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Carolyn's Story

In 2006, an accident while riding a horse forever changed Carolyn Passmore’s life.

At the time New Zealander Carolyn was living in the UK where she was working as a vet. One morning while exercising a friend’s horse, the animal became frightened by a sudden noise from a nearby motorway, bolting into a heavily wooded area with Carolyn still on its back.

Carolyn subsequently fell from the horse and suffered a major spinal cord injury – specifically, C5/6 incomplete tetraplegia subsequent to a burst fracture and dislocation of her fifth cervical vertebrae.

She underwent surgery to remove broken vertebrae, followed by several months’ worth of intense rehab and further surgeries. In 2007 she returned back to New Zealand, spending more time at Burwood Spinal Unit.

It was during this time that Carolyn had her first experience with RDA, undertaking a Riding programme with Christchurch Group RDA, before moving to Wellington with her husband Doug.

Carolyn says her short-terms goals at RDA were simple.

“My short-term goals where mainly around the physical therapy that riding could provide for my rehabilitation. Having incomplete tetraplegia I was regaining some motor function, and I wanted to maximise the chances I had to get function back. My OT in the UK had done study around hippotherapy and suggested Riding for the Disabled for when I returned to NZ.

I knew that the movement of the horse closely mimics the pelvic movement of walking and helps to relax the spasticity in the muscles so I was confident I could benefit from it.”


The subsequent outcomes for Carolyn have helped to improve her quality of life over the following years.

“Physically I definitely find riding helps me to maintain flexibility and reduce the spasticity in my trunk and lower limbs. It has helped with sitting balance and core strength, and with some of the pain I experience in my lower body. Mentally I find interaction with the horses and the RDA volunteers helps me to focus and be motivated to continue with my goals.”

Carolyn is currently doing her Masters in Health Sciences in Rehabilitation, focusing on the experience of using continuous positive airway pressure therapy for people with obstructive sleep apnoea and tetraplegia. Her overall aim is to gain her research qualification, so she can continue to look into aspects of spinal cord injury repair and rehabilitation - and improve the current processes in place for people who sustain a spinal cord impairment.

Carolyn says that she is very grateful to RDA for the amazing outcomes they achieve for her and other Riders. Her long-term goals are to continue improving her riding ability, as well as to ride more often – she is even looking at taking up Para-Equestrian as a sport.

She is also keen to be more involved in RDA and hopes to be able to contribute and give back to the organisation.

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