‘Galloping granny’ defies expectations to ride again after breaking her neck

  • A “galloping granny” who broke her neck in a fall has sat on a horse again for the first time following 14 months of rehabilitation.

    Alvina Shiel, 70, suffered the life-changing C5/C6 spinal cord injury during a jumping lesson on her cob Troy and was initially unable to feel from her elbows down.

    She has since regained the use of her hands and some movement in her legs, enabling her to walk while supporting herself on parallel bars.

    “When I left Southmead Hospital [where she was initially sent] I went to a rehabilitation unit in Salisbury for three months and I wasn’t able to do much at all, I had no upper body strength and had to be hoisted everywhere, which I absolutely hated,” said Alvina.

    “My daughter Shelley then found me a private physio in Bristol — it’s a two-hour drive away but they have worked wonders.

    “I don’t know how far it will go but I would love to think one day I will be able to walk with crutches or a walking frame. My hands are not brilliant as they are quite weak but at least I can move them as I couldn’t at first, which was quite scary,” she added.

    The family has recently moved from Clevedon to Wales, where they now keep their three cobs Troy, Romany and Champ at home.

    Alvina has been attending a local riding club at an equine college near Camarthen, where she has been able to use their hoist to get her back in the saddle.

    “Romany has got a really good temperament and is smaller than Troy, so Shelley took him down there in August and I just had a sit on him,” Alvina said. “I went back last week and rode about four laps.”

    Alvina said that riding with limited feeling in her legs was a very different sensation to what she was used to.

    “It was a bit scary the first time, I didn’t know how I was going to get on but the second time went much better. It’s all tiny baby steps at the moment and I’ll keep going like this until I feel comfortable,” she said.

    “You have it in your head that it is something you used to be able to do but you are very dependent on other people. It’s funny not being able to feel what your legs are doing as although I do have movement, it is very patchy.”

    Alvina’s recovery has already exceeded initial expectations and she said she could continue making progress for up to seven years.

    “In Salisbury they told me point-blank I would never walk again, which was a red rag to a bull!” she said. “I have the determination — some days you feel like you just want to sit there and can’t be bothered but it doesn’t last long.”

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    Since her mum’s accident, Shelley has been riding Troy, and “doing brilliantly” in dressage with him. Alvina is hoping she will be back in the arena too at some point.

    “I’m very proud of them both,” Alvina added. “I would love to ride down that centre line again myself — so watch this space!”

    Shelley has been fundraising to buy a hoist that attaches to the side of the lorry for her mum, and they have raised about half of the £5,000 target so far.

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