Ten years after an accident knocked Sharlene Palowez out of the saddle and into a wheelchair, she literally got back on her horse.
Palowez was a champion cowgirl in her younger years, earning saddles in both barrel racing and roping. But a head-on car accident caused a stroke, leaving her left side compromised.
“It kind of took the wind out of my sails,” she said, but she found support and therapy at the Rocky Mountain Stroke Center in Littleton. Staff there heard about The Right Step equine-therapy program at Coventry Farms, tucked away near Mineral Avenue and Santa Fe Drive, and booked her a ride on July 25 as a surprise 56th birthday present.
“It felt like I was home again,” she said after successfully riding gentle Riley around the arena several times, albeit with help mounting and someone on either side of her just in case.
As a kid in Green Mountain, Palowez lived near a stable and would walk over just to see the horses. She befriended the staff, she said, “and before long they had me taking out the dudes on trail rides.” In this case, she said, “dudes” means “greenhorn” or “city boy.”
She later moved to Wyoming, prime rodeo country. In high school, she was the state champion in roping and barrel racing, and she even snagged a riding scholarship to college.
“It kind of freaked me out how good I was,” she said. “I always wanted to be like the really good chicks, and one day I realized I was one.”
Since the accident, Palowez has undergone years of therapy. She’ll probably never regain full strength, but her hope is that she can keep things from getting worse while increasing her balance. Equine therapy is considered beneficial for both, according to program manager Sheryl Clossen.
“There’s no reason I can’t ride anymore,” Palowez said. “I can’t compete anymore, I know that. But today was absolutely wonderful.”