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Cowgirl comeback: Knox County teen races back from injury with horse

Last August, Isabel Burchett was trampled by her horse, breaking five ribs and damaging her spleen and pancreas. A year later, she’s a barrel racing champion.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — Around a year ago, Isabel Burchett wasn’t sure she would ever ride a horse again. The Knox County teenager had fallen in love with barrel racing, but a horrific injury put all of that in jeopardy.

On Aug. 12, 2022, Isabel was in the field at her home rounding up her horse, Albert, to head to a show. She was on the phone with her mom, who was inside the house. That’s when Kelly Burchett heard screams she says she’ll remember until the day she dies. She ran outside to find her teenage daughter on the ground, broken and bleeding.

“There were a few times when she was laying on the ground, waiting on the ambulance, when she said, 'I think I’m going to die,'” Burchett said. “I said, 'No, you’re not going to do that. Not today.'”

Albert had broken a fence and was actually still tied to the post when Burchett ran outside and trampled Isabel.

“I couldn’t breathe, so the only way I knew how to was to just start screaming,” Isabel said.

Burchett called 911, and an ambulance rushed Isabel to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. Isabel had a broken wrist, five broken ribs and a lacerated spleen. But what would become most problematic was the bruised tail end of her pancreas.

“Any parent does not want their kid to hurt anyway, and I would rather that happen to me ten times before it ever even came close to happening to her,” Burchett said.

Isabel said she thought she would be in the hospital for two or three hours. Instead, she was there for 16 days. When she was released her dad, Congressman Tim Burchett, posted on a photo on social media.

“It was really mentally draining,” Isabel said. “I did not like it at all. All I wanted to do was go home.”

And the first thing she did when she arrived back home was to greet her horses, both Albert and Peggy Sue.

“I just knew it wasn’t his fault,” Isabel said of Albert. “I knew he didn’t mean to hurt me. He didn’t know exactly what he did. He had no clue what happened.”

But getting back home was not the end of the recovery journey. About a month later, Isabel had to go back to the hospital to repair her pancreas. She says recovering from that was the worst she had felt. It took quite some time, with the help of physical therapy, to regain her strength.

But by December, just months after her injury, she was ready for competition once again. Getting back in the saddle again was no easy feat.

“It was kind of nerve-wracking but also kind of relieving at the same time,” she said. “Being around a horse after that happened was kind of terrifying for a few months. But, I mean, this is my passion, so I just had to get over it.”

Isabel kept competing from there, regaining her strength and her confidence and rebuilding that bond with Albert. 

It was all leading up to the 2023 National Barrel Horse Association Youth and Teen World Championships at the end of July. Against all odds, Isabel made it to the finals. But she didn’t stop there. Nearly a year after he put her in the hospital, Albert carried his girl to victory.

Isabel won the title of NBHA Teen Division 5D World Champion.

“Honestly, I cried for like 20 minutes because I was just really happy that I made it on that horse out of any of them,” she said of her victory with Albert.

Now Isabel is more determined than ever to keep riding and to keep winning. And her mom is still in awe of her daughter’s strength.

“I want to say I would have never thought that (she would win) in my wildest dreams, but that’s the stuff dreams are made of, I think,” Burchett said.

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