Thrive by IU Health

January 09, 2023

Trusting her gut saved her life

IU Health Arnett Hospital

Trusting her gut saved her life

“Something so small, yet it saved my life,” shares Ellison Shidler, 19, of Lafayette—referring to her equestrian helmet.

According to Horses Only, horseback riding is the leading cause of sports-related traumatic brain injuries. In late November, Shidler almost became another statistic.

When she was four, Shidler’s parents took her to the fair where she begged to ride the ponies. She picked the biggest one and her love for riding became her everything. She learned to ride at Wild About Horses Equestrian Center in West Point, Ind.

“It became my second home,” she shares. “Pam Bowen (the owner) has been there for me through everything. She even helped me purchase my first and second horses.”

A shared understanding

In 2012, IU Health Arnett Hospital became a level III trauma center. As part of the accreditation, Teresa Williams, RN, started a trauma outreach program to help decrease the number of TBIs. As a rider herself, she was determined to provide education on the need to wear equestrian helmets when riding. Pam Bowen with Wild About Horses was there to help. Williams made her first equestrian helmet presentation in Williamsport for the 4-H team in 2013. Shidler was in the class.

“I remember Teresa’s presentation,” shares Shidler. “I remember the story she shared about someone who had serious head trauma from a fall. I never wanted that to be me, so I always wear my helmet. It also sets a good example for the younger students.”

Unfortunately, knowing about traumatic brain injury was something Shidler had already experienced. The summer before, she lost her father Michael. He was riding a go kart with friends, fell off—his head hit the pavement. He was on life support for a few days. Shidler remembers her mom still working out the details while driving her to 4-H.

Trusting her gut saved her life

In late November 2022, Shidler was at Wild About Horses working with her horse, Arlo. Arlo is from Poland and stands tall at 17 hands; most horses are 14-15 hands. Shidler was alone, having told no one where she was headed. It was a chilly rainy day, and her ears were cold, so she was wearing her winter hat. As she prepared to ride Arlo, her gut told her to go get her helmet.

Ellison riding Arlo

The rain hitting the stable’s metal roof must have spooked Arlo, who launched Shidler across the arena. She landed so hard on her left side that her skin had burst. She was in pain and could not hear. Her eyesight was blotchy. She tried to roll onto her back but started choking, so she rolled to her right. She remembers seeing lots of blood and feeling tremendous pain. She remembers her head bouncing off the ground.

She needed her phone, but it was on the edge of the arena. She knew Pam would be down before 4 pm because she had lessons, but Shidler had no idea what time it was. Somehow, she got to her phone and texted her mom. Arlo was nibbling at her face to keep her coherent.

By the time Pam and her mom, Heather, arrived, Shidler was a little more coherent. Her mom drove her to the nearest hospital where she had numerous scans that showed multiple pulmonary contusions on her left side, severe lower back abrasions and bruising, plus a grade 3 concussion—generally considered the most severe.

Getting back in the saddle

Shidler is still healing and experiencing pain in her lower back. Her outcome could have been much worse if not for her helmet—a fact not lost on her mom.

“Over Christmas, I found her crying,” shares Shidler. “When I asked her what was wrong, she just said this holiday could have been so different if you had not been wearing your helmet.”

Shidler visits Arlo often. She reports that he is still shaken. She looks forward to getting back in the saddle soon.

“It’s not his fault. This is on me,” shares Shidler. “I should have been more aware of my surroundings. But I am happy I put on my helmet.”

Williams has been out to visit Shidler and Arlo and brought along a new equestrian helmet.

Pam, Ellison and Teresa

“I am so grateful that we are out there teaching helmet safety,” shares Williams, who is also thankful to the IU Health Foundation for providing helmets for her teaching program.

Williams is available to speak at any equestrian group or facility at no charge. She also makes bicycle helmet presentations at schools. Contact Teresa Williams at 765.412.2640 or email to schedule.

Ellison's riding

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