This article has been written by Flossie England, an Erb’s Palsy Group member who is eighteen years old.
I have a grade 3 Erb’s Palsy injury which means that I have limited range of movement so I can’t reach above my head or move my arm out in front of me. My elbow doesn’t fully extend or flex. I have ulnar drift at the wrist and the range of movement used to be very limited but when I was 7 I had a tendon transfer which gave some extension past neutral. My grip is normally very good but lately it has been getting worse due to cubital tunnel syndrome. So at the beginning of September I had an ulnar nerve decompression which should reduce the pins and needles and over time improve my grip. I also suffered some brain damage at birth as a result of oxygen not getting to my brain which causes me to struggle with processing information. Both of these massively affect my life but I try not to let them dictate it.
As a teenager with right Erb’s Palsy I have witnessed how the opinions of others can affect my own confidence. However, I am lucky that if I ever doubt myself I have an outlet in the sport I participate in.
Show Jumping and Dressage
Competing in para showjumping was great as I felt, for the first time, I was on a level playing field with my fellow competitors. However, as I got older and bought a new pony, Freddie, I gravitated more towards eventing. There is no para eventing so I have to compete against able-bodied riders. The first couple of seasons were fantastic and I was selected for the East Midlands under 18 team and qualified for both the pony club national championships and the grassroots national championships.
As I moved up the levels I struggled more because in the dressage phase the picture needs to look ‘right’ which isn’t always possible when your arms aren’t the same length! This year I missed out on qualifying for the pony club champs by 1.5 marks (the test was out of 250) because I had 2 marks deducted for not making a give and retake of the reins clear enough (when you move your arm forward to give away the contact on the rein – something I can’t do due to my limited range of movement). This was gutting and really made me conscious of the limitations that my Erb’s causes.
I am very critical of my position when riding and all photos I like are from the left side, which looks a better ‘picture’ than the right side does due to my arms and posture. I try not to let this affect me as I know that as long as my aids are effective it doesn’t matter what it looks like in the jumping phases! Even though this season may not look the most impressive on paper I have enjoyed getting to know my young horse Orla who has been campaigned lightly alongside Freddie.
The event season ends on the last weekend of October but mine was cut short due to my recent operation on my Erb’s arm. I have been reflecting on the positives from our performance this year and any aspects that we need to focus on in winter training before coming out in the spring ready to be more competitive at the higher level next year. I tried to view this time off riding as a positive allowing me more time to focus on my application to university and starting back at school. In reality I have probably spent just as much time up at the yard and can’t wait to get back on!
Physio is a big part of anybody’s life with Erb’s and luckily my parents made it very clear to me at a young age that there was no option about doing it or not. I could probably count on one hand the number of days I didn’t do physio between being first told to do them as a baby to being 13 when they said I could start to do less as I was doing so much sport. At the time it wasn’t great fun but it is something I will always be grateful to my parents for. I used to do physio every night before bed and it was just part of the routine. I even remember standing at the top of the stairs shouting down asking for someone to come and do my exercises because I was the youngest of 4 siblings so I used to like the time with mum or dad to myself!
I struggled at school to keep up with the work and the high standards I set for myself. Year 11 is a difficult year for most teenagers, but with a significant lack of sleep and increased aches from sitting at desks for prolonged periods, I really struggled. I remember coming home from school and going straight to bed as I was both physically and mentally exhausted. With my grades being teacher assessed we had up to 5 exams a day which made revising effectively impossible. This caused me to feel as though I wasn’t living up to my high standards so I saw myself as a failure. Luckily as an outlet I ride horses and even just going up to the yard and seeing the horses after a long day at school helped me appreciate that there is more to life than just getting high grades.
I achieved grades that meant I could continue my studies in the sixth form at my school. When I expressed my love of science in school I was always faced with people saying how it was a shame I would never be able to become a doctor due to my Erb’s. As a result I spent most of secondary school unsure of what I wanted to do next. As I grew older I began to pay less attention to other peoples’ opinions and decided to ask my surgeon, who said I was definitely physically able enough to study medicine! Now I have just finished my application for university and have applied for medicine.
My advice to anyone would be to focus on the things you are in control of. There is no point worrying about something that is out of your control but if you enhance any aspect you can it will only make the situation better. If you have done your best what will be, will be. This is better deduced by Jimmy Dean who says “[you] can’t change the direction of the wind, but [you] can adjust [your] sail to always reach [your] destination”.
Ison Harrison would like to extend their thanks to Flossie for contributing this article.