Name: Caroline Detzi
Occupation: Nursing student
When Caroline Detzi was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, one of the first questions for her medical team was if she could ride. Like many equestrians, the question was critical in facing this new challenge.
“I went into a spiral thinking about the what if,” Detzi, then 25, remembered. “How was I supposed to live without the one thing that has singlehandedly defined me as a person for nearly my whole life? I started crying when she told me there was no need for me to stop riding, and that they had actually encouraged it. It was as if I didn’t care about anything else that had just happened. I got the answer to the only question that mattered the most to me.”
From The Beginning, There Were Horses: For Detzi, riding has always been akin to breathing. From nearly her earliest memory, she was fascinated by horses.
“It kind of came out of nowhere,” she said. “I have a cousin who grew up riding, and I had gone to see her ride. She had a big 17-hand Thoroughbred, and you can imagine a 5-year-old compared to a 17-hand Thoroughbred, I was like the size of his leg. I literally went up to him and wrapped myself around his leg. That was pretty much it.”
Career Crisis: Detzi received a bachelor’s degree in equine science from SUNY-Morrisville (New York) in 2015 and planned to become a professional hunter/jumper trainer. She went to work as a road manager/groom/assistant barn manager with Troy Hendricks and Chrissy Serio at Kimber-View Stables, but she eventually realized the show circuit wasn’t what she’d imagined.
“I’d gone to a couple of A shows here and there, but I never fully experienced it,” she said. “I honestly hated it. It was more about competition, which is fine, but for me I just loved riding and being around horses. It was a little too serious for me, and I saw some things that weren’t so great and said, ‘I don’t know if I want to be a part of this.’ ”
Seeking a change of pace, she took a job as manager and riding instructor at Canterbury Stables in Cazenovia, New York. For Detzi, the position was “a little more low-key” despite managing a 53-horse facility, employees and riding five horses a day. Her weeks stretched into 60 or 70 hours, and Detzi noticed small changes in her body. She shook it off and forged ahead but began to feel burnt out.
Finding A Higher Purpose: A client who worked in the pharmaceutical industry suggested Detzi consider going into the medical field, maybe even nursing. Detzi had thought about nursing when she was in high school but dismissed the idea. Now she reconsidered.
“I felt as though I was meant to do more and not in the realm of the equestrian world,” she said. “I wanted to use my communication and management skills as well as my empathetic nature to do something bigger. I knew I was meant to help other people.”
Detzi moved back to her hometown near Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in March of 2017 and began her pre-requisite studies, starting nursing school at Northampton Community College in January 2019.
What Is Wrong With Me? On the first morning of classes, she woke up and realized something wasn’t right.
“My head felt strange, and my hearing had become amplified,” she said. “I noticed I couldn’t walk like I normally did. My gait was short, and I had developed a limp.”
A CT scan revealed nothing, but Detzi’s condition continued to deteriorate. She went to the emergency room when she lost feeling in the left side of her body. Physicians eventually discovered multiple large active brain lesions that showed signs of demyelination, a loss of the fatty coating that helps nerve cells send electrical signals to each other.
Detzi was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS, which is characterized by attacks or flare-ups of new or worsening neurologic symptoms followed by periods of partial or complete recovery. Stress and a lack of sleep can trigger symptoms, as can exertion in hot weather. In the midst of the flare that prompted her diagnosis in 2019, Detzi lacked complete feeling in her legs, and she wondered if she’d ever ride again.
A Horse To The Rescue, Of Course: Shortly after leaving her professional horse career, Detzi had been asked by a friend to help put miles on a young off-track Thoroughbred named Lucky. At the time, she didn’t even want to look at a horse, but she reluctantly agreed.
And then she fell in love.
“He’s so bold, but he’s so safe,” she said. “He’s never done anything to make me question him at all.”
Detzi responded well to the infusion medication for her MS, and a few weeks after getting the first dose she was ready to try getting back in the saddle. It was 10 degrees out; Lucky hadn’t been ridden in a week, and the farrier was parked in the indoor arena, banging away on horseshoes. “Maybe,” she thought briefly, “this is a bad spot to put myself in, but I just think it’s going to be OK.
“He knew for sure that something was going on, and he needed to take care of me,” Detzi said.
Those first few rides were tough. Detzi remembers dismounting in tears, wondering if she’d ever regain her skills. But as her medication began to work, she realized her muscle memory was still in there.
“People are like, ‘Oh you’ll have to give up riding when you get into nursing school,’ and I said, ‘Absolutely not.’ Riding is an outlet for everything I have to deal with,” said Detzi. “I prioritize horse time. It is a thing I have to have. I always make time for it, even on my busiest week. It’s therapeutic, and I really think that mentally helps me and therefore has a positive effect on my body.”
Detzi will graduate in May and is already job searching. She looks forward to having more time with Lucky when she has her RN degree and hopes to purchase him. It’s still early to make too many plans, but she’s thinking about goals, including her return to some shows.
While she worries about managing a full workload as a nurse with MS, Detzi also believes life with horses has prepared her for what’s coming.
“Working professionally with horses has taught me so much that I’ve carried through my daily life into my new career,” she said. “I refer to the horses all the time. I think my experience with them will make me a good nurse because as a horse owner you have to have good attention to detail. The care of a horse is not like the care of a cat or dog; it’s so much more complex. It’s basically like the care of humans; they just can’t talk.”
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