Plucky youngster back in the saddle

by Sandra Lee

Lily Steiner with the spoils from last year's Kohukohu ODE win, with her horse Strider.

Lily Steiner with the spoils from last year's Kohukohu ODE win, with her horse Strider.

When 14-year-old Lily Steiner's hand was crushed on Hokianga's Kohu Ra ferry last year she lost not only her fingers, but her flute playing, and almost her horse riding as well.

Earlier this month Lily competed at the Kohukohu One Day Event. As reigning champion and holder of the Gundry Cup, she faced a big challenge. It was her first equestrian competition since her accident. She placed second.

On July 21 last year Lily's fingers were accidentally crushed during a harbour crossing of the ferry.

"Its all a horrible memory now. We were flown to Middlemore Hospital in the rescue helicopter. I remember the sunset and calling to my mum terrified I would never play my flute again," Lily says.

"This isn't a story with a happy ending. Life doesn't turn out like that," she says.

Lily has nothing but praise for Hokianga Health doctors at Rawene whom she says have known her since she was born. They refused to send her to Whangarei for a straight forward amputation of her crushed fingers and insisted that she be flown to Middlemore where her best hopes of reconstructive surgery lay.

"I flew into Middlemore to a long wait in outpatients, then four and a half hours of surgery that saved my index finger," Lily says.

After 10 days in hospital (where Lily was found to be allergic to pain killers) and a week in Auckland as an out patient, Lily returned to her home in Kohukohu.

Each day she had to get on the ferry and make the journey to Rawene Hospital for dressings to her hand.

"It all came back to me. First of all I just stayed in the car and sometimes I would go into shock and freak out. Finally I got out of the car and stood in the same place where it happened." Lily says.

"At first I felt a lot of anger, at the ferry, at the driver, then most of all at myself. But that's all gone now."

A month later Lily's index finger had gone black and she returned to Middlemore facing amputation. Quite by chance a vascular surgeon took her case at the last minute and decided he could save the finger, rather than remove it, Lily says.

"I woke up, really dazed and asked my nurse why my finger was still long."

The surgery, followed by four months of physiotherapy but the index finger refused to bend.

Two of Lily's fingers, her flute playing (up to grade four with four years of classical schooling) were gone, but she still had her horse.

"The first time I got back on Strider was in the Christmas school holidays," Lily says.

"It was just amazing to get back on, even being led by my sister."

Lily began riding an old, calm horse, mostly to make her mum and friends happy. "But all I wanted was my Strider," Lily said, and she rode the safe horse with her hand in a splint, and it was not pain free.

Back at pony club Lily rode Strider but found she could not stop him with just one hand.

"I had to use a curb chain and couldn't jump as it jolted my hand," she says.

Then the Kohukohu Pony Club went on a trip to Rangi Point and made a trek over the sandhills to the long open west coast beach of Mitimiti. "On the long beach I could let Strider run, there was no reason to stop. It was just so amazing to be on him and feel him running again at last, after all that time," Lily says.

"We went really fast. I leaned forward and just let him gallop free."

While Lily did not retain her trophy, she says for her the day is not about winning or losing, it is about doing her best and being able to ride.