Two years after being told she should be in a wheelchair after a frightening fall, former top NSW apprentice Sammie Clenton is back in the saddle, juggling motherhood and not ruling out a return to race riding.
The 25-year-old has reunited for former boss Kris Lees at Newcastle Racecourse to ride trackwork and jump-outs three days a week. She is also helping train her Branxton-based team with partner Tim McIntosh, who is working for Lower Belford trainer Todd Howlett in addition to keeping his own 12-horse stable.
Clenton has been back riding work since March, just four months after becoming a mum to son, Isaac, and for now that’s more than enough in a busy schedule.
“It's all been really good,” Clenton said.
“[Race riding] is always going to be there, I'm always going to want to do it.
“Obviously, it's just whether it's manageable. Things are a lot different now so it's just a wait and see.”
The fact Clenton is back riding at all is a show of great strength and character.
She was the leading apprentice jockey in NSW in the 2015-16 season with 81 winners but her career was cut short by two serious race falls inside five months, the second of which left her thankful to still be able to walk.
Clenton broke her right collarbone when one of five apprentices to fall in a race at Taree in May 2016. She recovered and had ridden in races for four weeks when she fell at Scone on October 14, this time suffering six crushed vertebrae and a fractured left collarbone.
She had surgery to fuse three vertebrae and fix two stablising metal rods to her spine. The T6 vertebra was dangerously close to damaging her spinal cord and the surgeon told her she “should have been in a wheelchair. You shouldn’t be able to walk”.
Although sticking to trackwork for now, Clenton has had one scare since returning.
“I came off one two weeks ago,” she said. “That was my first fall since I've come back. One just bucked, but that’s racing.”
Clenton, though, said her body was holding up “fantastic” after returning to riding “as soon as I could”.
“I always wanted to do it regardless,” she said. “I still love it.”
As for life as a mum while managing 4.30am trackwork starts and training horses each afternoon at home, Clenton said: ”It’s all been good. He's easy though. I've been blessed. I've got the textbook bub who everyone wants.
“No matter what I do with him, whether we go to a race meeting or whatever, he just adapts. It's too good.”
Clenton admitted she missed race riding and Lees had asked about her making a comeback.
“He pushes it every time I see him,” she laughed.
“I understand that too, there's a lot of money to be made, but I just said to him we'll take things as they come. If I make it back to trials, I do. It's step by step.”
Lees said Clenton had a great attitude and it was good to have her back.
Clenton said all her surgical metalwork was “all still there”.
“I would like to get my collarbone plate out, but I don't want to take time off work and sit around and do nothing,” she said. “I can't do that. I've done plenty of that.”