Taking Up the Reins Again
Alexis Halbert, 16, is returning to her passion of riding horses after sustaining a spinal cord injury.
Alexis Halbert, now 16, was 4 years old when she started riding horses — a year younger than when her mother, Liz, got her first pony as a child. Over the past few years, mother and daughter bonded over long car rides to horse shows nearly every weekend.
On July 18, 2020, the two were at a jumping event in Mill Spring, North Carolina. During the second round, Alexis’ horse, Charisma, leapt too soon before a jump and collided with the rails — flipping both horse and rider. Charisma died instantly of a broken neck. Alexis survived her spinal cord injury only after emergency surgery at Prisma Health Greenville Memorial Hospital in Greenville, South Carolina, where doctors inserted two rods and eight screws to repair her T-6 and T-7 vertebrae.
Ten days after her injury, Alexis arrived at Shepherd Center, mourning both the loss of her horse and her independence. The equestrian community rallied behind her, sending hundreds of letters, along with a video featuring messages of support from renowned equestrians worldwide.
The Halbert family was also heartened by the new community that embraced them at Shepherd Center.
“You’d think it would be so depressing in a place where there’s such raw grief and sadness for so many people,” Liz says. “But you don’t feel that here. You see inspiration. You’re constantly lifted up. You understand why nobody wants to leave!”
Alexis relished the physical challenges of rehabilitation — stair climbing, Lokomat® sessions, aquatic therapy in Shepherd Center’s pool and even soccer goalkeeper exercises.
“It was hard work, but that’s what I wanted,” she says. “As soon as I would make progress, they’d say, ‘OK, you can do this, now let’s maximize that and try something else.’”
Alexis’ rapid improvement astonished even her care team. On September 14 — less than two months after her injury — Alexis took her first unassisted steps.
Now back home, she’s taking classes online, walking without crutches and partnering with her mom to advocate for the widespread adoption of safety vests in horseback riding. Alexis and Liz are also on the road again — this time for thrice-weekly trips to Orlando for ongoing physical therapy. Thanks to clearance from Shepherd Center’s Adaptive Driving Services, Alexis can take the wheel on those drives.
She’s also taking up the reins again. On Alexis’ 16th birthday, five days after Christmas Day, 2020, she rode for the first time since her injury.
Written by Phillip Jordan
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 935 inpatients, 541 day program patients and more than 7,300 outpatients each year.