22-year-old cowgirl told she will 'never ride again'
BESSIE Smits was told the news no cowgirl ever wants to hear: "you will never ride again".
The 22-year-old Rodeo Queen of Australia is recovering from a horse accident that has left her with cracked ribs and a grade-four tear on her liver.
The significant liver injury will mean riding horses, motorbikes or even playing contact sports will be off limits for the rest of her life.
However, the well-spoken and positive Cloncurry woman still foresees her future being filled with all things rodeo, even if she will no longer be participating in the arena.
"There is no stopping me," she said.
"From the end of March onwards I will be doing all my Rodeo Queen appearances as scheduled.
"Rodeo is my life, so when I am ready, I want to be involved as much as I physically can. And I want to be able to help my partner (calf roper Tyrone Douglas) with his competitive goals."
When the Rural Weekly caught up with Bessie she was in the midst of her six weeks of bed rest and feeling "sore and fatigued".
Although it's been a few weeks since her accident, the incident is still fresh in her mind.
Bessie was at Cloncurry stables working her young gelding Coal, a horse she was preparing for this year's rodeo circuit, when she was injured.
"He was a bit fresh and had only been back into work for three days," she said.
"But I would call him my trusty steed.
"I had just got on and the rein had slipped over the top part of the bit, I leant forward to flick it off, something I have done a thousand times, but because he was feeling a little bit fresh this gave him a fright and he started bucking."
Coal bucked into his stable and eventually threw Bessie hard against the railing - her chest was crushed against the rigid steel frame of the gate.
"When I hit the gate, just the force I hit it with, I knew immediately that something was really wrong," she said.
"I went into shock straight away."
Fellow horsewoman and qualified midwife Chelsea Salisbury happened to be at the stables at the time.
"She came over and called the ambulance," Bessie said.
"Then she drove the ambulance herself because the paramedic was on her own."
After being examined by doctors in Cloncurry, Bessie was airlifted to Mt Isa Base Hospital by the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
She spent two days in the intensive care ward and then was flown to Townsville hospital by the RFDS.
"Typically with a grade-four liver laceration the surgeon said they like to monitor patients for 10 days, but after my eighth-day scan they said I was healing so well I could go home early," she said.
"I was very excited about that. I was going a little stir crazy in hospital."
While Bessie put on a brave front, she did admit learning she would never ride again was devastating.
"It's broken my heart but I am getting through it," she said.
"I mean rodeo is my life, working horses is my life.
"As soon as my flight landed in Cloncurry, Tyrone picked me up and we went straight to the stables.
"When we got there it started to hit me. I saw my gelding and thought of all the goals that I had for him and all that could have been.
"I felt a sense of dread wave over my body.
"Then for the next few days going back to the stables the same thing happened each time, I get that same feeling.
"So for the time being I am not going out to the stables for a little while, just because it is emotionally difficult."
For the next six months Bessie will have to be extra cautious, not even being allowed to handle horses, as a slight knock to her liver could be fatal.
However, she is determined to wear her Rodeo Queen of Australia crown with pride.
This year she will represent Australia at the world's biggest rodeos: Calgary Stampede, Cheyenne Frontier and the Fort Worth Stock Show.
She is confident her duties will all be fulfilled without her riding horses.
"We are looking into different alternatives for me to participate rather than riding on horseback, like me riding in the back of a ute or in the back of a horse-drawn carriage to make appearances," she said.
Although Bessie's family doesn't have a rodeo background, she has a deep love for the sport.
After her family moved to Mt Isa she became involved with horses through pony club and used to volunteer at the Mt Isa rodeo riding with the sponsorship flags and helping out behind the chutes and in the back yards.
All she ever wanted was to be a cowgirl.
After meeting her boyfriend in Cloncurry, whose family is heavily involved in rodeo, she became a keen breakaway roper herself but her favourite event to watch is the calf rope and tie.
"My partner is a budding calf roper and I just think it takes so much skill, there are so many different aspects to it," she said.
Bessie states that Tyrone may now use her horse Coal to compete with in the distant future.
While she has a long road of recovery ahead of her, she is still looking forward to what 2017 will hold.
"There is lots to look forward to," she said.
She pinned her remarkably upbeat attitude to the caring and kind people around her.
"The support I have received is one of the only things that kept my spirits high, knowing people were thinking of me and praying for me," she said.
"I definitely think part of the reason I have healed so quickly is because of the uplifting feeling everyone has given me and the positive attitude I have."