The person looking for it can often find it _ the light at the end of the tunnel, the sun peeking through a clouded sky, hope in the midst of devastation, a reason to get up when the entire being cries out ‘stay down.’

Dean Butler latched onto it seconds after hitting the earth with a thud, a split second after his horse went down on June 30 during a turf race. The pain was instant and overpowering, but even in that debilitating state a positive thought crossed his mind.

The pain was excruciating and yet Butler was immediately thankful as he considered his situation.

“I could move everything,’’ he recalled. “I felt so very fortunate. I felt blessed.’’


Yes, if you have been riding racehorses your entire adult life and have taken note of so many others not so fortunate, numerous riders confined to wheelchairs or reduced to walking with crutches after similar incidents. Some have even lost their lives.

That was only the start of what Butler considers a “miraculous” occasion in many respects, an incident that not only was limited in the toll it took but, because of it, led to tests that disclosed a potentially life-threatening condition.

Butler had not hit his head when he fell but doctors wanted to examine him for the possibility of a concussion just the same. The impact of a hard fall can jar the skull and shake the brain. It isn’t necessary sometimes to strike the head and still suffer a concussion.

“The blunt force trauma of hitting the ground that hard is what they worried about,’’ Butler recalled. So doctors performed a brain scan to alleviate their concerns.

The first scan revealed questions that required a second scan, that time using a dye. That test revealed that Butler had a brain aneurysm.

Many aneurysms, abdominal and cranial, are not discovered until they burst and cause serious repercussions, even death.

“My sister had a frontal hemorrhage,’’ Butler said, “and she’s lucky to be alive. She had a stroke and it left her with limited mobility in one leg.’’

Aneurysms are sometimes congenital, sometimes hereditary, and Butler was advised to share his personal information with other family members. “Especially the first generation,’’ he said.

He will undergo surgery to correct the aneurysm on September 13 in the Twin Cities. As he recovers from the surgery, his back will have additional time to heal. He doesn’t expect to ride again until the meet at Tampa Bay Downs which begins in late November.

Butler’s life view was altered by the accident and the subsequent discoveries.

He was the leading rider in Shakopee in 2016, when he won a fifth riding title and was in third place, four out of first place and two out of second place, when the accident occurred.

The accident denied him a chance at a sixth title, a chance to pull abreast of Derek Bell, the only rider to win that many in Shakopee. More importantly, it ended his income stream, his ability to bring home a paycheck.

“Canterbury is my big meet (of the year) so I’m getting hurt a little bit financially,’’ he said. “But if you know these things happen, then you plan for them as well as you can.’’

Butler is able to compartmentalize those factors and focus on the essential truths of his situation, that he is alive, healing and will ride again.

He did not have surgery on his back. “It’s just a healing process,’’ he said. He suffered what he described as a transverse fracture in his L1. “There are little  spindles that branch off from the spine,’’ he said. “A lot of those were fractured.

It’s still painful at times, but I going to give it time to heal so I don’t have problems later on.’’

He knows that it could have been even worse. He and Hall of Fame rider Scott Stevens recently visited colleague Paul Nolan, who was paralyzed in a riding accident last April and is fighting to regain the use of his arms and legs.

Nolan’s spine was severely swollen in the accident but nothing was broken so he has hope that with the passage of time he will heal as well.

Butler was struck by Nolan’s upbeat ability to retain his sense of humor under such difficult circumstances and considers himself fortunate, despite all that’s happened to him this summer.

Friday Butler was on his way to Louisville, Ky., to visit his girlfriend Danielle and celebrate her birthday. With him were his two daughters, 10-year-old Kayleigh and six-year-old Kendall. They are due back for the start of school at Forest Lake Elementary next week, so the trip will be short.

He is making the trip with a newly found outlook: Life is good, even when it isn’t perfect.



  1. Marian Miller says:

    Great article. See you in Tampa at the end of the year!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: