Bromont, Quebec, Canada – Australian event rider Ryan Wood, 25 made an incredible comeback to international competition, placing second in the CCI** at the Bromont three-day event and Todd Sandler Challenge June 13-15, 2008 riding Wynella Wolverine.
It was only five months ago that he endured a horrific fall at the Ocala Horse Trials in Florida, when the horse he was riding hung a leg over a table fence. The horse was uninjured but Ryan incurred a fractured knee, a shattered eye socket and cheekbone, a broken nose, jaw and palate and a collapsed lung. He was airlifted to the Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Florida and underwent nine hours of reconstructive surgery on his face; now he is held together with three metal plates and 25 screws.
Ryan is a native of Sydney, Australia and moved to the United States in February to work for eventing legend Bruce Davidson in at Chesterland Farm in Unionville, Pennsylvania.
In spite of the severity of his injuries, he had hoped to recover in time to compete his own horse Koyuna Azgard at the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** in April, but even though he was back in the saddle by then his knee could not hold up to the training. Once the knee was healed he competed at the Fair Hill Horse Trials, where he scored a 26 and won the intermediate division. He hopes to compete at the Fair Hill International CCI*** in October.
“Woodzy basically stared death in the eyes a few months ago after a traumatic fall that would have retired most riders,” said Ryan’s friend and fellow Australian eventer Boyd Martin. “I consider him the Lance Armstrong of eventing. He’s healed physically and mentally and it’s a credit to his character.”
Working long hours at the barn keeps Ryan fit, but to aid in his physical recovery he swims, runs and works out at the gym. “Working each day is good for getting back into the swing of things,” he said. “It’s really helped me getting this horse ready for Bromont because he is a warmblood and needs a lot of conditioning. I did a lot of work on hills and teaching him to gallop.”
As for psychologically overcoming his accident, he said, “I’m just as confident as before. Being at Bruce’s is good psychologically because he never dwelled on anything, so I just got on with the job and made it happen. He’s a fantastic horseman and a master of the sport. I rode a lot of his young horses at the local events, which was good before going back to a big event. Now I feel like a boxer who got knocked out – I’ve come back hungrier.”
Ryan has been riding since he was seven years old, and bought his first horse for $1500 out of the local newspaper. “Countdown” was a Thoroughbred/Stock horse cross and took Ryan through Pony Club and up the ranks of eventing, ultimately competing at the four-star level when both horse and rider were 19 years old.
“He was great, this horse – he was a cross-country machine,” recalled Ryan. “He never stopped, and he was always under the time. He was an animal. His heart was so big. I’d be riding down the road, say on garbage day, and a mate would say, ‘Bet you can’t jump that!’ and we’d jump a trash can two strides off the tarmac.”
Countdown is retired, though Ryan brought the horse out of retirement to do an indoor cross-country exhibition at Equitana a couple of years ago, competing against his good friend Boyd Martin, who has also relocated from Australia to the US, where he is working in West Grove, Pennsylvania for Olympic Gold medalist Phillip Dutton, a native Australian who now rides for the United States.
“I’ve known Boyd for about ten years and now we both live in Kennett Square, PA. It’s pretty cool moving across the world and ending up neighbors with your best mate.” Boyd agreed, “We grew up together and it’s quite surreal walking a course with him in Canada and riding all these good horses together.”
After he finished school in Australia, Ryan spent 12 months working for Gary Wallace, then worked from home with a couple of trips to Germany to train with Norbert Van Laak, who coaches the Canadian team in dressage, and with champion rider Ludger Beerbaum in jumping. “I got myself over there and worked for my keep,” said Ryan. “I wasn’t earning much but it was a good opportunity.”
With an outbreak of Equine Influenza in Australia several months ago that put the entire horse industry on hold, Ryan’s move to the United States proved timely. “I’d already planned to come over but it turned out it was a good thing to do,” he acknowledged. “I had to get special permission to leave the country and then flew out of Sydney to Japan, then to Alaska, then to Miami.”
Aside from avoiding the influenza outbreak, he said that he feels the move was a good one, and he plans on staying in the U.S. indefinitely. “Eventing here is amazing,” he said. “The courses, the going, the arenas – they put a lot more effort and money into it here. Working at Bruce’s, every day I get up and something new and exciting is going on.”
As he builds up his business in the United States, Ryan is seeking both clients and sponsors. He can be contacted at email@example.com