always did. Her ground manners were impeccable. I could get her to do anything for me on the ground. She was light, sensitive and very responsive. I got on her and was about to head out and realized that I didn’t have my riding helmet on, I only had on my ball cap. I remember saying to myself “ I don’t need it today – she was perfect last weekend” and “we’re only going to ride in the next pasture – what can happen”. I decided to get off her and put my helmet on anyways, then proceeded to the empty pasture to ride.

We had just started out on our ride and had circled the perimeter of the 1 acre pasture. We were passing the exit gate and turned to head down the center of the pasture (away from the gate) when suddenly she bolted. I couldn’t get her under control and the one rein stop didn’t work. She came to a sliding stop at the far side fence. I relaxed and was planning on getting off her when she spun around and bolted again down the length of the pasture. Because I had relaxed, I lost my balance and was hanging over her right side holding onto the saddle with my left arm. I couldn’t pull myself up.

She was at a full run, when she ran right out of the pasture. I hit the corner fence post with my body. When I came to, I realized I was hurt bad and was at least 20 feet away from where I hit. The first thing I looked for was my cellphone which I always kept in by bra when I rode, but it was nowhere to be found. I managed to crawl over to the fence and reached for a rail with my arms, but only one arm was reaching for it. It was the weirdest feeling. I could feel my right arm reaching for the fence, but I couldn’t see it reaching. I then realized that it was broken. I got up and my right arm was dangling beside me. OK, I’m alone - no time to panic. By this time, she was calmly eating grass beside the pasture she was kept in, so I took off her saddle and bridle with my one good arm and opened the gate to the pasture to let her in. I then proceeded to the house.

When I got in the house I immediately called 911. I told the operator what had happened and where I was and she dispatched an ambulance. She also contacted Sheldon who was at work 2 miles away, then stayed on the line with me. I felt like I was going to pass out again and sat on the floor. Sheldon showed up and sat on the floor holding me up in a sitting position and talked to the 911 operator until the ambulance came. The next while is a blur but I remember the first responders there and the ambulance attendants working on me, securing my arm and neck and being carried via stretcher to the ambulance.

I remember hearing lots of voices (I found out later that a crowd had gathered in the yard). I remember the paramedic leaning over me saying "stay with me, stay awake". They took me to the nearest town’s hospital for x-rays. They put me on morphine, as the pain was unbearable by this time as the adrenalin had worn off. The doctor looked at the x-rays and immediately transferred me to the trauma ward at the Health Sciences Center in Winnipeg. A full body CT Scan revealed a very badly broken right arm, 8 broken ribs (all on my right side), a fractured sternum, a fractured vertebrae in my spine, bruising on my kidney and lung. I also had whiplash, concussion and a torn rotator cuff. The back of my head was badly swollen and my entire body was bruised. My face, neck and ear were cut up and bleeding. My arm required surgery to have an 8” plate and screws put in. The surgeon said he only sees splintered bones like that in high speed car accidents. My accident was a high speed collision, but with a corner fence post that didn’t budge. The accident has left me with permanent nerve damage in my lower right arm and a horrendous scar on my upper right arm. My helmet was cracked and my head was so badly swollen, I don’t think I would have recovered from the damage my head would have received if it was not protected. I got off my mare to put my brain bucket on. I trusted my gut instinct. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this story. I tell everyone that my helmet saved my life. I truly believe that.

I was back home in 4 weeks and back on that same mare a month after that in November. I needed help to get on her and I just walked in the round pen for a couple minutes with my boyfriend there. Somehow I knew if I didn’t get on her, I would never ride again. That was the last time I rode her. She was sold at Christmas time 2008. I spent the next year recovering and searching to find a horse that would be good for my non-existent confidence, and finally found Tucker (an ex-roping & ranch horse). He is just what I needed, a horse that a beginner rider child can ride and be safe on.

I found a fantastic coach in the spring of 2011 to help me gain my confidence back, and trailered Tucker to his place almost every weekend until fall. Unfortunately my coach, Rick Payne passed away November 18 2011. In our last lesson, Rick had me loping in the round pen, something I never thought I'd ever do again. He was a wonderful man and an incredible coach. He will be greatly missed.

Some say I’m crazy to be riding again, some say I’m brave, I just say I love horses too much to stop.

