Four-star event rider Nana Dalton has revealed that she has been struggling for months with the lasting effects of a head injury that occurred in late April.
Nana shared her experience on her Nana Dalton Eventing facebook page to raise awareness of how debilitating even a ‘mild’ head injury can be and to give others an insight into her concussion after having taken solace in hearing about other people’s similar experiences.
She has stood herself down from competition for the rest of the year to give herself time to recover fully and is booked in to attend a concussion clinic in Birmingham.
“I’m not writing this to receive any form or sympathy, or any form of abuse as to how I should or shouldn’t have done things, but purely to give an insight to my experience,” she explained.
“Although not everyone will agree with what I’ve done and how I’ve done it, I have only ever tried to make the right decisions along the way and do the best I can trying to juggle everything.”
The initial injury occurred while Nana was riding a young horse in a novice section at Chilham on 29 April.
“I was warming up for the showjumping and we had a genuine misunderstanding over the approach to an oxer, resulting in an awkward jump with the horse landing on the back rail,” explained Nana. “She scooted forwards, I slipped my reins and ended up unceremoniously coming out the back door and landing on my back/shoulder blades.”
Nana instantly experienced pins and needles down her arms, and in her hands and face, but was determined not to let the seemingly innocuous fall derail her plans.
“My first thoughts were that I didn’t want it to jeopardise going to Badminton and having watched enough rugby, rationalised it as just being ‘a stinger’. Instinct took over, I jumped up, ran over to get signed ‘ok’ from the doctor and went in the ring and jumped the course of showjumps,” she said.
Signs that all was not well appeared when Nana got back to her lorry.
“Back at the lorry, my body went into shock and the realisation hit that I had indeed put our Badminton trip in jeopardy so I withdrew from the cross-country.”
Despite feeling far from her best, Nana, 39, was determined not to miss the opportunity to ride at Badminton for the second time in her career. This ambition was heightened by the fact her ride Absolut Opposition (Miley) had been suffering with soundness issues since their Badminton debut three years previously.
“With him being fit, sound, well prepared and off the waitlist, I was all the more determined to let him have his chance to shine again,” she said.
Nana successfully completed Badminton on Miley, including jumping clear across country, but once the adrenaline wore off, she felt “pretty mediocre” and so went to A&E to get checked out. Neck X-rays and a CT scan of her head came back clear, so she headed off to Chatsworth the following weekend.
“I was feeling pretty ropey and became increasingly aware that my judgement was hazy so when my number was called to go to the start box of the cross-country, I hesitated and then told them I wanted to withdraw,” she explained.
Nana described the next few months feeling like she was constantly suffering from the “worst, prolonged and most miserable hangover.” She had persistent pounding headaches, dizziness, nauseousness, was constantly tired and sensitive to light and noise.
“I’d go to bed hoping I’d just pass out so the room would stop spinning and I’d wake up feeling like I must’ve mixed all of the spirits and drunk the bar dry!” she said.
Over this period Nana sought advice and treatment from top healthcare professionals, including weekly visits to a sports concussion doctor, physio sessions including vestibular work to help with the whiplash, more MRI and CT scans, various medications and even a nerve block injection into her head with varying results.
While she knew that rest was key, it was difficult to achieve while being a single mum to her five-year-old son and running a business that relied on her riding and competing horses.
“Three months of doing nothing was very alien to me,” she explained. “Physically it wasn’t great, but mentally it was even harder – it’s easier said than done trying to rest the brain.”
While the healthcare professionals warned her that head injuries can take a very long time to recover from, they were happy for Nana to “use her common sense” as to how she felt best to proceed.
“I started at home, just riding one horse a day and then building up,” said Nana. “I did a handful of one-day events, again just starting off with just one horse a day and then did a couple in the day. My confidence was totally intact and I completely trusted my ability and instincts… and that of the horses I was riding.”
Feeling like she needed a focus in order to move on, Nana decided to enter two horses for Burghley.
“Sat at home filling in the entry form was the easy bit… but would I ever be well enough or fit enough to do the horses, the owners or myself justice? Only time would tell, but I felt I really needed a direction,” she said.
Burghley came around and while Nana described herself as feeling “emotionally very vulnerable” she felt she was feeling and functioning much better physically.
“I felt like I did the horses, their owners and myself justice and Miley had another great placing,” she explained.
But after showjumping, her emotions threatened to get the better of her once more, and she was shocked by how much the event had drained her.
“The following week, some of the original symptoms came flooding back with the booming throb of the blood pumping in my head reaching antisocial levels again and cantering making me feel very sick,” she said.
Nana headed off to Blenheim, but withdrew before the cross-country as she was “still not feeling great” and has now called time on trying to do any more competing this year.
Meet our first-timer, who juggles being a mum to her two-year-old son with running a yard and will be riding
Nana is back, only this time she will be updating us on her journey to the prestigious Burghley Horse Trials
Find out why Miley has been ruled out of Burghley giving his stable mate the chance to make his four-star
She knows that the period since the injury has been particularly challenging for everyone around her, and wishes to thank everyone for their support.
“The ramifications on those closest to me have been huge, especially dealing with the complexity of a head injury, even a relatively mild one like mine,” she said. “My family and friends have been exceptional. I have been so reliant on them and they have been unconditional in their love, help and support. I have been overwhelmed by the level of compassion, understanding and support shown.”
For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday