On one fateful day in September 2017, my daughter said she wanted to skip her riding lesson because she “wasn’t in the mood”. I did what most mums would do—I insisted that she went.
I told her to be fair to her coach, because every time she cancelled, lessons would be affected. Plus, she had been missing her training sessions regularly and wasn’t feeling unwell or particularly flooded with homework that day.
My daughter, who was 14 years old then and a confident rider, was practising a new move inside the training paddock when the horse suddenly bolted. It threw her out of the saddle. She landed on her back, fracturing her spine in the process.
Everything happened so suddenly and everyone was shocked because all the horses that they use for training have always been good-tempered. I heard that after it jumped, the horse simply stepped aside as if nothing happened. My husband, who had accompanied my daughter to her lesson, witnessed it all and was badly shaken
I was getting ready for a family dinner when the call from my husband came. He sounded very agitated and was talking very fast. I dropped everything to rush to the hospital.
An overwhelming sense of guilt hit me. I kept asking myself how could I be such an ignoring and uncaring mother. Why did I insist that she go for her lesson?
On the other hand, I kept wondering if an accident was truly meant to happen that day. Would something even worse have happened?
At the emergency room, doctors scrambled to pinpoint the exact location of her fractures and ran tests to assess if she still had sensations in her lower limbs.
Scans showed that my daughter had suffered a compression fracture and several hairline fractures in her vertebrae, which acts as a support column to hold up the spine.
My heart sank when I saw my daughter on the stretcher, still in her riding gear. Dehydrated and in immense pain, she sobbed throughout the entire ordeal. She couldn’t move or cry out loud because that would hurt further. She simply lay there, with tears streaming down.
One of my first thoughts was whether she could ever walk again.
Fortunately, the doctors told us not to worry. The injury would not be life-threatening and she would be able to walk eventually. But if the fracture had been one level lower, she could have been paralysed
My daughter spent four days in the intensive care unit and wore a back brace for two months.
For the formerly-active and fit teenager, the recovery period was challenging and painful – both physically and mentally. To cope with the physical pain, she took painkillers every day.
For a long time, she could not carry or lift heavier items, such as her school bag, or climb steps. When she returned to school after three weeks, she could only carry a laptop, nothing more than 2kg. She also couldn’t undergo physical activities for a year.
But just as she seemed to be healing well from her injuries and began walking well again, the incident came back to haunt us. About eight months after the accident, she started complaining of ear pain.
We thought it was an ear-piercing issue and took her to the ENT doctor, who ran tests and advised surgery as something seemed to be moving inside her ear.
It turned out to a piece of ear cartilage that had broken off.
The doctor was bewildered. He said that the condition is usually seen in some children with congenital issues and motorbike riders who were involved in road accidents – due to the impact from the helmet pressing against the ear at the point of the accident.
When the doctor mentioned the motorbike riders and helmet, I went put two and two together. My daughter had been wearing her riding helmet when she fell from the horse.
Not only did it break her back, but the impact must have also affected her ears, too. That was when the guilt I felt came rushing back.
My daughter still experiences back pains sometimes. While she can run, sharp movements or sudden jumps, and certain yoga stretches, are out of bounds.
While the physical wounds are healing, the psychological scars seemed to have remained. I think the traumatic accident had left an indelible mark on my child.
She doesn’t like to talk about the incident. She also had anxiety for a while, but I’m not sure if it’s due to the injury and/or an accumulation of school stress. She has also given up horse-riding and has no wish to resume the activity.
Because of this accident, I cannot help but second-guess my decisions from time to time.
My daughter never blamed me for the accident, but my guilt is still there. I guess I’ll always feel like this.
So here’s what I’ve learnt from the horrific accident: if you’re encouraging their kids to take up a sport or activity, you should always check if they actually like it. If they appear reluctant to participate in the activity, try to find out the reason for the lack of enthusiasm.
Is your child truly enjoying the sport or just doing it to please you, the parent? I still believe that horse-riding is beneficial to child development and I know my daughter enjoyed the sport when she was younger. But in the months leading up to the accident, I think she was actually just going through it to please us.
In hindsight, I should have picked up subtle signals that my daughter no longer enjoyed her horse-riding lessons as much as she used to.
She would say things like, “Yeah, maybe I’ll go. You said horse-riding is a good way for me to get fresh air.” Looking back at our conversations, I should have tried to understand her viewpoint.
Parents, take it from me. Listen to your child and don’t focus only on pushing your own agenda.
Text: Young Parents