Amanda Beale Clement doesn’t have to reach far into her memory for the date of her accident; she recites it with no hesitation: Jan. 8, 2019. She also remembers where she should have been the following week: the USEF Emerging Athlete Eventing 25 training session in Ocala, Florida.
Clement was a busy 19-year-old, working alongside her mother, advanced-level eventer Susie Beale, running a large training barn. Clement had a full plate between competing and teaching young students while working on a degree in business management at Cabrini University (Pennsylvania).
But instead of mounting up alongside her peers on Jan. 14 for the training session with Leslie Law, Clement was wheeled into her first maxillofacial reconstruction surgery.
Clement doesn’t remember exactly what happened, but she’s pieced it together with the help of others who were there. She was leading her top horse Carlson 119 to the field at their winter base in Aiken, South Carolina, when the horse being led in front of her abruptly stopped, ran backward, then kicked out with both hind legs.
One of the horse’s hooves made direct contact with the right side of Clement’s face. The impact split open her lip, shattered her orbital bone, broke her nose and cheekbone, and crushed her tear duct. Her mother rushed her to the emergency room in Augusta, Georgia, then drove her to Philadelphia for more extensive treatment closer to their hometown of Malvern, Pennsylvania.
“I was in complete denial,” said Clement. “I was at the emergency room, and they said, ‘You need surgery.’ But I didn’t think anything was broken; I said, ‘I don’t think I need surgery.’ Then we got to Philadelphia, and the doctors said I needed major reconstruction.”
The first time Clement stepped outside after surgery resulted in another blow. Any kind of activity, even going for a short walk, resulted in major swelling and bruising, and her eye often swelled shut. Seven weeks later, she sat on a horse again and experienced the same reactions.
“I developed really bad allergies and was suffering terrible headaches,” said Clement. “It was one step forward and a few steps back.”
Facial injuries take a particularly long time to heal, and surgeries are spaced out significantly. “They aren’t sure exactly how much the swelling will go down, so they like to do a little bit at a time,” explained Clement. “They say the face takes a year to settle and heal. That was an absolute shock.”
Clement had her first maxillofacial reconstruction procedure the week of her accident but had to wait 11 months for the next one.
“In December I was finally able to get my tear duct fixed,” said Clement. “That was huge because when I rode that eye would tear up and get glossy because it couldn’t drain. My vision was blurry, and it was uncomfortable. It’s been a huge change for me now that it’s fixed.”
Her eyes are still very sensitive, and she can’t wear glasses because her nose still needs repair. She has additional procedures scheduled for the next three years.
In addition to the physical challenges, dealing with her facial injuries has been emotionally taxing. “It’s a little bit at a time watching yourself change so that’s been really difficult,” said Clement. “I’ll be completely honest, some days I look in the mirror, and I’m upset that I don’t look how I used to.”
Horses have given Clement comfort and purpose throughout her recovery. “The second I got my eye unstitched and was allowed out of the house, all I wanted to do was see ‘Carl,’ ” she recalled. “I missed him so much. I got out of the hospital, and my mom drove me back down to South Carolina, and the first thing I did was go see him.
“It’s the one thing that I feel like I still have,” she said of riding. “I am so thankful I have the horses. It’s the only time I’m not in pain, not thinking about my face, not thinking about what my next surgery will be like. I think my life would be really different without that. Having something you love that makes you happy keeps you moving on. It’s so motivating.”
Clement also feels grateful for the support of her barn family. “As soon as I got out of the hospital every single client came to the house and visited me,” she said. “I was on a soft food diet because my mouth was stitched, but each night a client would come see me and bring me soup or mashed potatoes or something. Some people made cards or sent flowers, and everyone was just so supportive.”
Clement was anxious to ride again and competed at the Stable View Spring Horse Trials (South Carolina) just 10 weeks after the accident. “In hindsight that was too soon,” she admitted. “My face was bruising and swelling, and I had headaches again.”
She rode one horse at modified and finished fourth, and it was another month before she competed again. She had acquired Carlson 119 only a few months before the accident and had only been able to compete him a handful of times. In the last year they’ve completed two CCI3*-Ls, and Clement has big ambitions for the future. This year, she once again made the USEF Emerging Athlete List. “That was exciting and emotional for me because I missed a lot in 2019,” she said.
Though Clement faces years of reconstructive surgery, she can see the silver lining of the clouds, the darkest of which are now behind her.
“What I’ve gone through in the past 15 months has made me so much stronger and has made me a better person,” she said. “To be 19 years old and be kicked in the face by a horse is something no one would want to go through, but it’s made me a better and stronger person. The adversity has made me grow. I have so much to be grateful for.”
Do you know a horse or rider who returned to the competition ring after what should have been a life-threatening or career-ending injury or illness? Email Kimberly at firstname.lastname@example.org with their story.