I am a born and bred Tasmanian. I’m raising two amazing boys, Will and Harry, with my husband Tim on our 93-hectare property just outside of Launceston.
I was riding horses before I could walk, but when I was 19, I was left a paraplegic.
I remember everything from when I had my accident.
I wanted to get this difficult horse out of the way and then enjoy my fun rides. Well, I ended up with no brakes on him. I got to the end of the track, went to pull him up from a fast gallop, and I couldn’t stop. At the last second, he dodged the gate. I literally got left behind, hitting the ground at an almost flat-out gallop.
My mother Annette Reed remembers getting the message to call the stable foreman.
He told her I’d had a bit of a fall but not to worry. I might have hurt my back, but the ambulance had just taken me to hospital.
When she arrived at the hospital, she told me I was just lying there, quite serene, probably more serene than she’d ever seen me.
That evening, I was flown to Melbourne for surgery.
Life after the accident
The fall left me with a complete spinal cord injury, which left me reliant on a wheelchair.
There are other complications — reduced circulation and lung function, no “feeling”, and bladder and bowel incontinence.
While the incontinence is now largely under control, I still need extra time in the bathroom.
I went from being an independent young woman to having to learn almost everything again — from sitting up and dressing myself, to driving. While I could still ride it was physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting.
With everyone worried about me, my siblings were largely forgotten, as people asked them about “their sister”, but forget to see if they were OK. They had lost their sister as they knew her and were grieving too.
I wanted desperately to return to the horse racing industry. The McCulloch family, whom I’d been riding for, were very supportive. They tried everything they could to get me a restricted licence, but it soon became clear that would not be possible.
It took me a full 10 years to move on from that dream.
I decided if they wouldn’t let me in through the racing side, I would just have to become a breeder and owner.
Over the next few years, I lived in Victoria, bred foals, played wheelchair basketball around the world and completed a diploma in horse business management.
My plan was to go and get a few years’ industry experience, then return to Tasmania and get to work on establishing my own breeding business.
That was when Tim entered the picture. Instead of heading away to work, I stayed on the farm with him, marrying within a year and having kids on the way not long after.
My relationship with the farm has had its ups and downs. While I love living on the land, there are complicated feelings about my place on it.
One of the things I found quite difficult about being back on property is that there’s this conflicting emotional baggage that comes with it.
There’s the fact that I can’t do so many things I used to be able to do, and the grief that comes with that.
I know intellectually how to move a fence, to check on animals, all these basic jobs, but I don’t have the physical capacity to do them, or I’m entirely inefficient.
It means the house and family management is where I contribute, because it’s where I’m efficient. But that’s not the way Tim or I actually want things to be.
Since we took over the farm, we’ve changed many of our management practices.
Tim has helped set up many different things around the farm so I can be included. The starting point was making the gates swing.
For me, one of the hardest things about being in a wheelchair is just how much energy it takes. The things that Landline viewers can see on screen, these are all jobs that I do, but they’re not jobs that I do in a standard day. Not all of them.
The amount of energy these things take, it would take me a week to do these jobs. I’m using a third of my body to do what most people do with all of theirs.
I use a quad bike that allows me independent access over the property, but it’s not easy to get up. I have to drag the dead weight of two thirds of my body up.
It’s amazing how heavy your legs are when you have absolutely no control over them.
If I’m pushing my chair across flat ground, there’s very little resistance. It’s quite easy. But as soon as there is carpet or grass or gravel or any kind of uneven surface involved, it’s both physically and mentally draining because I must be constantly concentrating on where my wheels are going too.
My husband and I are aware of the importance of looking after our mental health too. After Harry’s birth, I really struggled. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with ADHD that I was able to start improving. Throughout that time, Tim was having to do all his usual farm work, plus a large portion of my usual responsibilities.
I’m aware of the way many people see me, but I do find it difficult to reconcile at times. I get well-meaning comments from people about “how good a job” I’m doing. It’s almost always a mundane task I can easily do; they aren’t congratulating anyone else.
When people comment on how they couldn’t do this, or say they’d have killed themselves (and yes, I have had people say this to my face), they aren’t thinking about what I hear.
For them, they’re making an encouraging comment, without realising they’re also saying I would be better off dead. There are also the questions that people have no problem asking me: since when is it OK to ask personal medical questions of a complete stranger?
The other thing I take issue with is the exclusion of those with disabilities. We need to ensure that we are doing better.
So many people are injured in the agricultural industry and rural communities. We know how important a sense of purpose and community is to mental health, not to mention the potential waste of resources. All that time and money put into training people, just to throw us in the too-hard basket.
At the end of the day, I want people to remember that while having a disability isn’t something any of us choose, it needn’t be the big disaster we assume it to be.
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