Fate puts saddle out of reach, but her spirit runs with horses

February 02, 1997|By John Steadman

All the rest of her life will be spent in a wheelchair. A young woman, thrown against the wall of an indoor training track by a bolting horse, fell to the ground with her body limp, partially paralyzed. A broken collarbone, three fractured ribs, a punctured lung and a spinal column damaged beyond medical repair.

Unable to speak because of the life-support tubes attached to her crushed body, the first words she wrote on a pad while at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, as she looked up at her parents, constituted a surprising inquiry. "How's the horse?" she wanted to know.

Not about her own prognosis but of the condition of the thoroughbred that caused the accident and suffered only a bruised nose. Yet Brenda Bower Herzog, despite what happened six years ago, didn't sit around staring into space while asking the unanswerable question, "Why me?"

Her attitude reflects peace, contentment and an intensely committed desire to care for others. And, yes, a perpetual radiance that dispels the pain and trauma that followed one of the worst things that could ever happen to an exercise rider. Something had to give; it wasn't the wall.

The trainer who put her on the horse all of a sudden wasn't to be found, thereby avoiding a court trial and running away from the moral and legal responsibility of his involvement. He never answered letters, called to find out how critical her injuries were or even to learn if she was living or dead. Callous and upsetting? Of course.

But there's forgiveness, not bitterness, within her mind and heart. The man who engaged her riding services had been handling a string of horses in Maryland, but the authorities revoked his license when it was learned, after the fact, he had ignored the insurance requirements. Medical bills compounded themselves for the Bower family.

But not all bad things have happened to her. Her fiance, Mike Herzog, wasn't deterred by the realization she wouldn't be able to walk again. True love, and not just in storybooks, will always endure. They eventually got married, Brenda in a wheelchair and Mike standing there repeating the promise to be with her until "death do we part."

Now, happy to report, there's another blessing they share together. Somewhat remarkably,there's a baby in the family. Maggie Mae Herzog. Doctors said the pregnancy would be difficult but, again, Brenda prevailed. Now she's in a wheelchair cradling the infant in her arms and wheeling about their 7 1/2 -acre farm in the Glyndon section that also is home to 14 horses, four cats, three dogs and a mule she attends to on a seven-days-a-week basis.

Five of the horses are owned by her and the others by boarders who rent stables and realize how well the animals are treated while in her care. Mike Herzog is a heavy-equipment operator and realizes that his wife's affection for horses is ingrained.

Recalls Bob Bower, her father: "When she was about 3 years old, we bought her a saddle and put it on a board so she could play she was riding a horse. All she ever wanted was to be around horses. While growing up, she spent summer vacations learning about horses at various farms. Next, we leased her a horse, then bought her one. After graduation from Towson High, she got a degree at the Morven Park Equine Institute in Leesburg, Va."

Brenda and Mike rented hillside property, a barn and tack house from Dave Clinnin in 1990 and are still there. They aspire to own their own place someday, but so far haven't been able to find an affordable deal. "What we could handle on a payment basis is either located on a side of a mountain or under a row of power lines," she said. "That's certainly not what we would consider a fit location for the horses."

In her wheelchair or gas-powered golf cart, she covers the shed row. Mike is up at 4: 30 a.m., warms a bottle for the baby, and an hour later is off to work. Brenda dresses and cares for the infant, then moves to the barn area to feed the horses and turn them out in the fields. Most mornings and then in the afternoon, she has help from two young assistants, but if they aren't able to be there, she handles the full program but it's never easy.

The horse that crashed her into the side of the indoor track at Sagamore Farm on Jan. 8, 1991 supposedly hadn't been turned out or hand-walked in four days, which might have added to its irrational behavior. A trainer using the Sagamore facilities on a part-time basis asked if she'd exercise the horse. The standard fee was $7 per workout. She circled the track four times and, with half a lap left, the mare bolted on the final turn and threw her rider against the wall.

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