‘I’m so proud’: teenager and pony who both suffered spinal damage fight back to ride together again

  • A rider who suffered a spinal stroke aged 13 – whose pony also suffered spinal damage in a freak accident – is sharing her story to raise awareness, and help others.

    Liane Chard told H&H her daughter Summer was a happy, healthy teenager, who lived for riding her pony Cindy, when she woke to find herself paralysed last March. Doctors could not tell her how much, if any, movement she would regain but thanks to the determination of Summer, and Cindy after her own fall, the pair are back together and making good progress.

    “A lot of Summer’s story is based around Cindy and without her, I don’t think she would have got out of her bed,” Liane said. “I’m so proud of them both.”

    Liane said Summer’s first symptoms were dizziness and pain in her hands.

    “She went to bed and when she woke up, that was it; she was paralysed from the waist to the neck,” she said. “We didn’t know what was going on.”

    Summer went to hospital, where doctors diagnosed with transverse myelitis, inflammation on both sides of the spinal cord. She was put on intravenous steroids to reduce the inflammation.

    But after a week with no improvement, she was sent to the John Radcliffe Hospital, where doctors found she had suffered a spinal stroke.

    “For whatever reason, her spinal column had been starved of oxygen, which caused the damage,” Liane said. “The doctors didn’t know if she’d be able to walk or ride again. All she wanted to know was when she could ride but they couldn’t tell her, and she said even if she couldn’t move her arms, she’d seen people riding with their mouths and she said that’s what she’d do too. I thought ‘oh my god’, but that’s what she said every day. Summer never once gave up hope. We plastered her ward with pictures of Cindy and she said ‘Mum, I’m going to ride her again’.”

    After four weeks in hospital, Summer was allowed home, where she and Liane decided that the community physiotherapy was not enough.

    “I’d take her to the stables for three hours a day and she’d use the clip on a headcollar to get her thumbs moving,” Liane said. “She’d say ‘Me and Cindy can do this’, and Cindy would just stand there with her. The damage had been done but it was whether she had the strength to make new nerve pathways, rather than just lying there; it was all down to her and her determination as to whether she could regain movement.”

    Slowly, Summer regained some movement, practising and repeating over and over again to make progress – and managed to get back in the saddle.

    “Then Cindy had a freak accident,” Liane said. “We were going for a ride and as she came out of the trailer, she spooked and got her back caught under the bar and went down.

    “She was down for four hours; the vet said at last that if she didn’t stand up on one last try, we would have to put her down. I don’t know how she got up but she did. They call her a little miracle at the vets.”

    Cindy spent 13 days in hospital, where it was found she had also suffered damage to her spinal cord, which affected her back legs.

    “That was in December and she couldn’t be ridden till four weeks ago,” Liane said. “I’ve seen a massive decline in Summer’s rehab in that time; I think she was struggling because Cindy couldn’t be ridden, but then she got the all-clear and they’re in therapy together.”

    Liane said both Summer and Cindy both have physio and stimulation therapy, and both are making progress.

    “It’s insane,” she said. “Summer said her whole world had been lost and she didn’t have anything to get up for without Cindy. She has dreams where she can move, then wakes up and life isn’t like that but when she goes to the stables, it all goes away.”

    Liane said her daughter has been an inspiration to her from the start.

    “If you’ve got a passion and that’s taken away or someone says you can’t do it, it’s showing them you can,” she said.

    “We went on holiday and her brother said she couldn’t play shuffleboard and I said it was ok, she’d find a way, and she did. She does. Even when she was paralysed, she’d ask why I was crying and I’d say ‘Because I don’t want this for you’, and she’d say ‘It’s ok, I’m alive’. How does a 13-year-old have such a positive mindset?”

    There is still a way to go, for both Cindy and Summer, and no one knows exactly how much movement Summer will regain.

    “But with Summer’s determination; she says ‘If this is me now, I’m happy’; she feels she can do everything she used to, so what’s the difference?” Liane said. “The vet has signed Cindy off and we hope by building up the muscle, she’ll be able to do more and hopefully they’ll be back doing what they used to.

    “I used to say if I was in her shoes I’d be done but she’s so resilient, and she wants to show other children that if things are bad, don’t give up; just because things are hard now, it doesn’t mean they always will be. She wants to share her story, not hide from it.

    “Things happen for a reason and I think whatever the reason was for this, it will make her stronger and she will have a great life, whatever she does. These experiences make you a better person if you come out the other side, and I think that’s what’s happened to Summer.”

    Do you know an inspirational rider? Let us know at hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and country, for the chance for your letter to appear in a forthcoming issue of the magazine

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