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Ride of His Life

AgrAbility helps injured horse trainer return to the saddle.

NEW FRANKLIN, Mo. - Zane Volkmann always wanted to be a horse trainer. A serious accident weeks before his senior year of high school slowed his gait, but it didn’t throw him. He cinched up his saddle and began the ride of his life. “You just pick your lip up off the ground and go ride,” he said.

Volkmann fell 9 feet on his head at a livestock center in August 2012. Young riders working cattle there enjoy riding horses under overhead pipes jutting from the barn and swinging from them.

He’d done it dozens of times before, but this time the momentum propelled him into the air and hurled him to the ground. He suffered three brain bleeds and a broken back.

Karen Funkenbusch, University of Missouri Agricultural Systems Management instructor and director of the Missouri AgrAbility Project, began work with his family immediately.

AgrAbility connects injured farmers and ranchers with resources so that they can remain on the farm or in the saddle. Resources include referrals to and coordination of services with other agencies, financial assistance for adaptive devices, and ongoing moral support and education.

The Missouri AgrAbility Project is part of MU Extension; the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources; and the Brain Injury Association of Missouri Inc., in cooperation with other partners.

A New Zane Faces New Challenges

Volkmann stayed out of the saddle for six months – “the longest six months of my life” – as he and his family learned to adapt to the “new Zane.”

Despite challenges, Volkmann graduated on time, fifth in his class. He recently completed his freshman year of equine ranch management studies at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College.

Funkenbusch advises him as part of his summer internship at a Howard County ranch. She sets goals with him to lay the groundwork to develop a business as horse trainer and farrier. She also encourages him to avoid a second injury by wearing a helmet when riding an unfamiliar horse or on difficult terrain.

“AgrAbility helps you in every aspect of your injury,” Volkmann says. “They drive me forward. Just because you have a brain injury, it doesn’t mean you can’t perform at your full potential.”

“The passion of farmers is our passion,” Funkenbusch said. “We want that farmer to stay in the saddle of their horse or in their tractor seat.”

Each morning, the 19-year-old leaves for the nearby Lazy B Arena after finishing chores at his home. He chats with owner Bart Fuhlage while cleaning stalls, watering horses and checking tack.