Back in the saddle
By MITCHELL DALE
FOUR months ago, Coffs Harbour apprentice jockey Brett Poulus went within a horse's whisker of dying after a race fall at the Gold Coast.
For those of you who have a weak stomach or are about to tuck into some bacon and eggs, skip the next paragraph because the list of injuries he sustained doesn't make for good reading.
Poulus fractured the base of his skull and suffered swelling on the brain and two cracked neck vertebrae when his mount Reynard bled (when blood vessels in a racehorse's lungs burst due to the stress of exercise) and the jockey fell during a race on June 5.
If his vertebrae cracked just one and a half millimetres ? about the width of a match stick ? higher, Poulus would have died on the spot.
He was induced into a coma for more than a week amid initial fears he had suffered brain damage.
However, in less than four months, the 23-year-old has come full circle.
Fast forward to last Thursday and Poulus was ready to climb back on a horse for the first time since the fall.
"I was nervous, but not frightened," he said.
"If I was frightened, I would have given it away before now.
"I am nervous about not being as competitive as I was before the fall."
Thursday's ride was only a short one, about five minutes all up.
That was all he needed.
"It was sensational, my head is just spinning at the moment," he said after dismounting.
The young jockey can't remember being trampled by a race horse after he fell, or thumping into the guard rail. He doesn't remember the first two months of his recovery.
And as he was about to saddle up for the first time since the fall, there was no way he wanted to remember either.
"Apparently the horse bled and I clipped another horse's heels, but the best thing is that I don't remember a thing about it," he said."I hope I never do."
Getting back on the horse was one of the last steps on Poulus' path to recovery and he is confident of getting back to doing what he does best ? booting home winners.
"Hopefully I will be back race riding in a couple of months," he said.
"The fall will probably set me back about 12 months, but hopefully I will be able to get the chances I had before the fall.
"I know I won't be the same rider straight away, but hopefully I will within 6-12 months.
"I believe everything happens for a reason, and I believe this happened to make me mentally stronger."
While Poulus now bounces around with the same confidence that made him one of the top apprentice jockeys in the State, he is not completely back to normal yet.
The apprentice jockey to Coffs Harbour trainer Ken Lantry still has the odd memory lapse, but he is getting better.
"Sometimes when I am trying to think about too many things I panic a bit," he said.
"If I take a couple of seconds to think about it, I am usually okay."
Poulus will always be grateful for the people who supported him through the horrific period.
"Ken and Julie (Lantry) have been brilliant, without them I wouldn't have been able to come back," he said.
"I can't thank them and (his former trainer) Dianne Poidevin-Laine enough."
Slowly but surely, Brett Poulus is on the comeback trail. Four months ago he had the racing world at his feet, but these days he is just happy to be standing and walking on them.