A Salute to Eva

A Salute to Eva

A recent letter written by one of our riders, Dr. Carlin Vickery to our Lead Instructor, Eva Finnan

“Life is full of uncertainty and unexpected blessings…   I have lived mine with careful planning through my secondary school, college and medical school followed by seven years of surgical residency.  Seeing retirement on the horizon,  my husband and I carefully planned long awaited trips maximizing our free time away from the demands of our professions. In 2014, we decided to purchase a home in Aiken because I was stabling my horses here in the winter and spending most weekends riding in the Hitchcock Woods and competing in local cross country shows.  

Yet life has unexpected detours waiting to appear at the most inopportune moments. A week before my official retirement date as a plastic and reconstructive breast surgeon in Manhattan, I visited my internist for my yearly exam. Headaches had plagued me for several years so out of an abundance of caution he sent me for a brain MRI. Unfortunately, it revealed a cerebral vascular aneurysm which is an exaggeration of a major blood vessel to the brain. On that fateful yearly exam, a repeat MRI showed that the aneurysm had become unstable with the imminent risk of rupturing causing irreversible brain damage. Therefore, on the advice my primary care physician and the Chair of Neurosurgery at NYU Langone Medical Center, I decided to have the aneurysm resected. On June 7, 2017.  I went to surgery where regrettably the aneurysm ruptured in the final stage of the operation. My neurosurgeon saved my life but I spent three months in a coma in intensive care and six months in convalescent care before returning home to be with my husband, James Capalino. 

After a number of months, we made the decision that I would relocate to Aiken and he would spend weekends and one week a month with me in Aiken. 

Horses have been the joy of my recreational life and Aiken has been the epicenter of my eventing  passion. One of the most difficult losses of my completed surgery was the loss of my physicality cancelling my long held wish to pursue eventing without the time constraints of a busy surgical practice.

While recovering in Aiken, I remembered Great Oak’s therapeutic riding program. My husband and I had been enthusiastic supporters of Great Oak before my surgery and I had watched Eva Finnan work with clients indoors applying years of experience to customize a recuperative training program for each person.  Resting at our home on York Street, I knew that Great Oak would be my mental and physical salvation.  Eva and her staff of dedicated volunteers, well trained horses, and customized training program for each client, restored my confidence that one day I could again enjoy the magical  experience of riding with the wind in my face and the movement of a trusted horse carrying me across the ground.

But relearning how to ride is only possible with the knowledge of a trained staff which brings me to Eva.   From my first ride with her, I was so impressed with her confident teaching and goal setting.  While I was not to enjoy the thrill of galloping through the fields and jumping challenging objects, we were able to set realistic and challenging goals to achieve. Eva’s experience and exceptional intuition about horses and riders enabled her to customize a program to help me define and reach my goals. Her gentle command and instinctual grasp of my physical challenges particularly related to balance, renewed my passion for horseback riding.  

During my first months with her, we concentrated on restoring confidence in my balance and awaking my core muscles which had languished after my brain surgery.  At the appropriate time, she introduced a few trotting step. We then advanced to short distances and weaving obstacles to sharpen my instincts and balance.  

Through two years of lessons,  I can trot the length of the arena and am learning to get through corners  I have even begun to imagine another riding trip to Ireland. One of my surgical professors famously said that the qualities of a great teacher are accessibility, ability, and affability.   Eva shows each  these qualities in spades.  Having her and those like her available at Great Oak in Aiken is a precious asset for anyone who is determined to restore or enhance their equestrian capabilities.

Carlin B. Vickery, MD
Great Oak Rider