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“I’m pretty sure the only reason I wasn’t killed was because I was wearing my helmet,” said Megan Richman (not pictured). “I’m lucky that I was wearing it because the train pretty much cracked it into eight different pieces.”

There are some decisions you look back on and wonder what would have happened had you chosen a different option. For 26-year-old Megan, she’s gone through all the “what ifs” and “should haves” repeatedly the past two months. But things remain the same — she’s still alive.

On the evening of 10 June, Megan had just finished her small animal emergency rotation at the University of California at Davis’s School of Veterinary Medicine when she decided to go for a ride on her 19-year-old Arabian, Red. She also took her young Irish Setter, Sunny, with her, as always, to help get some energy out of her.

“I was debating on whether I should ride or not because I had clinics the next morning, but I pretty much decided I would go for a short ride,” said Megan. “So, I tacked up and hit the trail.”

Shortly before that day, her father, himself a small animal vet based in Highland Heights, Ohio, had given Megan a lecture about wearing her helmet.

“My dad had just lectured me a month before about how much my brain was worth and how much they’re paying for education and how I needed to wear my helmet, even if I was going for a short ride,” she recalled. “He reminded me how expensive everything is, and I was like, ‘Okay, that’s kind-of true.’”

She made the decision to put on her Troxel helmet before she got onto Red to begin their ride.

There are a few different trails (hacking routes) that leave from the livery yard Megan keeps her horse at in Davis, California, so she chose the one that headed towards a sunflower field… and a set of railway tracks. It was 7pm on a Sunday, so Megan figured the trains had finished running for the day. She had ridden this route before, and knew how you had to climb up the trail to get onto a road near the tracks. She also knew the trains were used to horses and riders alongside, so she felt comfortable with this route.

She made the decision to ride along the railway tracks for a prettier view.

All was normal until Sunny, the young dog, took off after something Megan hadn’t seen. Sunny started running up the road and onto the tracks. Knowing that her horse had osteoarthritis, she knew he couldn’t handle the rough terrain of the road at a pace faster than a trot, so she decided to tie him to a gate at the top of the road and took off on foot for Sunny.

The road starts off straight in one direction, then turns perpendicular towards the pair of railway tracks. On one set, coming in her direction, was a passenger train. In the distance, she could hear another train coming from the opposite direction. As she struggled to catch up with Sunny, she started waving down the driver of the passenger train. Sunny continued onto a short bridge, and Megan continued after her, determined not to let her dog get hit.

“My dog was not listening. I’m not sure if she was chasing something or what was going on, but she just kept running,” said Megan. The passenger train driver continued to blow his horn at Megan, though she’s not sure if he ever saw Sunny.

Sprinting as far to the side of the bridge from the track as possible, Megan had almost grabbed the lead rope she had clipped to Sunny’s collar when the train clipped her.

“I didn’t grab my dog in time,” she said. “I was two steps away from her…”

When the train hit Megan’s left arm, she fell face forward, into the gravel that supported the train tracks. “My left eye was literally right next to the railroad tracks as the train was passing,” she recalled. “It was pretty horrifying. I thought I was going to die.”

Still alert, Megan rolled to her right side to get away from the track. “I didn’t hear the train hit my dog. I didn’t hear anything.”

Luckily, Sunny had jumped off to the right before the train made impact, at about the same moment the train hit Megan.

“I’m pretty sure people on the train saw me get hit because it was still daylight,” she said. “I tried to stand up, but temporarily blacked out and fell back down.”

Megan’s cracked helmet

Once Megan came to, she saw that her left arm and leg were soaked in blood. Her left olecranon (the tip of the elbow) was poking out from her skin, but she couldn’t tell what else was broken, except that her legs were fine.

Through all of this, her horse stayed where he was tied and waited for her to slowly limp back to him. Megan tried to get back on Red to ride for help — she hadn’t taken her mobile phone because she wanted to “avoid the world” during her ride. Attempting to pull herself up with her left arm on the horn of her Western saddle, Megan gasped in extreme pain and fell back down. She sat under Red and screamed for help for 15 minutes until a fisherman heard her pleas and called 911.

Upon examination at the trauma centre in Sacramento, Megan was found to have fractured her left wrist, have five separate fractures in her radius and ulna, a compound fracture of her olecranon, part of her triceps muscle torn off and a scapulae fracture, all on the left side of her body. She had a few lacerations to her left abdomen and hip area and the left side of her face was black and blue from hitting the gravel.

But the main thing that wasn’t severely injured from the accident? Her skull.

“I’m pretty sure the only reason I wasn’t killed was because I was wearing my helmet,” said Megan. “I’m lucky that I was wearing it because the train cracked it into eight different pieces. They didn’t find anything abnormal on my head CT scan.”

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Because Megan chose to wear her helmet, she continues to choose her path in life.

Now, just two months after the accident, Megan is already back to finish her last year of vet school. Her left arm is in a sling and she’s balancing physical therapy with university work and clinical rotations. She’s permanently banished Sunny from the yard, and while she still can’t ride for another month, she’s already ordered a new helmet.

“I’m incredibly lucky, I don’t know how it turned out this way that everything is okay, but I’m still alive. I’m here.”

Hundreds of tack shops in 25 countries are offering special two-day only discounts on helmets on 18-19 August for Riders4Helmets’ International Helmet Awareness Day. Visit this link to locate a participating retailer near you.

This article has been shared exclusively with Riders4Helmets by the American Quarter Horse Journal.

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