We’re taught to be respectful of horses, their physical power. We know they are prey animals who have strong instincts. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget anything can happen. We’re aware accidents happen, injuries occur, and our sport can be dangerous. On a snowy afternoon in January of 2014, Laura Dickerson was reminded accidents can and do happen.
“Roy loves snow, and he was really excited to go out,” Laura says, describing what seemed like a normal day. But Roy’s cabin fever turned into rambunctious excitement. “He pulled the lead rope through my hands, and got free,” She remembers, “and when he realized he was loose, Roy kicked out in excitement.”
Roy’s hoof connected with Laura, shattering the right side of her face. The extent of her injuries didn’t stop there.
“The traverse ligament in my neck was stretched. My first and second cervical vertebrae were misaligned. Numerous teeth were broken or misaligned too,” Laura describes, listing the extent of her injuries after the accident. After spending more than 12 hours in the emergency room, Laura was admitted to the hospital and underwent surgery for over 6 hours to reconstruct her face and mouth. However, there was nothing to be done about her neck.
Even after surgery, the road to recovery certainly wasn’t easy. Laura spent a week in the hospital and was unable to leave the house for over a month after going home for recovery. When she was finally able to venture out, Laura spent half-days at school while frequenting the dentist weekly for dental reconstruction. It took nearly four months for Laura to be able to remove her neck brace.
The nature of Laura’s physical injuries made her equestrian future unclear. The seriousness of her neck injury meant Laura wasn’t able to ride until over a year later. When it was time to mount up again, her injuries forced her to take stronger precautions, limiting the activities Laura could do on a horse. Laura and her trainer, family, and doctors decided she would no longer jump.
Mental recovery was the next obstacle as Laura was reintroduced to the barn. “My logical thinking couldn’t always override my instincts. I was nervous the first few times I was around horses,” Laura remembers. Regardless of the extent of her physical injuries and the difficulties of recovering from trauma, Laura doesn’t blame her horse one bit. She was able to compartmentalize the accident, acknowledging, “I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Needless to say, her riding career began to take a new shape with new goals despite the setbacks she experienced due to her accident. Laura set her sights on a new discipline. Almost two and a half years later, she was back in the show ring. “I started showing my family’s hunter horse, Cody, in some Quarter Horse shows. Anyone could show at the Level 1 Championships in Raleigh in 2016, so I went in for fun. We ended up winning out of 80 people!”
New goals, new horses, and different disciplines don’t take away from the work Laura puts in with Roy. The two still work together, but only in the dressage ring now. Prior to the accident, Laura planned on getting her USDF Bronze Medal with her partner. The accident put that goal on pause, however this year the pair saw this dream become a reality. Laura says, “even though the accident was quite the setback, I was finally able to accomplish that this summer.”
While Laura may be able to recognize the ordeal as an accident, her friends and family had trouble. “My non-horsey friends were definitely under the impression horses are extremely dangerous. I think, though, it has helped put some of their fears at ease because I kept riding,” Laura describes. She endures the lasting effects of her injuries from the accident, but so do her family and friends.
Fortunately, Laura’s horsey-family supported her return to the barn and the show ring. “My family and horse-friends understood it was an accident, but it made them more aware anything really can happen.”