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Statement of Lee Nelson
Land O'Lakes, FL (Veteran)

My Name is Lee Nelson.† I am a Chaplain in the U.S. Army.† I received a spinal cord injury in a traffic accident in Italy while traveling to work on the morning of 11 August 1990.† I got in a traffic accident with a Semi-tractor trailer.† After receiving back surgery in Italy, I was transferred to the Tampa VA Hospital in September 1990 from the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC.† While in the Hospital in Tampa, I participated in different therapies such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and recreational therapy.† In recreational therapy, I participated in field events, basketball, and horseback riding.† These different activities were designed to increase my strength, stability and coordination.† The horseback riding took place at the Quantum Leap Stables in Odessa, FL.† We would go to the stables on Tuesday morning and ride for about an hour each day.†

When the Recreation Therapist asked me about horseback riding, I thought that I would not be able to ride because when I rode in years past I would stay on the horse by wrapping my legs around the horse and hold on with my legs.† Now that I am a paraplegic, that is impossible.† But she encouraged me to try and there would be a person walking on either side of me and one leading the horse by the reigns.† I understood that this was an ongoing program that the hospital had and other paraplegics had participated so it must not be as impossible as it sounded to me.†

Upon arriving at the stables I took my wheelchair up a ramp, which the horse stood beside and they had an apparatus that hung from the ceiling and went under my arms and held my legs up and carried me from my wheelchair to the saddle on the horse.† I held on tightly to the saddle horn and relied on my "side-walkers" to catch me.† As the horse began to walk, I held on to the saddle horn with a death grip and managed to balance myself on the horse, despite the movement.† After about 15 minutes of walking around, my arms were exhausted from holding on with such a tight grip.† So I loosed my grip and relaxed and relied on my balance to keep from falling off the horse.† I have kept going to the stables each Tuesday for the† past 5 months.† We have ridden around the fields in the area and I have guided the horse around obstacles.† After several weeks of riding, one day the horse tried to kick a fly off his back side while I was trying to guide her to the left.† I was already leaning to the left so when she kicked the momentum threw me in the direction that I was leaning and I fell over to the left side of the horse.† Because of the increased stability in my trunk muscles from all the weeks of riding, I was able to stay on the horse and hang onto her neck and my "side-walker" managed to straighten me back up in the saddle and I could continue the ride.

While my physical therapist works on my core muscles as part of my therapy, riding on the back of a horse has improved my core stability more than all my physical therapy combined.† I am now able to sit straighter in my wheelchair and I am able to transfer from my wheelchair to other devices easier, such as my bed, my car, a couch or a lazy-boy chair as well as my stand-up machine that allows me to stand up and put my full weight on my legs, which strengthens the density of the bone mass in my legs.† Because my core muscles are stronger I am able to stay in my wheelchair for longer periods of time.† Now I can stay up in my chair all day rather than just a few hours at a time that I was doing last fall.


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