The Long Road Back

After the terrible car crash, would she ever ride again?

I was on my way home from errands that afternoon when an oncoming car veered into my lane and hit me head on. My pickup landed upside-down on the highway, with me trapped inside it.

Credit: Win photo by Jim Wright, courtesy of Lynn Bates; crash photo courtesy of Lynn Bates The author with her mare and her husband; the crash that sidelined her riding.

I’d had a 50-pound bag of dog food and two cartons of eggs in the cab with me. Now the dog food was strewn all over the highway plus tangled in my hair, along with broken eggs.

That was August of 2013. Believe it or not, what I found myself thinking about as I lay in the wreckage was the end-of-August entry deadline for the Arabian Nationals. I was banged up, sure, but I figured I could bounce back and still be ready to show by the time the event rolled around in October.

Little did I know.

When the paramedics arrived, they asked if I could move my legs, and it was only then I realized I couldn’t move at all. I felt no pain until they removed the pickup’s door and pulled me out. Then I knew I was badly hurt.

In the ambulance, the EMT kept asking my name and other questions to keep me alert. All I wanted him to do was get the cell phone out of my pocket and call my husband, then give me something for the pain. He did neither.

Fixated…on Riding
My right ankle was crushed. The surgeon fitted me with an “external fixator” to stabilize it—pins through my shinbone and ankle, connected by bars running down the front of my calf. I wore that for two and a half months.

I’d also suffered a burst fracture in the vertebrae of my back. I wore a clamshell brace around my torso for three months (and still have the rods and pins they inserted to fix things).

All told, I spent five weeks in the hospital. The 2013 Nationals were out, obviously. Now the question was, would I ever heal sufficiently to ride again at all?

In May of 2014 I asked my back doctor about riding again. She said it wasn’t advisable. Then, when she saw the tears I couldn’t keep back, she relented.

“If it means that much to you,” she said, “go ahead and ride.”

Back on…Gingerly
On August 8, a year after the accident and following nine months of physical therapy, I mounted my Arabian mare Zee Princess Lena for the first time since my injuries. She’s a well-broke reiner; my trainer is my husband. He only let me walk that first day. The next day, when I insisted on loping, the muscles in my back were so weak that two laps of the round pen were all I could manage.

I continued to ride, though it was a challenge. Just walking on my own legs is painful, and every time I mount up I have to conquer the fear of getting hurt again. The reward is the ride itself, and by the time I’m ready to dismount, I feel healed.

Eventually came a stab of hope for showing again. I had to enter by the end of August for the 2014 Arabian Nationals. Plus, to compete at the Tulsa, Oklahoma, event, my mare and I had to qualify at a local show at the end of September.

‘Let’s Do This’
If I could ride well enough to qualify, I figured I’d go to the Nationals just for the fun of it, without worrying how competitive we’d be. My mare was 16 and I was 59. My thinking was, Let’s do this now, while we can.

Zee and I earned the points we needed. And, at the Nationals in October, we won our first reserve national championship in the intermediate amateur reining division. Credit for this goes to my loving family, some excellent doctors, my wonderful physical therapists—and the greatest little mare I’ve ever had the privilege to ride.

Lynn Bates lives on a small ranch in Wyandotte, Oklahoma, where her husband, Bruce, and youngest son, Dillon, train and show Arabian horses (Bates Training Center). Lynn is recovering from two additional surgeries on her ankle but hopes to be riding again soon.

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