It’s been three months since Will Faudree broke the C6 and C7 vertebrae in his neck in a fall with Hans Dampf on the Advanced cross country course at Five Points Horse Trials. With every passing day he’s feeling more like himself, and with every passing day Will knows he’s a little bit closer to getting back in the saddle.
“I’m doing really well. I’m way better than I thought I would be at three months since the accident. The injury was pretty limiting and very painful through the first eight to 10 weeks,” Will told EN this morning.
“Then during the week of Thanksgiving, I had a lot of friends and family visiting. Halfway through Thanksgiving, I realized my neck wasn’t bothering me as much. Since then I haven’t had the limitations and the pain that I had before, so it’s definitely going in the right direction.”
Will is still wearing a soft cervical collar and will go back to Duke University Medical Center for a check-up next Wednesday, Dec. 16 with his surgeon, Dr. Melissa Erickson. He’s also hoping to get cleared then to start working out in preparation to get back to riding.
“I’m hoping the X-ray and fusing looks good so I can come out of the collar at night and when I’m at home; that’s the best case scenario,” Will said. “If it looks really good, they’ll let me out of the collar completely. Dr. Erickson was happy with how it looked in mid-October. I was still in pain and limited in what I could do at that point.”
‘A freak fall’
Dr. Erickson led the surgical team that operated on two sections of Will’s spine after the fall, fusing his C6 vertebrae to C5 and his C7 vertebrae to T1 to stabilize the injury. The surgeons were also able to relieve nerve pressure to restore feeling to the left side of Will’s body, which he lost in his left arm, hand and leg following the fall.
The accident occurred at a large white table set in water that was also used on the CIC3* course at Carolina International Horse Trials earlier this year (click here to see a photo of the fence). Will had already jumped the Advanced course clear with Pfun earlier in the division and was having a good go on Hans Dampf before the fall, he said.
“The best way for me to describe the fall and accident is that I got broadsided in the middle of an intersection. I didn’t see it coming. I wasn’t having a bad go. I didn’t feel like I should have pulled up. It was just a freak mistake and a freak fall,” Will said.
“I said immediately following the accident that I was having such a phenomenal round on him. It was just bad luck. It’s part of the sport. It’s the risk we all take when we get in a car or even when we step out of our house in the morning. It’s the risk of life.”
‘In a really good place right now’
Assuming all continues to go well with the healing process, Will has been cleared to get back in the saddle on Feb. 1. With about seven weeks to go until that all-important date, Will said he’s in a good place mentally.
“Breaking your neck does a lot of crazy things to your head, especially immediately following the injury. I’ve worked with some really great people and read some really good books, and I feel like my head is in a really good place right now,” Will said.
“There is a possibility I get back in the tack and say, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ and I think it’s a healthy thought to have. I don’t think that’s going to be the case for me, but I have to acknowledge that the fear could be there, because I don’t know how I’m going to feel.
“I don’t know what I’m going to be like when I swing into the saddle for the first time or they count me down to leave the start box, but I love the sport. I love going cross country. I have phenomenal horses and phenomenal support from phenomenal people, and I need to do it for myself. I hope that I can come back to the level that I was at before, and I believe wholeheartedly that I can.”
‘An incredibly humbling experience’
Will’s top horses — Hans Dampf, Pfun, Caeleste and Socialite — will be legged up and ready to go come Feb. 1 thanks to his dressage trainer, John Zopatti, who worked the horses on the flat all through the fall and into winter. Bobby Costello also jumped the horses every two weeks to keep them in good form. The horses are on a break now and will start back to work after Christmas.
“My initial plan will be to start back competing in March, do the first Southern Pines and run everyone in the Preliminary to get back into the swing of things,” Will said. “Then I want to aim for Carolina International. If all goes to plan and the cards fall in my favor, it would be really fun for that to be my first big competition back.”
There are countless people to thank for helping to keep the horses in work and the farm running while Will has been on the mend: his two top grooms Nat Varcoe-Cocks and Christina Curiale; his longtime owner, supporter and dear friend Jennifer Mosing; and, of course, his mom and dad, who “were there to keep my dogs fed and keep everything going while I was rehabbing until I could do those things on my own.”
“It’s been an incredibly humbling experience to see the dedication to my dream from my team and coaches and owners. They’re out there every day for my dream, and I go and break my neck, and they’re still chasing my dream so that when I’m ready to get back in the tack, I can pick right back up,” Will said.
“That’s been the most humbling thing — the passion my team has shown, from the grooms and owners and sponsors and vets and farriers all saying, ‘We’re here. We’ll keep this thing going.’ And there’s also no pressure. If I need more time, I can have more time. I haven’t felt pressure in any way. I’m unbelievably fortunate in the people and crew and the unbelievable horses I get to spend my life with.”
‘What the next chapter brings’
As he counts down the days to Feb. 1 and swinging a leg back into the saddle, Will said he’s feeling more than ready to get back to being the best rider and ultimately the best horseman he can possibly be.
“It’s been a different perspective being on the ground the whole time. I’ve learned a lot to help me when I do get back in the saddle. I’ve learned a lot from teaching my students. It’s been an opportunity — not necessarily one I would have chosen — to look at the sport, my horses and my program from a different angle and tweak it in ways it can be bettered,” Will said.
“I’m feeling in a really good place in my head, and I’m really excited. It has given me an appreciative, refreshed outlook on what I get to do with my life. I can’t wait to get back to competing and see what the next chapter brings.”