Suzanna Hext’s road to recovery: progress plus tough decisions

  • Suzanna was competing at 2-star level eventing before an accident while riding a young horse at home in 2012 changed her life.

    I’ve certainly been making the most of the lovely weather. I’ve even had my legs out, which is a novelty as I normally have jodhpurs on 24/7. Over the last 2 summers I have managed to perfect my tan!

    Badminton Horse Trials was not so fortunate on the weather front. I curled up in front of the TV at home and watched 6 hours of cross-country on the red button on the Saturday. The course certainly proved to be a testing track, which has potentially given competitors a bit of a shake-up. Do we think this has raised the bar and put Badminton back to how it used to be — far from a dressage competition and more the pinnacle of eventing?

    Making progress

    I’m now back to typing with 2 hands! My shoulder is progressing really well after my most recent operation, and is on schedule in terms of what I can do with it and how it’s feeling, which is fantastic. Instead of having to be back in the wheelchair for 10 weeks as the surgeon first told me, it is now hopefully only 6 weeks in the chair until I can get back on my crutches again. I am counting down the weeks.

    Taking a bit of a step back over the last few weeks has been pretty tough, purely because I had only just got some of my independence back through being on crutches and able to drive. I have always found it difficult to accept that I need help, so going back to needing more help has been frustrating. I think this comes from being such an independent person.

    Being used as a sheepdog — my brother's (Jamie) comment was "That will do Suz, that'll do!!" off the film Babe

    Being used as a sheepdog — my brother’s (Jamie) comment was “That will do Suz, that’ll do!!” from the film Babe

    My accident shattered my self-confidence initially and I hate how I look and feel in a wheelchair ­— it’s just not me. I’ve been through a turmoil of emotions and asked myself a lot of questions that I will never know the answer to… why me, what if etc.

    My life has changed and I just need to refocus and reroute onto a slightly different path, and thank goodness I can actually do that. I still have so many choices and such huge support. Ultimately, I can’t change what happened, so as the saying goes “one life, one chance, live it.”

    I have been extremely lucky to have endless support from my incredible friends since my accident and have recently had lots of friends making trips to see me and keep me sane.

    Dreaming of being back on a horse — Amanda and I riding on the beach

    Dreaming of being back on a horse — My friend Amanda and I riding on the beach before my accident in 2012

    Bionic battery pack

    Before Christmas last year, I had a Spinal Cord Stimulator (SCS) implanted to try and help the debilitating nerve pain that I have. It’s been a complete Godsend, and so have the team at the John Radcliffe Hospital (especially Liz Moir, Jane Quinlan and Professor Aziz).

    The SCS uses a piece of equipment that is surgically implanted under your skin. The system sends mild electrical impulses to your spinal cord and blocks pain signals from travelling to your brain. The tiny electrical impulses are sent via a lead implanted into the spine and are powered by a battery which is implanted under the skin. Crazy stuff!

    While I was in hospital last year, the team decided it would be a good idea to see what I was really made of and put me through an opiate detox programme. I certainly wondered on a number of occasions why I had actually signed the consent form to go ahead!

    The withdrawals were truly horrendous and I experienced stomach cramps, grabbing the side rails, dripping in sweat while freezing cold, being sick and feeling irritated! But I’m so glad I followed it through as I can now think straight and am no longer in my own little bubble the whole time. I didn’t realise how much the painkilling drugs had a hold on me until I stopped taking them!

    Decision time

    Having to make decisions about my horses is something that I find extremely hard. Although I am now at a stage where I at least know I will have a future in riding, it may not necessarily be on some of the horses that we have at home.

    I have started having a sort out and Milly has gone to my great friend — international event rider Tamsyn Hutchins — to be sold. Milly is a 15.2hh 5-yr-old mare by OBOS Quality, out of a Kings Master mare. I would love to keep her as she is seriously smart, but she is the right age to go on and start competing. I will keep you updated on her progress and how I get on with the other horses.

    Air Ambulance food for thought

    The service that the air ambulance provides is invaluable and we couldn’t be without it, especially in the sport that we are in.

    I have been air-lifted twice, once back in 2003 by the Cornwall’s Air Ambulance and then again in 2012 by the Thames Valley and Chiltern Air Ambulance. The Thames Valley and Chiltern Air Ambulance have been extremely supportive and the team were completely incredible. I can’t thank them enough. They rely on charity, fundraising and volunteering and I really want to give something back.

    Thames Valley and Chiltern Air Ambulance

    Thames Valley and Chiltern Air Ambulance

    Ultimately, I want to try to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and do the London Marathon for the Thames Valley and Chiltern Air Ambulance. However, I am trying to think of ideas for other fun, unique fundraising events that I can do now. I thought of a “crutchathon”, getting able-bodied people on crutches and having a race or tackling an obstacle course. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated! Let me know what you think below…


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