Tara Fox has always had an affinity for animals. She grew up around horses and during her senior year of high school, she began participating in barrel racing in competitions throughout Southeast Houston and across Texas.
“I loved riding and my horse, Cross, was like my child,” Tara said.
In the summer of 2015, Tara participated in a local rodeo series at Alvin Youth Livestock Arena Association. “While practicing for this competition, Cross was having trouble turning,” Tara said. At the rodeo, Cross and Tara cleared the first barrel and were halfway through the second barrel, when Cross began to head straight toward the alleyway instead of finishing the barrel pattern. The surprising turn caused Tara to lose her balance and she began sliding down the side of the saddle.
As the duo made their way into the alleyway, Tara dangled from the left side of her horse, still holding on to the reins. Seconds later, she fell off and landed on the cattle chute gate, crushing an important part of her fifth spinal vertebrae, the transverse process.
Shortly after her fall, she had a seizure. “I remember everyone was telling me to straighten my legs and I couldn’t,” Tara said.
When she arrived at the Emergency Center, doctors discovered the cattle chute had gone through her back. Tara had numerous severe injuries. She had lumbar and sacral fractures, a collapsed lung, broken right side ribs, a scapula fracture and multiple pelvis fractures. Doctors also had to put traction through her right knee to align the right side of her pelvis with the left side before placing three separate screws through her pelvis to help with stabilization.
“The pain was all over but I felt like my entire right side was in pieces,” Tara said.
After two weeks in the hospital, Tara spent one week doing inpatient rehabilitation in the rehabilitation unit at Memorial Hermann Southeast Hospital, a member of the Memorial Hermann Rehabilitation Network affiliated with TIRR Memorial Hermann. “Doing occupational and physical therapy was challenging but I was determined to get my strength back, especially on my right side,” Tara said. “Due to my pelvis being crushed, I couldn’t put pressure on my legs at all for a couple of months while being in a wheelchair.”
Tara was under the care of Dr. William Brendel, Jr, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist affiliated with Memorial Hermann Southeast. “The types of injuries that Tara had were severe,” explained Dr. Brendel. “But we were able to provide her with a tailored treatment plan to give her the best outcomes.”
Physical and occupational therapists engaged Tara in strength exercises such as bicycle arms, intense heel stretches and bent leg raises.
“I left inpatient rehabilitation feeling stronger,” Tara said. “Some of the exercises I learned in therapy, I was also able to do on my own when I was discharged home, which helped me to continue to get my strength back.”
Nearly six months after her accident, she was cleared to ride again, so she made a trip to Wisconsin. There she met her new horse named Slick. Slick was able to help her build the confidence she needed to return to the activity she loves. In addition to horseback riding, she has been able to resume physical activities she engaged in prior to the accident. “I’m able to do tumbling and even tried out for my college cheerleading squad,” Tara said.
Less than a year after her accident, Tara participated in a barrel race at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo.
Although her racing days are on hold now as she focuses on college where she is studying pre-veterinarian medicine, Tara looks forward to the day she can return to the sport she loves.
Learn more about the specialized network of care that allowed Tara to get back in the saddle again at Memorial Hermann Rehabilitation Network.