Welcome To The ICU: Where Character Is Built

Jul 17, 2013 - 8:45 AM
Sinead Halpin's fiance, Tik Maynard, and mother, Bernadette Cogdell, kept her spirits up during her stint in the ICU.

It’s trot-up day at Young Riders. The team is excitedly getting ready for the competition they’ve been dreaming about all year. I’m lucky enough to be the Area II coach, and I’m not there.

Nine days ago my lovely preliminary mare On Cue made a mistake in show jumping at Chattahoochee Hills Horse Trials that left her a little dazed but unharmed and left me with several broken ribs, a fractured shoulder blade, a partially collapsed lung and the need for a good look in the mirror.

When they put me in the ambulance, I was praying that I just had dislocated my shoulder, the way you pray for just an abscess when your horse is lame… A quick fix. But I knew I was struggling to breathe more than I ever had in any previous accident (I’ve had a few), and I was noticing a burning pain in my chest that reminded me of ribs I had broken in the past.

When I got to the first hospital, they took X-rays and a CAT scan confirming the aforementioned injuries. They quickly put an oxygen mask on me and explained they would have to move me to a different hospital with a trauma unit because of the lung.

Up until this point, I thought I’d been quite composed (mostly because it hurt to cry), but when the doctor told me this, the tears started quietly sliding down my cheeks.

I’d just gotten myself together when Megan, my barn manager, walked in with two cups of ice cream, obviously having slipped past the nurses and doctors with this illegal treat. She looked at me with my oxygen mask, bloody white britches (my engagement ring had cut my hand, leaving blood everywhere), tear-stained cheeks and IV of pain meds going into my arm, and she paused for a second. She then pushed the two colorful cups toward me and said, “I have ice cream!”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry… I think I started to laugh, but that hurt, and so I started to cry, and then of course Meg did too.

I can honestly say I don’t normally get overwhelmed, but sitting in that hospital, I was. We had 12 kids and horses coming to The Fork for young rider camp starting Monday, then we were heading straight to NAJYRC in Kentucky with our one- and two-star team. I had Tate scheduled to fly to France and England, after his new syndicate patiently waited all spring for him to get out and compete. And I was in a hospital 15 hours away from home, where I had a barn with 13 other horses in work and students who expected help. 

I’m a problem solver by nature. That is my coping mechanism. But I just didn’t have time for this. I just looked at Meg and said, “I don’t know what to do.”

But people, especially eventers (I’m a little biased) are awesome. Within an hour of this conversation with Meg, we had Bobby Costello and Will Coleman stepping up to teach the young rider clinic, and Will committed to fly out to Kentucky to coach our kids at NAJYRC.

To find a spare hour is difficult for a professional rider, and Will, at the drop of a hat, put his business and horses on hold to spend a week helping our kids because “it’s important.” I know Will and Bobby didn’t have time for this, but they made time—to help me out and, much more importantly, to help these kids get to their “Rolex” of competitions. It shows incredible depth of character, and I am hugely in debt.

My girls at home have stepped up and kept the horses in work, sending me pictures and calling me every day to keep me in the loop, which is huge. My friend Amanda Flint, a fantastic show jumper who I’ve been riding both Cue and Tate with, is taking Cue for the month.

I think Cue has just gotten a little overwhelmed with the three phases of eventing. I believe she made the mistake in show jumping because she had not quite come down from the adrenaline of cross-country the day before. I want her to settle down a bit, so I think a month of show jumping and keeping things the same will do her brain good. I’ll then most likely drop her down a level until she handles all three phases with a mental calmness I know she’s capable of.

I truly believe each level should feel easy before one moves a horse up, and Cue felt very bored at training, so I moved her up to prelim. But in an odd way, she found the level quite easy in the beginning and then at the last few events she’s gotten a bit too amped up, making the level feel more difficult than it should be. This is a lesson learned: As soon as the relaxation and rhythm is lost, take a step back. Funny how hindsight is 20/20.

Tate, on the other hand, won the intermediate at Chatt Hills with ease. He was a little nervous in the dressage, his first time out since Burghley. He didn’t know where the crowds were! But he was total class on cross-country, and I had to keep the tears of happiness back on my hack up to the barn when we were all finished. He also jumped a lovely clear show jumping round.

I was very sad today when I had to withdraw my application to the Blenheim CCI***. I certainly hope to be mended by the time Blenheim comes around, but I don’t feel I’ll have enough preparation events to really go over there and nail it. I don’t want to risk putting Tate in a disadvantaged position because I wasn’t prepared… Although the 12-year-old in my head is stomping and whining, “I really want to gooooo!”

But the grown-up me knows the goal is to keep confidence high and qualify for the WEG. Competing at Fair Hill will hopefully give me that qualification and give Tate and me another month to prepare. In the meantime, the girls are keeping Tate fit and driving him to Betsey Steiner for dressage rides and Amanda for jumping.

The other shining star in this whole episode has been my mom. She’ll tell you she’s a terrible nurse, but she’s been amazing (she’s also well-practiced at this stage). She drove five hours on Sunday to the ICU in Atlanta and has not left my side since. It doesn’t matter how old you are—there is no one like your mom to take care of you when things are all wrong. I felt very lucky when I was in the hospital to have my wonderful fiancé, Tik, and my mom there for me every time I woke up.

Tik has since gone back to work, and my Mom is now looking after Jim (my stepdad) who has just had his knee replaced! I’m sitting at The Fork, now able to do most things for myself, reflecting on how lucky I am and how thankful I am to have so many amazing people in my life. My dad is flying into town on Friday and driving me back up to New Jersey, where I hope to pick back up teaching and watching my horses go until I’m back in the tack.

A huge thank you to everyone who’s been sending messages. They lift me up. And to my family and friends. And a HUGE GOOD LUCK to all those at the NAJYRC, especially Area II!

As for me… As my mom says, “This is just another character-building experience!”


Sinead Halpin Equestrian


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