Breeders' Cup Presents Connections: 'I Don't Really Care If I Can't Walk. I Just Want To Ride Racehorses' - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: ‘I Don’t Really Care If I Can’t Walk. I Just Want To Ride Racehorses’

Bryce Bourdieu, severely injured in a training accident, is determined to get back in the saddle (photo courtesy of Julie Farr)

This Thanksgiving, I want to bring you an inspirational story that's a little bit different from this feature's usual fare.

It's a story about perseverance, about the power of perspective, and above all, about the generosity of the horse racing community.

Bryce Bourdieu is a 19-year-old horseman who had been plying his trade in Texas, galloping horses at a local training center in the mornings and working as an assistant starter at Retama Park in the afternoons. On Aug. 11, 2022, Bourdieu's life changed forever when a filly he was riding flipped over and fell on top of him.

He suffered severe injuries to his spine which required multiple surgeries to stabilize, but the biggest trauma came later when Bourdieu developed compartment syndrome in his left leg. Every attempt was made to save the limb, but after 13 surgeries doctors were eventually forced to amputate his leg below the knee.

Bourdieu could have let that sudden loss devastate him; it wasn't just his lower left leg that was gone, but his entire career path and way of life were now permanently changed.

Instead, the wise-beyond-his-years young man never allowed his courageous mindset to falter. Bourdieu never lost hope, and remains determined to rehabilitate his body and return to the saddle and the industry he loves.

Bryce Bordieu

“He never once said, 'Why me?'” recalled Bourdieu's mother, Julie Farr. “His attitude has inspired everyone who meets him… Even though it was horrific, I felt like I was really watching something special as he went through this.”

Bourdieu said: “I just told myself to keep fighting, keep going. Everything was going on around me, and I just put my head down and kept going.”

He suggested that it was his mother's influence, sleeping on a bench outside his hospital room for 10 weeks, that helped Bourdieu keep such a positive attitude throughout the ordeal.

“I was a single mom raising him and his brother, but he's always been that way,” Farr deferred. “He blew out his left knee playing football in 2018 and was strong through that, too. There's a determination there, and I can honestly tell you he's the strongest human being I've ever met in my life. There's a focus and a determination there that he just has. I'd like to think that my being there probably helped him, but I can't take credit for it.”

Beyond Bourdieu's strength of character, the camaraderie of the horse racing industry has been a buoyant force during his recovery.

Multiple surgeries were required to repair Bourdieu's spine

“We have been so humbled by the outpouring of support from so many,” Farr said. “When I say that, people automatically think of money, and that's great because we can use it to pay bills. But I really want to make this profound statement: it's the prayers and the statements and the cards and the messages on Facebook, those mean everything. It is truly humbling what this racing community has done for him. The racing community are such fierce competitors on the racetrack, but they are a true family off the track.”

Farr works as a racing analyst and a racing administrator in New Mexico, and was at Ruidoso Downs when she got the call that her son had been seriously injured. The remote racetrack would have made it difficult for her to make it to Texas very quickly, but horse owner Scott Bryant sent his private jet to the runway at Ruidoso and got her to her son's bedside just a couple hours later.

“He paid for it and everything,” Farr said. “It was like that through this whole thing. There would be these moments where you would just look at it and think, 'Dear God, what next?' But then something beautiful would happen. It kept us going.”

Retama Park chaplain Michael Bingaman traveled up to the hospital twice a week to spend time with Bourdieu, helping to keep his spirits up. Jockeys Mike Smith, Pat Day, Gary Stevens, and James Flores, as well as rodeo community members Tuff Hedeman and J.B. Mauney, have all reached out to Bourdieu and offered well-wishes and support.

Janet VanBebber, chief racing officer with the American Quarter Horse Association, purchased jockey Flores' 2022 All-American Futurity-winning helmet to help benefit Bourdieu's recovery at an auction held at Heritage Place sale in September.

Brad Bolen (LipChipLLC) organized a fundraiser and prayer that was a surprise for Bourdieu on Labor Day weekend. Eric Halstrom and Rachel McLaughlin from Horseshoe Indianapolis held a fundraiser at their venue. Laura Joiner from the Sam Thompson Memorial Foundation spent countless hours taking care of fundraising, as well.


“The racing industry has been so incredibly supportive and encouraging during this unfortunate tragedy,” Farr summarized. “We are incredibly humbled by this experience.”

Julie Farr was a constant presence during her son's hospitalization

A little over three months after the accident, Bourdieu is already back home in El Paso and working hard on his outpatient rehab. He is awaiting one more revision surgery in three to six months, after which he'll be able to begin learning to use a prosthesis.

Bourdieu's physical therapist is optimistic that he'll be able to ride again, Farr said.

“There's so many different combinations of legs that you can put together,” she explained. “They told us the last 30 years, especially the last 10 years, that in this side of medicine there has just been so much development; every day they're coming up with something new. They've made great strides in it.”

Bourdieu said: “I told the therapist the other day: 'I don't really care if I can't walk. I just want to ride racehorses.'”

With his positive attitude, a little perseverance, and a lot of help from his horse racing family, Bourdieu will have all the ingredients he needs to make that dream a reality.

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