Everytime my mom hears "Cowgirls Don't Cry" on the radio she calls me to tell me she heard 'my' song again. Everytime I hear "Girls and Horses" by Templeton Thompson, I cry.

UPDATE: October 2014 Well, it's been 6 years since the accident. Alot has happened since, but the best thing, is that I found a wonderful coach, Chelsea from Diversity Horsemanship near Stonewall, MB. I've been taking weekly lessons for over 4 months now and I'm loving it. She is very supportive, encouraging and pushes me when I need it. We even started loping this past Tuesday Sept 30th and we found out that part of my problem was that I was trying to lope from a trot which is very bouncy, boundy and scary. We loped from a walk and it was very easy, smooth and not so scary I even loped at home last night. Had a bit of trouble steering Tucker who wanted to go back to his friends, but I didn't get scared and I was actually laughing. I'm having fun again riding. Poor Tucker. My walking days are over. Bring on the barrels Well, maybe not this soon, but one day.....

UPDATE: February 8 2015 Thanks to Chelsea I have now loped on 5 different horses. 2 weeks ago, I rode Winston (my 5 yr old full draft (2,400lbs))for about 45 minutes in the pasture with my new riding buddy Andie riding Dollar, and today I rode Winston bareback for about 20 minutes. I have here and there ridden Tucker bareback with just a rope on his neck, but riding Winston is a HUGE step for me. I'm very happy with my progress.

UPDATE: September 12 2015 Rode Winston for the first time out of the yard. Went on a trail ride through the fields with Andie riding Jet. OMG

UPDATE: September 26 2015 Went to my first horse show today and loped a fair bit ! Got a 6th place in Trail Challenge, 4th place in Pole Bending (51.96); 3rd place in Barrels (35.93); 3rd place in Stake Race (33.56). Had a blast and re-confirmed for me that I have the best horse ever in Tucker. He kept me safe. Boy does he ever have jets on the way home from the 3rd barrel. I was just along for the ride. Need to do more loping on him. Need to trust him more. UPDATE: October 11 2015 Went to my second horse show ever today and had a BLAST. Chelsea put on a fantastic show. Very organized. Tucker got a 1st place in Haunted Green Trail, Green Barrel Racing, 2nd place in Open Keyhole, Musical Cones, Haunted Open Trail, 3rd in Open Barrel Racing and 4th in Green Keyhole (he spooked at the flour).

UPDATE: During my 2 weeks off work between Christmas and New Years, I boarded Tucker at Diversity Horsemanship and had Chelsea put some rides on Tucker. I also road quite a bit these 2 weeks taking advantage of the heated arena. I did fall off Tucker on Dec 29th onto hard packed sand. I was riding bareback and he spooked sideways. It knocked the wind out of me and I sat there for a couple minutes before I could get up, but I dusted the sand off and got back on. Surprisingly, my confidence was not affected. After all, it wasn't Tucker's fault, blame it on the Ghost in the corner of the arena. LOL I am very happy with my decision to get Chelsea to put some time on Tucker. He is much more responsive to my leg and rein. Having Fibromyalgia, my strength has been getting worse as time goes on.

UPDATE Feb 26 2016 Went to another fun show with Tucker. I bought a new saddle and bridle and was so excited to use it. Well, the first 2 classes were a disaster. Tucker was so uncomfortable and agitated. Shaking his head and pulling at the bit. Put his old saddle and his bosal on for the afternoon classes, and he was much more comfortable but still very 'upity'. Got through the show in one piece and had fun. UPDATE June 5 2016 Tucker and I went to the Stonewall Horse show and had a blast ! We were in Barrels, Pole Bending, Keyhole, Turtle Trot and Bareback Dollar Ride (which we placed 1st). We LOPED on the way to poles and coming home. Almost loped on the way home from barrels but lost my stirrup so pulled him back. Love my boy He is my rock and takes such good care of me.

UPDATE October 23, 2016 Went to Diversity’s Haloween fun show. Tucker got first in walk trot barrels and 3rd in walk trot trail, open trail and cone bending.

UPDATE Jan 3 2017 I rode you're horse today Rick. Did you see us loping and loping? Cried all the way home. I hope you are proud of my progress. Hard to believe you’ve been gone for 5 years. I miss you.

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