Local News

September 22, 2013

‘What I love to do’

Smith can’t stay away from horses despite serious injury

For the second time in his life Nick Smith found himself hanging upside down, unable to move, scared and unsure of what was about to happen.

The first time was several years ago, just two days after turning 21 in 2004. It was a freak farming accident where Smith was twisted up in an auger after his jacket and left arm got caught.

Doctors told him not only would he never walk again, but he’d never ride a horse again either. He couldn’t move his left arm and his legs, and he barely had any grip left in his hands. His balance was off. He was labeled a C-7 quadriplegic. The injury to his spine left his body unable to regulate temperature, meaning he can’t even sweat.

So how would he be able to control a horse? He couldn’t use his legs or feet to help him steady himself in the stirrups, could barely put his hands around the reins to guide the horse. The movement in his left arm returned about two years after the accident, but the grip was still a problem.

It took three years, but Smith found a way to ride a horse again. He designed a saddle that straps him onto the horse and supports his back, and found someone to make it. He relies on other people to hoist him onto the horse, strap him in and stand nearby in case there are any problems, then take him down again when he’s done with his ride.

Smith had already proven doctors wrong, that yes, he would ride again.

Now here he was nine years later, this year, hanging upside down helplessly for the second time — this time from the stomach of a horse.

Smith had insisted on entering competitions again and was at a training for cutting when it happened. In cutting competitions the rider and horse hold their ground to block a cow from rejoining its herd. It takes a lot of quick movements and turns, precision and the ability to maneuver swiftly.

Most of his family members weren’t keen on the idea of seeing him tackle cutting so his 25-year-old brother, Dylan Langford, went with him to the training facility — somewhere in Georgia or Tennessee. Details are hazy.

“It’s nerve-racking,” Langford said. “I never know if I’ve got him fixed in tight enough. When I put him on or Matthew (Smith, 19, also a brother) puts him on, we pray nothing happens.”

Langford said everything went well for most of the training session, but Smith’s saddle rotated about 10 minutes before the session was to end.

Though Smith was scared, which he expressed in colorful terms, it didn’t stop him from climbing on a horse again.

“When I’m on a horse is when I have my confidence,” Smith explained. “It’s the closest thing to feeling like I’m walking again.”

In a wheelchair, Smith is confined by terrain. He struggles on rocks, mud and hills. There is an abundance of those things around the stables where Nick Smith Quarter Horses, his business of the last four years, is located in southern Murray County.

“Riding is freedom,” he said. “In a wheelchair, I’m limited by my terrain ... but on a horse, it’s not a problem. They are my legs.”

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