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‘Don’t give up on your dreams’: young rider’s determination to overcome life-changing condition

A young rider whose life was changed by a fall six months ago says she is determined to beat her condition — and wants to raise awareness about head injury.

Jordan Phelps, who has showjumped up to 1.20 level and evented to novice with her “best friend” Willy, initially thought she was not seriously hurt when she fell in a 90cm bareback showjumping event at Bury Farm in February.

Some three weeks later, she was paralysed from the waist down.

“It would be a lot easier if I didn’t remember [the fall] but I do,” Jordan told H&H. “Most nights, still, when I close my eyes, that’s what I see.”

Jordan said Willy had been off, “not quite right” since November, and came back in time for the show. The pair cleared the first two fences in fine style, but Willy stopped at the third.

Jordan fell over the front and landed on her head.

Warning: video contains scenes of serious fall

“We were a bit far off but nothing major,” Jordan said. “He’s jumped from worse places but that night, he didn’t.

“I get flashbacks, and can hear the crack of my head hitting the floor; it’s amazing I was alive, let alone conscious.

“I’m a massive drama queen and would normally have laid there but I was so embarrassed, I thought ‘get up and get out of here’.”

Jordan was checked by a paramedic, and told to go home and rest. She believes now she was in shock, as her head did not hurt until some 40 minutes later.

Her boyfriend drove her to hospital, while Bury Farm took Willy in for the night, and again, Jordan was told she was not seriously hurt.

“I’ve got very little memory of the next two weeks,” Jordan said. “I was doing strange things; putting the horses in each other’s stables and the wrong rugs; I have no idea what I was doing for those two weeks.”

Then, Jordan woke up, hours after she had gone home, at the bottom of her stairs with no feeling in her legs.

She spent five days in hospital, where doctors were baffled as to the cause of her symptoms, and was sent home just before lockdown.

“A week later, I was paralysed from the waist down,” Jordan said, adding that on her return to hospital, she was given her diagnosis, of functional neurological disorder (FND).

“There’s no structural damage but for some reason, my brain isn’t communicating properly with the rest of my body,” Jordan explained. “It’s caused by trauma to the head or brain; it just throws everything off.

“It’s now a case of learning to manage the symptoms as there’s no cure for the brain’s misfiring.”

Jordan was offered no treatment until she started experiencing seizures relating to the condition in April.

She has now spent three weeks in hospital, having physio and other therapy and learning how to manage her symptoms; she had been struggling with speech and cognition, as well as walking, memory loss and chronic pain.

“Hopefully, my brain will adapt to my new way of walking and it’ll become normal,” Jordan said.

Jordan has ridden since the accident, although she said it was far more difficult for her body to get on Willy than other horses, but has not been able to do much.

But her hope was that her very quiet six-year-old would be the one to allow her to get back on board when she left hospital this weekend.

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“I plan on going straight to ride on the way home, to see how much the treatment has helped,” she said, adding that she has learned fatigue management skills, which she hopes will allow her to plan her rides for the strongest parts of her day.

“I am determined not to be beaten by FND,” she said, adding that she has started a Facebook page in hopes of raising awareness of her condition, and that she also wants to raise awareness of the impact of head injuries.

“Hindsight is brilliant but two days after the fall, I was back at work, then three days off and I was back at work again,” she said.

“Maybe if I’d had longer off, it might not have developed into the FND; it can be linked to PTSD and not having time to recover, so maybe if it had had time, my brain wouldn’t have gone into this self-defence mode.

“I was as guilty as anyone of falling off, getting concussed and getting back on and I’d definitely take it slower in future.”

And Jordan added that she has hopes for better in future.

“ I don’t want to be in a wheelchair; there’s nothing actually wrong with my body and I just need to convince my brain,” she said. “The quicker I can get back to more normal, I think that’s the best chance I’ve got.

“I want to get my life back, and get back in the ring as soon as possible, and because there’s no treatment, I think a positive attitude is the only way to get over it.

“Never give up on your dreams, if you put your mind to it, anything is possible.”

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