Below is a transcript of the conversation I had with Braxten of what he recalls from his accident in August of 2017.
Are you ok with talking about your accident and how it affected your life?
"Oh yeah! I'm totally good with it."
Take me through your accident, what exactly happened?
"I was sitting above the horse and I had my hand in the riggin and was getting ready to nod just like any other rodeo. I slid up on my riggin and actually nodded to turn the horse out of the chutes and it was like a simultaneous kind of a deal- the horse kind of sat down on its butt, like a dog would sit down on its butt, and squished me in the chute so I was pinched. My shoulders wouldn't roll out from underneath me and when the gate opened up the horse leaned back, and it was enough pressure that it actually broke my L1 and T12 in my back, which are located belly button height, so right on the back side of my belly button."
During this moment that the horse was pinching you in between him and the chute, did you know what was happening and that you were in severe trouble?
"Yep, so it was weird... I remember a pinch and it felt like a shotgun went off in my ears, like something just popped and all of a sudden my legs went numb and I just couldn't feel my legs at all. I remember trying to reach up to grab my hand but the horse came out of the chute... It was kind of in slow motion and then I remember hitting the ground and trying to get up and run and my legs didn't move and that's when I was like ok something is really serious. I knew I broke my back in the chute but I didn't know I was paralyzed or that my legs didn't work until I hit the dirt and tried to move out of the way of the horse. Nothing wanted to work. I remember Joe Frost jumping over and they took off my boots and started flicking my toes to see if I could feel anything in my toes. I couldn't feel anything. Nothing really hurt, it was all numb, but what was hard was trying to get a big breath of air, I couldn't really breathe that well."
You went to the hospital right after, and what did they tell you? How did you react to the news?
"They life flighted me over to U of U hospital where I underwent a five and a half hour surgery. Once I came out of surgery, the surgeon came out and told my parents that the surgery went well and everything went back into place really well but it tore through my ligaments and tendons that hold my vertabrae up and that everything was just separated in there. They also told me that my spinal cord was just twisted at some point which allowed inflammation to get into my spinal cord. And so they were able to untwist it and things lined up really well. They do this thing where they put contractors to your spinal cord and fire your nerves in your legs- and my right leg would fire but there was no movement at all in my left leg. They came and told my mom and dad that I would never walk again and my dad asked what the chances were of walking again and that's when she said less than a 5% chance. They also said there was about a 1% chance that my left leg would ever work again. You know... when I was told that, when my dad told me when I came out of anesthesia... I didn't want to believe it and I thought to myself there's no way this is real. And then the next few days there were rodeos going on that I was supposed to be at and I was angry and pretty upset at the world. I didn't understand why something like this would happen to me. After a few days of sitting in the hospital I had a lot of time to think and I finally said to myself... I can either take this two ways, be negative my whole life or, just like bareback riding, you choose to get on and you can't choose what horse you get, and I couldn't choose or change the circumstances I was under so I might as well make the best of it and I did just that. I told myself I'm gonna be positive and this is going to be an awesome experience and honestly since that day I have never looked back. Yeah, there's been hard days where I wish I could go get on a bucking horse- especially when I see my traveling partners going and doing it, of course I wish I could do it. I just continue to think about the positive things such as being able to walk now and going hunting and being able to do things I love to do again. I think the positive mindset truly helps heal the body itself."
You can walk now, correct?
"Oh yeah, I can walk. And it's just getting stronger and stronger everyday."
Do you still do physical therapy?
"Yup, so I go to Neuroworx- I do a lot of pool therapy. I'm able to start lifting weights now- honestly anything that doesn't hurt my back. I can't twist though quite yet. I also still go to rehab 2 times a day."
Do you think you'll ever ride again?
"Oh, hell yeah! You put this in there... 2019 Denver Colorado Livestock: Braxten Nielsen will be riding... bound and determined."
How did this accident impact your life?
"You know... my traveling partner asked me "Do you wish this never happened to you?" I can honestly say I'm glad this happened to me. And I can't answer if it would have been different but I've learned so much in the last six months that I never would have learned in my whole life. So I am grateful for it and I'm grateful that I get to get back to living."
Braxten's parents, Rick & Kathy, share their memories of the traumatic event that their son endured and how it has impacted their lives.
Professional bareback rider and NFR qualifier, Mason Clements, comments on his friendship with Braxten and how he has impacted his outlook on life. Mason has been a fellow rider to Braxten and considers him one of his heroes.