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The Girl with the Jumping Arabs – The Long Road Back

February was a short month, as well as a thoroughly non-horsey one! I did, however, undergo surgery for my broken collarbone and make good progress with my final year dissertation at university. Meanwhile, the horses are getting rather bored of my ineptitude and looking for entertainment elsewhere.

On 28 December last year, a freak fall left me with a broken collarbone and, after a bit of fighting, we managed to transfer my care to the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital for surgery. Finally, after 6 weeks of living with a badly broken bone, I went under the knife and now have a gorgeous metal plate holding the two ends of my right collarbone together. The experience was extremely positive and my care was exceptional – the only nerves I felt were when they were about to insert the cannula into the back of my hand and I saw the size of the needle! I was less impressed when I woke up – the anaesthetic made me sick and the morphine meant I stopped bothering to breathe – but the nurses were alert and relaxed so I didn’t feel panicked when my oxygen was whacked up. I even had a sick bowl thrown at me in time so as not to make a mess, although my neck seized up completely afterwards which was my main concern for the next few days. After the third day after surgery, I felt somewhat human again and went back to university to work on my dissertation. 


My collarbone’s new friend (c) Katherine Bertram

Although I have multiple assignments due this semester, my dissertation counts for a larger proportion of my overall degree than the comparative essay or clinical report I also have to write, so has been pulling my focus more. As I kept the university informed of my condition since the first x-ray three days after falling, I received extensions on all of my deadlines except one, the mandatory poster presentation of our dissertation projects. From 9am to 1pm I stood by a poster that I barely remember making and talking to important staff members and students about my dissertation and what on earth I managed to do to leave my arm hanging uselessly in a sling. The setting was glorious – we were located in the great hall, an iconic part of the University of Birmingham, and we were satisfied with pastries, fruit, and coffee while we waited for our designated examiner to come and mark both the quality of our poster and our presentation. My examiner approached at 9am exactly, just as I was looking through my notebook for some final facts and figures from my experiment. Somewhat rattled, I took a breath, smiled, and presented my little heart out for my 20 minute section. Although I stumbled over one of the questions – the fine details of statistical analysis aren’t my strongest point – I feel as though the presentation went well and I am hopeful for a good mark. The poster presentation only makes up a small percentage of the dissertation mark so, even if it was a train wreck, it’s hardly the end of the world! 


Getting ready to present my dissertation poster (c) Jenny Lewis

For the horses, however, my leave of absence has seemed close to the end of the world at times. This is especially true for Odin, Avonbrook Odin (Marcus Aurelius x April), who has been less than impressed with trips to Auntie Erica’s for schooling! Princess Penny, Annia Aurelia (Marcus Aurelius x Bint Zaehaebi), however has been overjoyed at the increased contact with her favourite person and has been promised a few weeks ‘finishing school with Erica just before I’m allowed to get back on her! I have also been extremely grateful for my friend Jazz who has continued to come over and ride every week since my injury – it’s been so important to keep the horses in some semblance of work in my absence so that I have a chance at a normal season in the latter half of the year! Mum has continued to pull my weight for me in the barn while I can’t muck out or give the horses their haylage on the weekends! I have been able to drag the hosepipe around and straw the beds down, but I can’t muck out until 12 weeks post surgery so I think there’ll be a bit of making up to do when I’m allowed to again! Some of the horses have been showing off their best pre-spring antics and I’ve lost track of how many times Maddie, Avonbrook Winter Queen (Marcus Aurelius x Avonbrook Summer Breeze), has been escorted off the summer grazing or out of the middle of the barn after climbing through the fence! Despite turning two-years old in March, I am already thinking of ways to keep her brain occupied when I’m back in action – namely horse agility and in-hand pole work. For now however, she is satisfied with a rubber squeaky chicken!


Maddie and Penny playing with the rubber chicken (c) Katherine Bertram

The road to recovery could be longer and I could have sustained much worse injuries, but my patience is being tried nonetheless. 1 May is penciled into my diary as 12 weeks post-surgery and I am counting down the days until then. 12 weeks is considered the minimum amount of time for the bone to heal and, as riding is considered ‘dangerous’ and falls are unpredictable, I have been urged not to compete until then. Aside from the occasional walk around on Marcus, Marcus Aurelius (Aurelian x Fiesta Magica), I am not riding until I have my surgeon’s permission – he knows how keen I am and I am sure he will let me ride as soon as my collarbone is ready! Until then, my mind has been kept off what I’m missing out on thanks to a few amazing friends. My favourite experience was going to a luxury cinema with a childhood friend to watch Oscar winning JoJo Rabbit (Taika Waititi, 2019), which has firmly cemented itself as one of my favourite films of the last decade! Good friends are priceless during times of hardship and the added stress of being a final year university student has certainly played its role. So far this injury is teaching me personal extremes in patience, adaptability, gratitude, and resilience. I am looking forward to seeing what else I can learn. 


A cheeky ride on Marcus wearing a body protector with shoulder pads under the coat (c) Rowena Bertram

Lead image: The mare herd sunbathing on the arena (c) Rowena Bertram

Katherine Bertram
Katherine Bertram is an English young rider who competes in a variety of different disciplines on her mother's homebred pure and part-bred Arabians. Having achieved advanced rider status in Endurance after her first season at age 14 on Marcus Aurelius (Aurelian x Fiesta Magica), Katherine turned her attention to showjumping with his progeny, at which she currently competes at Senior Newcomers (1.10). As well as also delving into showing, eventing and, occasionally, dressage, Katherine juggles her studies while attending the University of Birmingham.

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