I remember half-waking up in the ICU unit of the hospital. I barely opened my eyes and saw hospital curtains and nurses standing around me. I remember the horse race crash I had two days earlier but remembered it as if it were a dream. I thought if I just closed my eyes and went back to sleep, it would have all just been a dream and everything would be back to normal. I opened my eyes to realize it wasn’t a dream. They told me I had broke my back and was paralyzed T8 incomplete.
My father’s best friend was paralyzed in a race fall and left a quadriplegic. His fall was at the Rotorua Racecourse at the 300m mark. I woke up from my fall at the Rotorua Racecourse in the exact same spot. It was so eerie. Everyone said I had such a positive attitude throughout my recovery. When I was first told I would probably never walk again, I didn’t care because I couldn’t breath myself (I broke 13 ribs which also punctured both my lungs). I knew once I let my body recover, I would worry about my legs.
Over time, my body slowly healed. I would lay in my hospital bed constantly trying to move my feet. I knew that I wouldn’t have the strength to move my legs but if I could get one of my toes to move I would be on my way. One month after my accident I moved my right toe for the first time. It only flickered one millimetre but it was enough to give me hope that I might someday walk again. Three months after coming to the Spinal Rehab Unit, I left being able to put one foot in front of another with a walking frame.
Everyone says the reason I progressed so far was because I had the right attitude, although I don’t believe that at all. I was so very lucky to be able to regain some movement and I can’t say I could have been that positive if I had never regained anything. I admire those people that can, but I guess you never know until you’re in that position.
I have a beautiful mini-dachshund who was allowed to stay in the hospital everyday with me. He was the reason I woke up every morning. I also have a Palomino paint horse who I have had since he was 2 years old. I knew even if I wasn’t able to walk again, if I could just ride my horse I would be okay with life. With my new disability I found myself craving to be “normal.” I sat on the back of my horse for the first time 5 months post-injury and it was the most normal I had felt since the fall. It was almost as though I had gone back in time.
I now ride my horse almost every day. Not only is it great for my core stability and leg strength, but it makes me feel free, as though I’m not bound by any of the limitations I encounter on the ground. When I ride my horse, I feel completely at peace. My horse becomes my legs and the world becomes my oyster.
– Instagram: @Maija_Vance