After 11 tense days, professional show jumper Cassandra Kahle finally started waking up and showing signs of consciousness following a traumatic brain injury she suffered when her horse fell during a jump-off Jan. 29.

By Friday, Feb. 11th, she was ready to leave the UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville, FL, and head to rehabilitation at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, where the treatment specialties include brain injuries.

Cassie, 29, is a Canadian from British Columbia whose mother, Natasha Brash, is the founder of Silver Fox Sales and Training.

Riding for Emil Spadone’s Redfield Farm in Ocala, FL, and Califon, NJ, Cassie’s successes include victories last fall in the Grand Prix de Penn National and in 2019, the World Champion Hunter Rider Pro Challenge at the Capital Challenge Horse Show.

Her accident at the HITS show in Ocala left hundreds of friends and admirers fearful about her future and praying for her recovery.

An MRI diagnosed Cassie with diffuse axonal injury (DAI), which happens when the brain rapidly shifts inside the skull as an injury is occurring. The long connecting fibers in the brain called axons are sheared as the brain rapidly accelerates and decelerates inside the hard bone of the skull.

Family members came down from Canada to support Cassie and were rewarded Feb. 8th when she opened her eyes for the longest period in the days since her accident, and was able to follow simple commands.

“They call her semi-conscious,” said Emil that evening.

“It takes a little time…we always had the faith, but it just kind of renews it when you have a day like today.”

Emil conceded, “It was so up and down for a little bit there,” while citing the “amazing nurses and doctors” at Shands for all they’ve done.

The situation has been difficult for anyone who cares about Cassie, who also suffered from pneumonia at one point, then rallied.

“I do think positive,” said Emil, “but it’s taken its toll.”

The patient kept improving, he said and on Feb. 10th, according to her mother, nurses moved Cassie to a chair near a window, enabling her to look outside for the first time since the accident.

Brian Feigus, a fellow showjumper who is a longtime friend of Cassie’s, is among those who have been following her progress.

“The second I heard about the accident, I don’t think I slept until she woke up. She’s like family to me,” he said.

(cassandrakahle Instagram)

“She lights up every room she walks into,” he continued, explaining her popularity. “She always has a smile on her face, no matter how long a day she’s had. She finds the positive in every single day. She stands there with open arms; she draws everyone to her.”

Brian cited her work ethic as “unmatched by anyone in this industry. She loves it.”

Cassie’s fall happened as she was going fast aboard Heviola in the tiebreaker for a 1.40-meter class when two distances to the next jump appeared. One was an inside turn, the other was a longer distance.

“I was watching and saw both distances,” said Emil. “I saw the flyer; she was trying to fit in the shorter one, the horse was trying to pick up on the longer one and left early.”

The horse fell and her rider “got catapulted off the side.”

She hit her head just above her temple and left eye and back to the side; that’s where the contusions are on the scan, according to Emil, adding her only other injury is a big bruise on her side.

Emil noted that like every other rider, Cassie has fallen more than once.

“She always gets up and dusts off her pants and says `Let’s try again.’ She’s tough.”

But this time, it didn’t happen that way.

“It was really a miscommunication. It wasn’t Heviola’s fault and it wasn’t Cassie’s fault,” said Emil.

At Shepherd, Cassie will be in a Disorders of Consciousness program to get her fully awake.
Next, “they start the physical therapy part for another four to six weeks. After that, she can have more (therapy) or be an outpatient,” Emil explained.

He noted that when the people at Shepherd were told how well Cassie was doing, they said “`It looks like she’s already beginning to wake up.’ If she winds up fully waking up in a week, they’ll immediately graduate her to the next step. As soon as she’s ready, she moves to the therapy part.”

When it’s time for her next move, after the end of the winter show circuit, “We’ll be heading for New Jersey,” said Emil, thinking she can go to the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange there as either an inpatient or outpatient.

A GoFundMe page to cover medical and rehab expenses for Cassie has been started by Liz Schindler McFadden. Click here  to donate.

Another who has stepped in to help Cassie is Danielle Torano. She organized a way for supporters to make gifts of food to Cassie’s nurses in appreciation of the care they gave her. She is investigating the protocol for doing the same program at Shepherd and hopes to get that under way soon.

Danielle said she was beside herself in 2020 when a client who rode with her and her husband, show jumper/hunter trainer Jimmy Torano, was in the hospital and no one could visit due to Covid restrictions. She discussed the situation with Jane Leone, wife of show jumper Mark Leone – how could she do something that would be meaningful for the patient under those circumstances?

“Jane came up with the idea,” said Danielle, who then applied the concept to help Cassie. “We figure if we took great care of the nurses, they would take great care of her.”