By Jackie McFarland for ProEquest.com
Brazilian Paulo Santana owns Santana Stables based in Wellington, Florida. He has a long list of accolades, including a second place finish in the prestigious two-round Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Spruce Meadows this past July. Santana is well known for his integrity and ability to match horses with clients who come from all over the world as well as for training his students to achieve goals they never thought were possible.
Like most International level riders, after the winter circuit in Wellington, Paulo is on the road quite a bit during the year. However when he was sidelined with an injury in late April, he had to sit out (literally) for part of the spring and summer seasons. Recovering at their home base in Wellington, Paulo worked to get back in the tack from the ground up.
Together Paulo and his talented grand prix partner, Taloubet, came back to the ring in solid form, earning them an invitation to the Spruce Meadows Masters this week.
He took the time to talk with ProEquest.com about his ‘circle’ – how it happened, the road to recovery, getting back in the saddle and in the show ring.
What was the date of your fall and what do you remember about the incident? Did you know your ankle was broken?
On April 28th I was schooling one of my mares and a jump spooked her. She flipped over on me and fell on my left leg. Even though I tried to convince myself that the pain would be temporary, I think I actually heard the sound of the bones breaking. I could not walk out of the arena and soon realized by the size of my ankle that it was completely broken.
When was the last time you were sidelined with an injury?
Fifteen years ago I broke my knee when I fell into a triple bar while competing. I was out for a year.
What changes to your schedule followed –what did you have to skip?
Thanks to my orthopedic and physical therapy team here in Wellington – Dr. Nicholas Sama from the Center For Bone and Joint Therapy and Ed Smith from Athletes Advantage – I was able to ride in world record time. I was competing 36 days after fracturing my ankle; I had to skip the Kentucky Spring shows and went straight to Spruce Meadows.
How did you handle your horses – who did you bring in to keep them in shape?
Between some of my students and my riders they stayed working the whole time, I organized all the schooling sections and I actually liked the opportunity to see them from the ground.
How long after diagnosis until you were back in the barn? Did you have a cast?
Of course I was at the barn the very next day with a big cast. And it was 100 degrees in Wellington, which was awful! But staying at home and resting is not for me. Not only did I not like the lack of exercise but I’m not good at staying still.
Did you coach while you were injured?
Yes actually it was a very good opportunity to spend time with my students and work in depth on the details. Also, I was bored and needed to fill the void of not thinking about my ride, so I put everybody on double task. They worked hard!
How do you handle pain?
Does not bother me so much if I know I am on the right path for healing. No pain no gain (haha).
Did you follow doctor’s orders to a ‘t’?
I had to follow their orders because they told me if I did what they said it would be possible to compete at Spruce Meadows this year. And if I didn’t it could get even worse and definitely no Spruce. So I decided to do everything by the book and wait for a miracle recovery. And it worked!
How many weeks were you off?
Five weeks out of tack and then I started riding without stirrups, so I didn’t put pressure on the ankle.
What was your plan once you got back in the saddle?
To work through the pain in my ankle as it gained enough strength to support the weight from my body in the stirrups and try of course to recuperate my competitive skills!
How long did you ride before you were ready to show?
One week at the show grounds at Spruce Meadows.
How did it feel to be back in the show ring, especially your second place at the Queens Cup and top grand prix ribbons in Kentucky?
Yes it was very rewarding to do well. The time off gave me a different perspective, and a chance to envision of what I was doing wrong before the fall. That was the gain of the pain.
What advice would you give to other riders who sustain an injury?
Always look for a doctor that understands your sport. I know that can be hard but the fact that my doctors were sports-oriented meant they were looking how to get me back in the saddle and in the show ring. After discussing my goal to compete at Spruce six weeks later, we went over the risks versus the benefits, knowing that coming back that fast had its risks.
We spent some weeks in Kentucky preparing for the Spruce Masters, which I consider one of the highest levels of demand on a Grand Prix horse. Following that is the indoor season; we will do some of those shows on the East Coast. Then home to prepare for the winter season in Wellington.
We wish all the best to Paulo Santana, who is truly a pleasure to be around, and thank him for his time.
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