EDITOR”S NOTE: This is the second of a two-part series about a horse lover who overcame a horrendous injury and an illness that threatened her horse”s life to win honors in a major horse show.
Kelly Staley had undergone 12 hours of surgery to repair her hips after she had been crushed under one of her horses.
The surgery had gone well but she faced a lengthy and challenging recuperation. But there was one other near-tragedy she would have to overcome when her dearest horse friend faced death.
For the first six weeks after she got home, her father, Steve Staley, who was retired by then, came to Chico from his home in Porterville to nurse his daughter. Her mother, Valene Staley, wanted to be part of the impromptu nursing squad but was still working at the time and couldn”t get free.
Her dad is not a horse person and considers attending a horse show a form of torture. But he adores his daughter and fixed broken fences, built stalls and did all the other kinds of work necessary to maintain Kelly”s love affair with the animals when they lived in the same home.
At the same time, when his daughter said she would be going back to riding, he said to her, “You are freaking crazy.”
Rehabilitation was a fight. First she got around in a wheelchair and then graduated to a walker, but she got help from friends and co-workers who were always there for support.
Her physical therapist was not a horse rider, but she spent time riding Staley”s horses to figure out what muscles needed work in order to make Staley”s return to horse shows possible.
Staley had made a vow that she would ride and compete again, but Nova, the horse that had toppled on her, shattering her hips, was not going to be part of that equation. As soon as she could arrange it, Staley sold the horse to a woman in Vina, where Nova is living a happy life as a brood mare with three foals to her credit.
Staley”s world took another frightening turn when Baylor became gravely ill. The big horse came down with colic, a painful intestinal disorder. Staley took him to the UC Davis vets, but they were not encouraging.
Baylor”s condition was grave and the only real treatment was surgery that may or may not work and would be costly.
“You have to prepare for the worst,” she remembers being told.
She was also told the surgery would cost about $25,000. “It was a huge financial decision,” said Staley.
Baylor had insurance that would pick up part of the cost. Then her parents stepped in. The grandfather who gave her her first horse, who took her to parades, attended her shows and went riding with her on his 90th birthday had left her parents some money on his passing.
Her parents came to Staley, saying her grandfather would want her to have a portion of the money to save Baylor.
“Good old mom and dad helped out on that but I believe they were right (her grandfather would have approved).”
The vets took out about 10 feet of Baylor”s colon and repaired a place where two pieces had grown together.
Staley walked with the horse every night during his recuperation and the already strong bond between the horse and the woman grew.
It reached a point where Staley began to ride again, working aggressively to get into show condition.
In 2010, Staley added another love to her life. She re-met Keith Scoles, who had lived in the same college dorm as her in 1982. Romance bloomed and in 2012 they married. She says her husband loves motorcycles but sometimes he will do a trail ride on horses with her and she will cruise to the coast on a motorcycle with him.
Her efforts to attain performance quality for herself and Baylor continued, but there was another challenge. When her hips healed, one was slightly lower than the other. In order to achieve the perfect form needed to compete in the equitation event, Staley said she had to drive one hip into her saddle to hold herself rigidly in place.
During a tune-up show in August or September of this year, “One of the girls said, ”My God, Kelly, you”re bleeding.” My bone had rubbed my butt raw so I was bleeding through my breeches.”
She created a pad she could use for practice but competition would not include the pad.
In October, Staley loaded Baylor into his trailer and drove to Las Vegas for the American Quarter Horse Association West Championship.
Her family was there in the stands, including her dad, who said he could go because “there were black-jack tables nearby.”
She didn”t win, but the woman who four years earlier didn”t know if she would ever walk again came in fourth in the AQHA”s Western novice amateur equitation competition.
Staley doesn”t understand why anybody would think her achievement was a “big deal.”
“I think anybody who is passionate about something would do the same thing.”
When she passed her 50th birthday, she became eligible to compete in the AQHA”s “select” division as opposed to novice.
“At this show (the October event), I had to show against all those gorgeous 19-, 20-, 22-year-olds so I am thinking we may set as a goal to go to the Select World (competition next year), which is the 50-and-over group.
“Then I can compete against people who have the same kind of aches and pains I have,” said Staley with a laugh.
Reach Roger H. Aylworth at 896-7762, email@example.com, or on Twitter @RogerAylworth.