An equestrian visits her Monkton farm for the first time after she was thrown from a horse. The accident left her unable to walk or raise her arms, but thankful for her community's support.

A champion's toughest hurdle

December 02, 2004|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

The top rung of the fence has been repaired. Peggy Ingles, a national champion rider in horse shows, stops to look, and she doesn't flinch.

"That's where it happened," she says, as if she were pointing out the place where she got a splinter, not where she lost her ability to walk and lift her arms.

Two months after being thrown from a horse - and breaking her neck - Ingles is back on her Monkton farm. This homecoming, on a recent Monday, would be too brief, more of a field trip, really. The bus and physical therapists who have brought Ingles from the hospital would take her back in a few hours.

But she had made it back to Baltimore County's horse country, where many are rooting for her.

Friends are coming by each day, taking turns helping Ingles' 17-year-old daughter, Cassie, with the barn chores. Proceeds from a Harford County horse show last month went to a fund established to help with the rising bills for Ingles, 45, who doesn't have medical insurance. And after a $40-a-ticket fund-raiser in October at the Manor Tavern, another benefit is in the works for March.

"We're part of the horse community," says restaurant owner Mark Greene. "There's a certain bond we all have. We all wanted to do something when we heard about this tragedy."

The group is also considering forming a nonprofit organization to help other injured riders, and Ingles hopes she'll be able to contribute some of the money raised for her.

Margie Williams, who with her husband owns Rivendell Hollow farm in Jarrettsville, says the community has been eager to help.

"I think this has made all of us aware of what can happen," she says. "I know that if we had a problem, Peggy would jump right in. She'd stop whatever she was doing to help anyone. I think that's one reason it's been so easy to get people to help."

Ingles, a 1977 graduate of Dulaney High School, has spent her entire adult life working on horse farms in the area - training horses, breeding them, selling them and boarding them. At the U.S. National Arabian and Half-Arabian Championship, Ingles won the top honor in the half-Arabian "working hunter class" in 2002 and last year. Judging is based on the horse's manners, jumping style and consistency around a course of nine fences.

Ingles moved her operation, Starstruck Farms, from Jarrettsville to Monkton last year, when she leased 30 acres. She lived with Cassie in a two-bedroom apartment above the stables. There are about 20 horses on the farm, counting the animals they board.

On Sept. 1, Ingles was exercising a 5-year-old retired racehorse, trying to retrain it so it could be ridden recreationally. She had the thoroughbred in side reins - a device that prevents the horse from raising its head, and one that she doesn't normally use because there's a risk that the horse will rear and flip.

Female horses were running in the adjacent field. When the horse she was on turned to look, Ingles says, she told Cassie, "I don't like this."

Within seconds, the horse pivoted onto a slight incline, raised its head and fell backward. Ingles' neck hit a fence.

She knew that she couldn't move. She remembers lying there and thinking that she might have ridden for the last time.

Ingles declines to identify the horse, saying that she feared if she named him he would have an undeserved bad reputation.

"It was not his fault. He was young, impulsive, interested in the girls," Ingles says. "It was a freak thing. I don't usually use that piece of equipment for that reason."

She adds: "You know anytime you throw your leg over a horse, you can get killed."

Ingles was flown to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where tests showed her spinal cord was deeply bruised but not severed. First, the staff tried to pull her spinal cord back into alignment - a process that involved drilling two screws into her head, Ingles says. "I told them they could tighten the screws in my head that had been loose my whole life, according to my parents. Just not too tight."

Her parents, Fred and Pat Masterman, love that story. It's so Peggy - joking at a moment like that, they say. "She's astounded everyone with her positive attitude," says Fred Masterman.

Two weeks after a surgeon repaired two damaged vertebrae in her spine, Ingles was transported to Kernan Hospital in Baltimore. Last week, she was transferred to Manor Care in Towson, but she hopes to be home by Christmas, continuing therapy at Kernan as an outpatient.

Ingles has some sensation in her lower body. Sometimes she's able to move her feet forward, though not on command. Last week, she was able to wriggle the toes on her right foot for the first time. She is regaining some movement in her right hand, and can move her left arm and hand enough to maneuver the lever of her wheelchair and a pencil she's rigged to help dial the phone, scratch her nose and turn pages in the Christopher Reeve biographies she's been reading.

She can brush her teeth and feed herself some foods, though she says the process is messy.

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