Suzanne Brady sits tall in the saddle as she nudges her 12-year-old reining horse into the riding ring. In moments, the two will gallop full speed around the arena as they practice for upcoming competitions.
I have my life back, and I’m happier than ever.
Brady competes in reining—a demanding event in which riders guide their horses through circles, spins and stops at a full gallop. "It takes a lot of strength in your legs," Brady says.
She is still regaining this strength after undergoing surgeries to replace both hips due to severe arthritis. Before these surgeries, disabling pain had all but ended her riding days—at the age of 48.
Brady's hip problems began in her late 30s, when the avid athlete had to abandon her favorite sport at the time: running. Back then, doctors told her she was a candidate for hip replacement, but she opted to wait, given her young age. She switched from running to horseback riding, continuing to take over-the-counter pain relievers to ease the nagging discomfort. She soon became an accomplished equestrian and competed around the region.
As years went by, her pain increased and Brady found herself unable to stand for long periods of time or to walk very far. Just going to the grocery store was an ordeal. "My quality of life really went downhill," she says.
Horseback riding was one of the few activities she could do outdoors, since it did not require her to stand or walk. But even this was becoming difficult. One day, as Brady swung her leg over the saddle, the pain prevented her from stretching her leg far enough to mount her horse. Clenching her teeth, she tried again and again, to no avail.
Devastated, she knew it was time to take action. That's when she met with Sutter Health orthopedic surgeon Thomas Blumenfeld, M.D., who recommended a double hip replacement done in two separate surgeries. When she agreed, he carefully planned the procedures so that, once healed, her range of motion would allow her to comfortably ride horses again. Both surgeries were a success.
During post-surgery physical therapy, she was given special exercises designed for horse-back riders, as the medical team knew this was her passion. Today Brady is riding horses again—up to seven hours every weekday. "I can do everything now," she says. "It's like a miracle."
She adds, "I have my life back, and I'm happier than ever."