Name: Anna Hutcheson
Day Job: Microbiologist research tech
Caught In The Nick Of Time: When she was 11, a routine scoliosis exam at school changed Hutcheson’s life forever.
“When the X-rays came back, they said my curvature was way too positive to put me in a brace, so I had to have surgery immediately,” Hutcheson said. “If I didn’t, it would have deformed my ribs and my chest cavity, and my lungs and heart [would have been affected]. It was one of those lucky things—glad it was caught, but kind of sucks at the same time.”
Hutcheson and her family had no idea she had the condition—her pediatrician had never tested her for it, and it didn’t run in her family. She spent two months in the hospital after having two rods and several pins placed in her back. She had some blood clotting issues, so she needed to have multiple blood transfusions. It took a year to recover with much of her time spent lying down.
But there was a silver lining—Hutcheson tried therapeutic riding and discovered horses as part of her recovery. She rode dressage at first, then transitioned to eventing and has been with her trainer, Nicky Buckingham, for 10 years.
Living With Daily Pain: While the surgery fixed Hutcheson’s curvature, having rods in her back leads to pain on a regular basis. Hutcheson tries to schedule massages and acupuncture often to relax the pressure on the nerves that can sometimes get pinched. Yoga also helps with the discomfort.
“They actually don’t prescribe this surgery as much anymore because they realized with people like my age, as we get older we’re having a lot more complications, and we’re having to have second surgeries or have the rods taken out because they cause a lot of nerve pain or pinching,” Hutcheson said. “What’s happening with me is, even if it’s not riding, just running or walking a lot, I’m wearing and tearing the discs beneath the rod that aren’t fused together. At one point within the next five years I’m going to need a disc replacement at the bottom of my back.
“It’s not even just riding,” she continued. “Even if I did another sport like soccer, it would be the same wear and tear. You’re putting stress on it when you’re sitting too. It’s kind of this weird game of maintenance. It’s like us with our horses. How long can we maintain ourselves or our horses to do the performance that we want them to do? With me it’s a little extra because I’ve had that big surgery.”
Hutcheson has to be particular about the horses she rides because the wrong mount can be jarring to her back.
“It’s not the jumping, it’s the gait of the horse that really bothers me,” she said. “If I have a horse that’s like a rocking horse in its canter and a really bumpy walk, then that motion of jarring I can feel through my back. My back is so sensitive, and I guess that makes me a little bit of a better rider.”
COVID-19 Distraction: After the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, Hutcheson, who lives in Decatur, Georgia, started working 60-hour weeks in the lab at the Atlanta VA Hospital. She was feeling exhausted and couldn’t go to the barn because she worked in a high-risk area, so she spent any free time she had at home picking up art again, which she’d done as a child.
“When I was in the hospital, that was the only thing I could really do other than watch TV or play games,” she said. “I started drawing. I did AP art in high school, and when I went to college I stopped. I set up an art studio in my house and started painting again. People started asking me for portraits of their horse, so I started a little business doing that. It’s nothing big, it’s just kind of fun.”
Best Quarantine Purchase: Despite being busy at work, Hutcheson hasn’t put her eventing ambitions on hold. A few weeks ago, she bought F For Fortune, an 11-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Hook And Ladder—Fortunate Affair, Colonial), from Jonathan and Jennifer Holling.
Hutcheson has ridden through training level, and she’s hoping her new horse will help her move up to preliminary. If all goes to plan, she’ll ride him at some schooling shows this summer and then move on to recognized events in the fall.
“I feel like my eventing career is restarting almost because I got a new horse—like we all feel when we get a new horse,” she said. “I want to juggle more sometimes, but then I have to reel myself back in and say, ‘This is too much.’ In my early 20s, I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to do this internship but also ride six days a week.’ Then I’d be up until midnight and have to get up at 6.”
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