More than three months after a June 9 fall at the Upperville Colt & Horse Show left her with a spinal cord injury, jumper rider and trainer Kimberly Prince is back in Upperville, Virginia, at Belle Gray Farm, amid the reassuringly familiar sights and smells of horses.
“It’s so nice being around the horses and dogs and everything that’s familiar,” said Prince, who returned to the northern home of her Kimberly Prince LLC on Sept. 17. “I have to go to physical therapy here, just trying to get all the appointments organized so I can keep up with as much therapy as possible. I’m happy to see my students—so I have some lessons organized. And they’re all going to show at Piedmont Jumper Classic [Virginia], so we’re going to be cranking up next week.
“And just to go outside too,” she added, “because I’ve been in such intense therapy that I’m inside all the time—which is such a weird thing for a horse trainer, to be inside.”
Prince underwent surgery for a fractured C3 vertebra and compressed C4 and C5 vertebrae, which were pressing into her spinal cord, at the Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Virginia. She then relocated to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, which focuses solely on rehabilitation for brain and spinal cord injuries.
“Basically, when I was flown from Virginia to Atlanta, I only had movement of one foot; I could wiggle my left foot a bit,” she said. “When I left Virginia, I was in a very bad state of not much moving or happening. But in the Shepherd Center—it’s literally learning to deal with what you have going.”
At Shepherd she relearned how to stand, walk and roll over. Quickly, she said, she regained movement on her left side.
“At the beginning you can’t do anything,” she said. “You can’t stand. I still barely can roll over; that takes a lot of effort. It’s startling how quickly you lose muscle. My arms were tiny; my legs were tiny. The whole thing is so—you have no idea until you go through it.
“In my mind, I knew I would walk,” she continued. “I had that to hold onto.”
Prince can now stand and walk, though she doesn’t walk unassisted yet. She still is working on regaining use of her hands, but she believes with more therapy, that will come. Prince explained that her injury is called an “incomplete injury” versus a “complete injury.”
“If it was complete then what it is, is what it is,” she said. “A complete injury is somebody who will never walk. With me, it’s incomplete, so it will be up to another year [or] year and a half before everything should be working that can be working.
“I’ve actually covered a lot of ground,” she added. “Without the use of my hands, I’m not that independent yet. Again, I know I will be.”
Prince said that the support she’s received since her injury—from the Kevin Babington Foundation, which set up a fund for her; to trainers like Missy Clark, John Brennan, Katie Prudent and Paula Inman Randall, who stepped in to help train her clients; to friends offering to do laundry, to the get-well cards she received at Shepherd—has been hugely helpful to her recovery.
“Kevin Babington himself is such an inspiration, even before I got hurt,” she said. “It’s remarkable what he does every day. But most importantly his great spirit and positive thinking is just infectious. He’s the kind of guy that everyday wakes up, and he’s like, ‘Alright, let’s go; let’s do this.’ My hat is out to him because I cannot tell you how amazing his attitude is. And then the Kevin Babington Foundation that Jeff Papows has organized is just a godsend. It’s not just for me, for other people that have injuries, spinal cord injuries. They have stepped up and really tried to put the word out that people need help with expenses. It’s obviously a huge expense, and insurance only goes so far. It’s a bit of a battle to get all that you need; we’re really fortunate to have that foundation.”
The outpouring of support from the horse community both startled and bolstered her through her time in rehab, Prince said.
“I was really overwhelmed with how many people donated and called and wrote some handwritten letters. It was quite amazing and really helped me get through the time,” she said. “I don’t even know how to express it, but even at the end of the three months when I was at Shepherd, I would get a flower bouquet from somebody [saying], ‘Just thinking of you.’ It’s really important to have a community behind you, and the horse community is a strong one. Everyone really steps up when the chips are down.”
The Piedmont Jumper Classic, being held Sept. 29-Oct. 2 in Upperville, is hosting a “Jump for Kim” grand prix, where 100% of entry fees will go to Prince’s fund in the Kevin Babington Foundation. People can either enter to compete or—in the vein of a similar fundraising grand prix that raised almost $350,000 to help David Beisel, an Ohio-based trainer who also suffered a spinal cord injury in a fall earlier this year—enter an honorary horse or rider without actually competing in the class.
“Just to have Piedmont Jumper Classic trying to help out, I have a lot of rehab still to go and bills,” Prince said. “It’s really generous of the show to think about and try to help to create a way for people to donate just so that the therapy can continue.”
While her recovery is ongoing, Prince hopes to regain some normalcy by training at fall shows like the Pennsylvania National Horse Show and Tryon Fall Series (North Carolina). One of her goals is to be riding, in some capacity, by the end of the 2022 Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida).
“In my mind, I’m going to make a full recovery,” she said. “I just don’t know on what day.”