Back in the saddle Local athlete learns to ride again

by Lin Stone

Rhian Murphy

Everyone has a story and some are even told on TV. Charlotte’s 14-year-old Rhian Murphy told her story recently on the Today Show with Kathy Lee and Hoda. On one hand, this is the inspirational story of a young athlete overcoming the difficulties of a rare hip disorder, and on the other hand, it’s the age-old story of a girl that caught an incurable case of horse fever when young.

Rhian has been riding horses since she was a 4-year-old living in Austin, Texas. The family moved to Charlotte in 2003 where she continued her riding at Steeple Ridge Farm. In 2010 Rhian noticed her hip hurt a little. She went to see Jeff Albertson at Dee Physical Therapy and concerned, he promptly scheduled an x-ray. Within hours of the appointment, she tripped when exiting the car and fell. Her mother Alaina shared that with that fall came an unforgettable scream of pain. An ambulance took Rhian to the hospital, and while en route, Alaina texted family friends from the barn, Kelly and Dr. Michael Horgan (a neurosurgeon at Fletcher Allen), and asked for Michael’s advice and support. Within moments, Horgan was at the ER. “I’ll never forget Michael’s OMG expression while looking at Rhian’s x-rays. Her hip was 50 percent out of place.

“I spent the night at the hospital with Rhian while my husband went home and stayed up doing research on the rare condition that caused Rhian’s fall: slipped capital femoral epiphysis (SCFE). We thought we would have to go to Boston or New York to get the kind of complicated surgery she needed. But Dr. Craig Bartlett, one of the best orthopedic surgeons specializing in orthopedic trauma, did the surgery here the next day – realigning the hip joint and femur and inserting a screw through the bone to hold the fracture in place.”

Rhian spent three months on crutches, 1,000 hours in physical therapy, did daily exercises, had chiropractic care, acupuncture, and took one long month learning to walk again. Rhian was committed not only to walk, but to ride well again.

By February of 2011, she was able to start riding and joined her trainers for a portion of their winter season in Ocala, Fla. Upon her return home, Rhian continued showing and training that spring and summer. She finished the 2011 Vermont Hunter Jumper Association season as the Hunter Horse Champion and Children’s Equitation Reserve Champion. She also qualified for the Marshall and Sterling National Medal as well as the New England Equitation finals. She placed 34th overall out of 243 riders at the New England Horse Championships, the highest place of riders from the state.

Despite her successful season, Rhian had lost some of the mobility and internal rotation in her hip joint, limiting her ability to ride. Next, she was referred to Dr. Young-Jo Kim, a Boston specialist in adolescent hip surgery. To permanently stabilize her hip and have equal rotation in both hips, they scheduled a second surgery for Halloween. Rhian commented, “This second surgery was pretty scary, but I thought it was scarier not to ride. I love horses, competitions, my barn friends, and the whole horse world. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t ride.”

She continued, “At first I wondered why this happened to me. I had worked so hard. But I talked to myself and said, ‘everything happens for a reason – out of something bad, something good will come.’

“Now I think this was a test of whether I really want to ride – but I just can’t be as passionate about anything else. I had to wait a while to ride again and I had to do something to heal every day. Now I know that whatever the challenges are, I can overcome them.” 

Rhian’s next obstacle is to raise money to help find the right horse to lease or buy to achieve her goal of joining the 2016 Summer Olympic Equestrian Team. If you are interested in sponsoring an aspiring young Olympian, please visit her blog, rhianmurphy.blogspot.com.

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