Monique Bradley has been a keen and competent horse rider since she was a pre-schooler, but it all could have ended tragically for the young Whangārei woman on the beach at Whananaki in 2015.
And every day for the last four and a half years has reminded her that she is lucky to be alive.
Monique was riding on the beach at Whananaki South with a group of other girls when her horse fell, breaking both front legs, throwing her from its back and rolling on her as it hit the ground. She was knocked unconscious, and to this day has no memory of what happened, but others who were there have told her how they kept her still while they waited for help to arrive, in the form of a Northland rescue helicopter.
The chopper landed on the beach, well clear of the scene to avoid frightening the horse, which was still lying beside Monique. It was euthanased once she was on board the helicopter and on her way to Whangārei, where she was diagnosed with a fractured spine and a brain bleed. She remained unconscious, and still has no memory of the four or five days following the accident.
After a week at Whangārei she was transferred to ABI Brain Rehabilitation in Auckland, where she stayed for a month before being finally returning home.
Prior to the accident Monique had already started university, studying to be a teacher, while also riding horses — thanks to a supportive mum, she said earlier this week, although now her passion was "self-funded" — as well as doing a bit of modelling and coaching horse-riding at a pony club. The accident left her suffering the effects of a traumatic brain injury, however, meaning she had to learn once more to walk, communicate and feed herself. She also struggled with her studies and general wellbeing.
Almost five years on she has completed her studies and has begun work as a relief teacher, allowing her to make a living without exhausting herself.
"To have been able to achieve my degree, to have graduated last year and to now be teaching, is just amazing," she said.
"For now, I don't believe I can teach full-time as it's too much and takes its toll — I get too tired. I am fortunate to work two different jobs part-time, and that still gives me a day off to rest.
"I know things could have been a lot different, and I am so, so thankful for the Northland rescue helicopter that helped get me to hospital so much easier and quicker. If I'd had to go to hospital via the road from out there it would have been very hard to get to me, and would have taken so much longer, and with a brain bleed, that could have meant a big difference to my recovery.
"I know my injuries were survivable, but it would have thrown me into the unknown. These helicopters help save lives," she said.
"The community is so lucky to have them, and in all honesty, we would probably see more deaths if we didn't have them. It is an amazing, much-needed, necessity for our community.
"When you look at Northland's rugged landscapes, and the time it takes to get to places, that time can make all the difference. Look at me, at my case, and my recovery. That helicopter was necessary to get me to help. I am forever thankful."