The horse’s name was Canadian Bunny. Handsome but headstrong. The rider was Fiona Little, a 17-year-old locally famous for staying on even the most difficult horses. The location was a 400-metre track in a back paddock outside Tamworth. It was a routine day of exercise for emerging racehorses and jockeys – a day like any other.

“Every second day we would take the horses to the track at Tamworth, then on the off days we worked them on the little track,” Fiona remembers.

“On this day, Canadian Bunny didn’t want to trot and canter. He wanted to gallop, and he wouldn’t turn the corner. The star picket hit me just below the bottom lip and split my lip, across my chin and knocked my teeth out.

The nasty fall not only cost Fiona teeth and blood. It also knocked her confidence. The promising apprentice jockey started to feel apprehensive about piloting powerful racehorses.

At the same time, she could feel her self-confidence draining away in other areas of life. The teenager was acutely conscious of how her face was affected by the dental damage suffered in the fall. Her future, which had looked mapped out, now became uncertain.

Fiona still loves horses, but sixteen years later she lives a different life to that which she envisaged as a youngster. She lives near Nundle, 60km from Tamworth, and is the mother of six children aged two to fifteen.

“I lost self-esteem and confidence because of the way the accident made me look. For a long time, I was trying to get through life. I’d talk quietly and put my hand over my mouth when I was talking.”

“When I had my youngest child, I was contacted by ParentsNext. At first, I wasn’t sure what it was about, but I went in for an appointment. They had lots of practical advice. They encouraged me to go to the dentist. I was on a waiting list to have my teeth fixed, but they helped me make it happen, and it was amazing what a difference it has made.

“ParentsNext have been good at encouraging me to get out there and do stuff. They have shown me I am capable of doing things. I did a laptop course with them, which was also useful.

After that, I enrolled in a design course because I have always been interested in art and design, but recently I picked up a job preparing the fish at the Hanging Rock Trout Farm, so the design course is on hold. However, it is something I would like to pursue in the future, possibly moving into photography. Those are the sort of things I can look at more now that I am back at work and moving forward.”

And as for horses?

“Yes, I still love horses,” Fiona laughs.

“I’ve been on horses since before I could walk. Mum used to sit me on horses, and so did my Pop. As a teenager, all my friends would get me to ride the naughty horses they couldn’t ride. I developed an ability with them – you need to read their body language, spend a lot of time with them, plus I read a lot of books. I still ride horses now, but I’m picky. I don’t want to be on something that doesn’t want to stop!

“When I had my daughter (oldest child), I used to take her on the horse with me, and in fact, she’d fall asleep up there on the horse. A couple of my kids ride, and we have a miniature pony they get around on.

It’s a bit different to when I was an apprentice riding barrier trials though. I loved jumping out the gates, it was an adrenalin rush, but after the accident, I found I was nervous on fast horses and gave it up.

I didn’t want to end up not liking horses at all, and thankfully that hasn’t happened.”