Horse racing is the tie that binds this family

Life-altering accident can't stop Hadleys from thriving at Les Bois.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comAugust 3, 2013 

Susan Hadley looks over a race program with husband Sherman Hadley as they wait for their son, jockey Jordan Hadley, to race in a thoroughbred race at Les Bois Park. Susan and sons Jordan and Garrett run Hadley Racing stables out of Ogden, Utah. Sherman Hadley was paralyzed after an 800-pound bale of hay fell on him in 2008.

Sherman Hadley was full of pride as he watched his son, Jordan, cross the finish line first atop Aloha Sweetheart in the first race Wednesday night at Les Bois Park.

But Sherman can't clap, can't jump up in excitement, can't shout out in glee.

A thumbs-up says it all.

An accident five years ago left Sherman confined to a wheelchair, and his ability to communicate was greatly diminished. But that hasn't stopped him and the Hadley family from continuing a legacy of success as horse trainers and riders.

"I know he's proud of us because just like him, we never gave up," said Sherman's wife, Susan, a trainer.

It is impossible for Susan to forget the date - Jan. 16, 2008.

As Sherman and his youngest son, Garrett, were working in their Ogden, Utah, barn, three 800-pound bales of hay fell toward them. Garrett was knocked down, and knocked unconscious for a few moments.

"When I came to, I could just hear my mom screaming," said Garrett, 17.

Most of the weight fell squarely on Sherman.

"All I could see were his boots sticking out," Susan said.

Garrett and Jordan, along with his friend, were able to combine enough strength to get Sherman out from under the hay. At the hospital, half of Sherman's skull was removed to stem the swelling from his brain injury. He soon suffered a stroke that paralyzed the left side of his body.

After two weeks in the intensive care unit and five months in the hospital, the Hadleys took Sherman home, back to the horses he knew so well as a trainer and in his younger years as a jockey for his trainer father, Blaine (whose SS Paydirt won the Bitterroot Futurity at Les Bois on May 23).

"They told us he would be a vegetable the rest of his life," said Susan, who has been married to Sherman for 23 years. "It was the best therapy for him to be outside, be around us, be around the horses. It's amazing how he can still help. He doesn't speak many words, but he shows us what we need to do. He can see a horse jog and know if it's sore. He can tell you if one will run well - he never lost that."

The Hadleys spent more than two years away from competition, taking care of Sherman, buoyed by help from others in the racing community who took care of their horses and helped provide funds to remodel their home and get the equipment he needed to survive.

Their return, decided on as a group, was quickly made worthwhile, with Dreaming of Kisses (trained by Jordan) winning the 2010 Bitterroot Futurity, to recently, when Jordan won the Bitterroot Derby on PF Flyair on May 25. The Hadleys went from training five horses three years ago to 24 this year - with a possibility of adding more next year.

When Jordan, 22, wins a race, Garrett or one of the boys' girlfriends will hustle Sherman down the grandstand ramp to the winner's circle — Les Bois widened the entrance this year and created a slight concrete ramp to allow Sherman to get his photo taken with his family after each win.

"We went from being one of the best trainers, to being as close to rock bottom as you can get," said Jordan, who has 11 wins in 45 races at Les Bois this season, his second as a jockey. "So, each win just makes you feel that much better, thinking how far things have come."

The outpouring of support after Sherman's accident was a reflection of the professionalism and reputation the family carries, according to racing secretary Tim Thibert.

"Susan's always smiling - you know it hasn't been easy, but you know she's happy just to have him here," Thibert said. "They're the kind of people you want around."

Fresh off his win Wednesday, with his family around him to revel in the victory, Jordan Hadley smiles at how his father's injury may have limited his movement or his speech, but didn't take away the things he cared most about before it - the mornings at the stables, seeing his family work, or even critiquing his son's most recent ride.

"That's what he's always lived for," Jordan said.

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