As a member of the Oregon City equestrian team my junior and senior years of high school (2015-17), I read with interest the article in the OC News last week about Coach Angie Wacker's state ethics violations and wanted to share my own story.
I fell off my horse while attending our first practice during Oregon High School Equestrian Teams (OHSET) drill tryouts. It was nobody's fault but my own; I had forgotten to tighten my cinch before getting on.
When I fell, I didn't feel capable of getting up; it knocked the wind out of me, and I was in a lot of pain. However, my coach, Angie Wacker, insisted I get up and move out of the arena so that the rest of the team could continue practice. She insisted I brush it off and get back on.
I didn't feel as though I could get up, and my mom was uncomfortable with me attempting to move. However, Angie pushed, and not wanting to ruin it for the team, I did as asked. As my mom helped me out of the arena, I knew something wasn't right, and begged to be taken to the emergency room.
I remember that day like it was yesterday, and I will not forget the EMTs, nurses and doctors who had to help get me out of the car that night. By the time I made it to the hospital, the pain had really set in, and I couldn't move without sharp pain.
As it turns out, I had broken my back. I broke my lumbar vertebrae L1, L2 and L3. There were several people included in the process of removing me from the car. I was sitting in the front seat, however, due to my condition, I had to be removed through the back seat of the car and put on a back board with a neck brace.
The EMTs and nurses scolded my parents for not calling an ambulance. But my parents only did as Angie asked and got me out of the arena. Angie was only concerned about continuing practice and not my safety.
I was unable to ride for more than six weeks, however, I still wanted to be a part of the team and be involved. I went to the first business meeting after my accident, and I remember being shunned and laughed at, later causing me to not continue with the team for the rest of the season.
Angie said the first practice was "eventful" and I remember the team laughing. I had fallen and seriously injured my back, however I was laughed at and made to feel as though it was just a laughing matter. At one point, one girl on the team was telling my classmates that I had lied and that I hadn't actually broken my back. I reached out to Angie about the matter as well as the girl making the statements. I never heard back from either of them regarding the rumor.
I didn't return to the team until my senior year, because I didn't feel welcome. The only reason I continued to ride with Oregon City was because I had no other choice. I couldn't have ridden with another team. I don't know if it was due to school jurisdiction or OHSET policy, but you have to ride with the school you attend. I wasn't going to give up on the sport I loved because of a selfish coach.
One of the girls on the OHSET team was a member of a rodeo drill team at the time, and her mom was one of the coaches. After my accident, I didn't feel welcome on Angie's team. So once I was cleared to ride again, I went to the drill-team tryouts.
Angie reached out to the drill coach and tried to get the drill coach not to let me join, saying I was unfit to be on the team. I don't know why that was any of Angie's business, nor why she felt the need to get involved, but, thankfully, the drill team let me ride anyway, and I loved it.
When I returned to the OHSET team in my senior year of high school, my horse at the time was not a good fit for some of the events I wanted to do. He needed some more training to be a part of the events.
So, kindly, I had a friend who was willing to let me use her horse in these events. Angie would not let me even bring the horse to a practice to see if the horse was fit. She was insistent that I try one of her horses instead, but I really wanted to use my friend's horse that I knew and had experience with.
She didn't allow it, and because she didn't want me using that horse, I missed out on a few events.
Abigail Norton is a 2017 graduate of Oregon City High School.
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