Friends of an equine-facilitated therapy practitioner who suffered life-changing injuries in a fall are raising funds to reunite her with her pony two years after her accident.
Helena Wilkinson, a psychotherapist who specialises in eating disorders, fell on concrete when her Connemara pony Sweetie was spooked and bucked while hacking near her home in Gower, Wales on 16 July 2019.
She suffered four bleeds to the brain, including a subarachnoid haemorrhage, and broke her spine, pelvis and shoulder.
After her accident, Sweetie was initially cared for by friends but a longer-term solution had to be found and he was moved to Devon so he could carry on his therapy work with another practitioner.
Now many of her former patients are among those trying to pay back the support she has given them and provide assisted livery for Sweetie near her home, so she can begin the process of returning to work.
“With the injuries she sustained, she wasn’t expected to survive,” said her friend of 20 years Rachel Kiley, who was riding with her when the accident happened. “She is an incredibly determined lady and she has done brilliantly.
“She is still living with quite a lot of neurological issues and nerve damage, is in constant pain and has pins and needles, but now she is walking again and with support around her, we’re hoping we can move Sweetie to a new livery yard where she will be capable of managing him.
“She’s desperate to get back into her work and it will give her some focus and purpose.”
Rachel, who lives in Eastbourne, East Sussex, recounted the day of the accident and how it was instantly clear that Helena was seriously hurt.
“I’d had a few days staying with her on holiday and it was our final ride before I was due to head home,” she said.
“I was riding a Welshie and she swung her bottom into a bush and a loose branch caught in her tail, causing her to freak and bolt.
“I managed to swing her round and did an emergency dismount to get the branch out of her tail but she ran through my hands back towards the other horses. There were four of us out and two turned and bolted up a narrow, concrete lane. Sweetie panicked and bucked and Helena came off and was immediately out cold.”
Rachel waited with Helena while the air ambulance arrived, while the other riders took the horses home.
“She was completely unresponsive and I knew from her angle that she had hit her head. The call handler implemented critical care right away and was coaching me on keeping her airway open,” she said.
“The air ambulance response was amazing and they got her to hospital very fast, it was a journey that would have taken two hours by road.”
Helena spent a few weeks in hospital in Cardiff before moving to a unit in Port Talbot that specialises in rehabilitation. She was able to leave there in January 2020 after adaptations were made to her home.
Sweetie was retired after her fall as a historic break to his neck was found on investigation.
“No one knew about it, not the old owners, no one,” Rachel said. “He was probably coping with being ridden while in an amount of pain. That pressure is completely off him now as all equine therapy work is done on ground and he’s brilliant at it.”
Helena has only been able to make the trek down to Devon to visit Sweetie three times in the past year but has now found a suitable yard for him to move back to.
“He was always at livery in a nearby village before but Helena doesn’t drive, she can’t as she is registered partially sighted, and he was on a track system. To go back there is not easy for her as there are access problems with her mobility issues,” Rachel explained.
“Sweetie is a lovely, very easy boy who doesn’t ask questions, just says ‘yes’ and it’s time for her now to rekindle that connection.”
Helena, a published author on anorexia who had been running a retreat in Gower, has been unable to work since the accident so Rachel is aiming to raise £3,500 to facilitate the transition to her caring for Sweetie again. Donations so far are able to cover the costs of transporting him home.
“It’s been lovely to hear from the people coming forward, talking about what Helena and Sweetie have done for them, what they meant to them and the way their lives have been impacted. She’s a lady who has done so much,” Helena added.
Donations can be made to the GoFundMe page.
Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.