It was August 24, 2011, the first day of her sophomore year of high school when Christy McCullough, now 16, had her accident. While out on a typical horseback ride with her sister, Brooke, McCullough’s horse stumbled and fell sending her and her horse end over end. As a result of the fall, McCullough sustained a traumatic brain injury. Her horse ran back to the barn with just a bloody nose while McCullough lay in the grass, her brain bleeding. Brooke thought her sister was going to die. Nancy Miller, the girls’ mother, got the call from Brooke in the field. She burst out the door, jumped over two fences and made it to the girls. She’s not sure at what point she realized she hadn’t put on shoes. McCullough doesn’t remember this, or the screaming, or the helicopter flight that took her from her family’s farm outside Clinton, Mo.
McCullough didn’t wake up for two days. Her mother Nancy Miller says her recovery was only because she had one clear goal in mind: to win the Miss Teen Rodeo Missouri competition. She had been training for this event before her accident. In a cruel twist this young horsewoman now had to relearn how to ride a horse. Her short-term memory had been damaged to the point she had to relearn how to study, too.
And now she is required to wear a helmet. Doctors said another fall could have serious implications. In a world where cowboy hats and glitz are the norm, the helmet seemed a monumental step for her.
“She knew that if she was going to ride she was going to have to wear it,” Miller said. “She bucked up and she did it. It broke my heart that she had to do that.”
“There was a fleeting moment when I thought about not letting her get back on a horse, but I knew we needed to let her in order for her to heal,” Miller said. In just a little over a year, Christy’s dream became a reality. In September 2012, McCullough won the 2013 Miss Teen Rodeo Missouri crown.
McCullough will compete in the National Miss Teen Rodeo Missouri competition later this year. She hopes to be the first Missourian to win the national crown.
Visuals: Roxana Pop
Audio: Meredith Turk