‘I’m a bionic mermaid’: Rider back in the saddle after major spinal operation

  • A teenager who has returned to the saddle following surgery for idiopathic scoliosis wants to offer hope to other riders with the condition.

    Fifteen-year-old Rhianna Clavering struggled to find information on how the treatment would affect her ability to ride and was initially reluctant to pursue surgery to insert rods into her spine.

    But when the previously healthy teenager, who has ridden since she was four, began to suffer from compromised lung function owing to the C-shaped curvature of her spine, she decided she had no choice.

    “My mum suffers from a mini version and she receives treatment for it from a chiropractor, so she noticed when one of my shoulders began to drop and took me to see him,” Rhianna explained.

    “He referred me to a doctor, and in three years it changed from a 30-degree curvature to 75 degrees.

    “All the information the doctors had were for ballet dancers and rugby players, they’ll tell you that you can’t do contact sports any more but they didn’t have any information on flexibility for riders post-op. Not knowing just put me down all the time.”

    Rhianna gave up her loan pony, whom she had been riding at newcomers level in British Showjumping competitions, and took on a 13.2hh project cob called Sally, but wanted to delay an operation until she had brought her on further.

    “I spent two years living with the fear I could never ride again but at the end of the day I had to have the surgery to save my lung function,” she said.

    Rhianna underwent the operation at London’s Evelina hospital on 27 October last year and was allowed out of hospital after five days.

    “A lot of the information I had been reading online dated from 2010 and the operation has come on a lot since then, it used to be six months in hospital, and following surgery I didn’t even need to wear a brace,” she said.

    “They put two rods either side of my spine and then put screws in. I say I am a bionic mermaid as they use calcite from sea krill and sprinkle on top to help the bone to harden and fuse.”

    Rhianna had hoped that she would be able to get back on Sally after six weeks but after three months, some physio and work in the gym she was finally able to ride in walk.

    “At five months I started trotting and I recently had my first canter — it was great to be doing something with a bit of adrenalin again,” the West Sussex GCSE student said. “I’ve also been out to Felbridge [showground] for a dressage competition — Sally isn’t really a dressage horse but it was so nice to get back out, put the horse in the trailer, wear white jodhs and do all that stuff again.”

    Although she has taking the precaution of riding with a Racesafe body protector and air-jacket, Rhianna does not believe the condition will hold her back.

    “My plan is to sell Sally on as a Pony Club all-rounder and then move on to my next horse and hopefully get back to jumping 1.20m,” she said. “I’d love to be eventing and showjumping next season or the one after.”

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    She added that many of the post-op issues she had been warned to expect did not materialise.

    “I read that I might feel heavy all the time after surgery but I haven’t and I haven’t notices any change in my mobility — possibly because my surgery went to L2 and it tends to be further down the lumbar spine where it causes a problem,” she said.

    “I’d like other riders with scoliosis to read this and know there is hope as I just couldn’t find that information when I was looking.”

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