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Para-dressage rider gets back in the saddle after debilitating head injury

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Marie Vonderhayden rider her horse "Louis", as coach Andrea Woodard watches on. (WPEC)

Doing what she loved, almost killed her.

Wellington native Marie Vonderhayden’s path to being a great dressage rider involves forgetting the fall that almost took her life, and getting back on top of a horse, every single day.

Marie's love of horses has never wavered, even though her ability to get back on the horse is so much tougher now.

"She's a horse person," says her mom, Cecile. "She couldn't do anything else."

Marie grew up in France, the daughter of a dressage coach. She won championships in her native country at 18, and then came to the USA to work and compete at the age of 22.

But what happened one February day 4 years ago, would send her on a different path.

Marie says she remembers nothing from that day, and in fact no one knows for sure what happened - just that Marie was found motionless on the road and the horse she was riding on was also on the ground.

"I get a call that she fell and it was serious. I'm a horse person, so when someone tells me it's serious, I start to worry."

Marie spent 8 weeks in an induced coma at St. Mary's Medical Center. She had massive bleeding on the brain, and broken bones all over her body.

"I was told she wouldn't wake up, and if she wakes up, she'll never walk. She's never going to talk. I didn't leave her side every day, fighting for her life.... and little by little she came back to life."

After months of aggressive physical and occupational therapy, and Marie could walk and talk again. And even ride a horse.

Four years later she is competing in para dressage events in wellington.

"She's actually quite good," says her coach, Andrea Woodard. "She looks perfect from head to toe."

But the comeback trail, has had plenty of setbacks. The night before our interview, she had a seizure.

"It slows her down," says Cecile. "I get the impression every time she has a seizure, it goes back 2 years. But she's a fighter."

A fighter struggling threw her daily battles, but always getting back in the saddle.

This week, Marie was one of four finalists for the Against All Odds Award given out by the governing body for equestrian sports all over the world. Marie's goal now is to compete in the Para-Olympic games, and represent the United States in 2024.

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