Suzanna Hext’s road to recovery: mind-blowing progress at Oaksey House

  • Suzanna was competing at 2-star level eventing before an accident while riding a young horse at home in 2012 changed her life.

    This week I’m writing my blog in the midst of an intensive spell of rehabilitation at the wonderful Oaksey House.

    I am finding that keeping my concentration and actually putting pen to paper seems to be more difficult. This is not because I don’t have a whole heap of exciting news to spill, but because my brain is a jumble of goals. There are things I need to remember from my sessions and I am looking forward to the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ that is becoming ever more apparent, day by day.

    My head tends to spin out of control and I have the feeling of excitement whirling in my stomach looking forward to the future I’ve got ahead of me. I love this feeling… although I think my leg is still less convinced!

    Anything is possible

    My two weeks at Oaksey House seem to have been a bit of a whirlwind. It’s going so quickly, I wish I could live up here forever with the fantastic facilities and expertise around me. It has an 11700fa19e19494c8c7d45381ebd66e1incredible vibe, with an attitude that basically means nothing is impossible if you want it badly enough.

    I obviously didn’t want pasta badly enough on my second night…I couldn’t turn the hob on and was too scared to ask at that point! I thought I was going mad. Luckily a gym conversation the next morning lead onto what I had for supper last night and explaining my conundrum!

    I now know that you have to fill a saucepan and put it on the hob before it will turn on and stay on. Who’d of thought it! Nevertheless, my nickname is now Hobby, thanks to Rob Treviss. This doesn’t bode well in my stepping stone to going back to work!

    Life at Oaksey

    A jam-packed day at Oaksey generally comprises of a gym session in the morning, in which I will do a session on the rowing machine, hand cycle, and bike and then an appointment with Hobbs Neurological physios. I have two of them during the day and a session on the FES bike either in-between or after. Some days include a strength and conditioning session and I always go to the gym in the evening. Needless to say it’s pretty full on!

    Oaksey House is a hive of activity during the day, with jockeys, eventers, you name it, coming in and out. I am beginning to get used to the jockeys smacking the Equicizer (practice racehorse, pictured top) whils65bf09e5758c47debd0f4c56470bd967t I am in the gym now! I got the shock of my life the first time as it is quite loud. Now it just blends into the background with the music!

    Within a week at Oaksey I had different Hobbs Neurological physios working as a team with me. They bring their different perspectives to the table and bounce ideas off one another. I mainly have Cat Hanson, and sometimes I have Nadia Lord-Zubaidi, Lizzie Paget or Nicky Ellis. There is constant co-ordination between the Hobbs physios and Mike Peacock and Rob on my progress. I definitely think I was ready for the next stage and the team here are incredible.

    I’d like to give massive thanks to the Mark Davies Injured Riders Fund for helping make the trip to Oaksey House possible.


    I have managed to far exceed my expectations during my time at Oaksey House. Changing the way in which I think about my body after my accident, not alienating my left leg and using and working with what I have is definitely the route to me making progress.

    We have tried everything once — if it works we keep going and if it doesn’t, then we try something different!

    I turned up on the first day with my left leg tucked up by my bum and now I can touch the floor with it and do an unconventional walk with very bad extensor spasms. The physios are teaching me to try to use the spasms to walk, as the large ones straighten out my leg! I can’t currently place my foot for myself yet, so the physio does that and I hop through with my right leg! We did this between two beds for support. So it’s nearly walking!

    Unfortufd79ad9ea5394c5580f1e1b2eb567e05nately, when my leg goes into the full extensor spasms my whole body goes a bit like a banana to the right. Trying to stay in alignment is the key, however, it isn’t very easy when the spasms drag you over that way and make you quite ridged. Ultimately over time it’s about breaking down and changing the pathways to the brain that are continually telling the leg to spasm.

    My sessions on the FES bike have been a great success. FES is a rehab technique in which electrical current is applied to paralysed or weakened muscles. On the first day I didn’t even get past the warm-up phase and now I’m up to 20min on the bike, in between the bike stopping due to detecting spasms!

    After the first session, Rob spoke to Cyclone and they suggested turning the stimulation up high. I have to say I was slightly apprehensive about being electrocuted even more! As my spasms increase, so does the stimulation and the feeling that my hair is going to stand on end. I have to admit I would secretly quite like to attach the pads to Rob and see how he feels about the stimulation when it rockets up!

    Strength and conditioning with Mike Peacock is structured around all-round body strength. I’ve been working on other aspects such as my upper body strength after my recent shoulder operation.

    I have also been on the horse equicizer, which is quite a bizarre feeling and much more difficult than being on a real horse! Mike has given me a huge amount of confidence and made me realise there is nothing stopping me going to the gym to continue the good work when I get home.

    BBC Spotlight

    Last week BBC Spotlight’s Janine Jansen spent the afternoon filming me during my sessions at Oaksey House to get an update on my progress. She even got some footage of the bionic leg in action! You can watch the programme below.


    A weekend out

    I’ve also enjoyed a much-needed weekend at my friends, Lucy Dickenson and Jordon Riley in Cirencester. I managed to catch up with a few other friends and went to Hartpury Horse Trials on Saturday. I also visited the yard where I had my accident to see a few people. It still to this day sends shivers down my spine when I get there.

    The trouble with going to horse trials now is that a) I want to be riding more than ever and b) I see things I need in the shops!

    I certainly stocked up on my food stores over the weekend and had a BBQ, curry and a roast to fuel me for the week ahead!

    The plan ahead

    The ultimate plan is focused towards moving forwards and reinforcing my time at Oaksey House.

    I’ve already got a lesson booked in with Mark Cunliffe on the Sunday I get back. Riding is one thing I have definitely missed whilst I have been up here — the equicizers just don’t quite cut it! Then in two weeks’ time I have got my first clinic with Pammy Hutton booked in to work towards.

    The aim is then to come back up here at the start of September for another intensive spell. In the meantime I will continue my good work with my neuro physio Gemma Berry and hydrotherapist Sue Horne in Cornwall and get a routine of going to the gym in place.


    You may like...