Thanksgiving comes with some uneasy memories for non-pro rider Kelly Stich, but she’s celebrating the holiday in style at the 2023 National Reining Horse Association Futurity and Adequan® North American Affiliate Championships.
In 2019, Stich and her two sons went for a quick ride before the Thanksgiving meal. Within the hour, Stich was at a hospital, fighting for her life.
It would be two years before she was back in the saddle.
“We went out on a cool morning, all dressed up in our coveralls,” Stich said. “The boys were riding their horses, their little solid horses. I was just exercising a horse that was coming back from an injury. We trotted one direction, and we went to trot the other direction, and she kind of started feeling fresh.”
Stich didn’t want the mare to reinjure herself, so she pulled up, and the mare bucked a little.
“And when she bucked, I caught my button-up vest on the horn,” Stich said. “When I was caught on the horn, she was bucking. I checked her up a little more, and she came up and went over backward on top of me.
“So, after she came over on top of me, she slid off me, and then she rolled back over the back over the top of me and ran off.”
Stich knew the situation was not good. Her boys were panicking, yelling, “Mom, Mom, Mom.”
Her boys took priority over her pain.
She told them, “Give me a minute,” then asked them to get their father.
She was still curled on her side in the arena when the ambulance arrived, afraid she had severed her spine. She hadn’t, but the injury list was extensive.
Stich had a fractured sternum, two fractured ribs, a large hematoma under her sternal fracture near her heart, torn groin muscles, and a torn rotator cuff.
In the emergency room, Stich said, “Hey, turn the Futurity on. I want to watch the Futurity.” She watched the reining for a while, but Stich’s pain increased as the afternoon went on. The initial exam had missed that Stich had a ruptured intestine. She went in for immediate surgery.
After four days at the hospital, she went home. Recovery was painful and long.
“I spent a lot of time in a recliner just watching TV because everything hurt,” she said. “I lived in a recliner for about a year and a half after the injury.”
When she returned to the saddle, she was a little shaky. Dually Smoking, aka “Stitch,” was the perfect horse to help her return to competition. Stich and Stich were an unstoppable pair. He helped her add thousands to her rider earnings while rebuilding her confidence in the saddle. Stich will ride him in ancillary classes while also showing a 3-year-old, A Ruf Nite, in the Non Pro Futurity classes.
Each day, but especially on Thanksgiving, she remembers how lucky she is to ride.
“I’m thankful for every day that I get to come do this, swing a leg over, no matter how it goes,” Stich said.