Back in 2013, a horseback wreck left trainer Clayton Edsall on his back in the arena dirt with serious injuries.
A doctor appeared out of nowhere to save the day, and just as quickly, he disappeared. Who was the Good Samaritan?
Edsall’s wife, Chelsea, wanted to know and to thank him, so she put out a call on Facebook, wondering whether anyone could identify the doctor.
That was in 2017. Plenty of friends were happy to make guesses, but no one had the answer. Until now.
A few days before Christmas 2020, a friend refreshed the Facebook post, asking Chelsea whether she had ever identified the doctor.
That’s when trainer Aaron Ralston tagged his client, Dr. Philip Sadler, who practices emergency medicine in Arkansas and Missouri. The Good Samaritan had been found.
“It was such an incredible gift for us to receive,” Chelsea said. “This person who has meant so much to our family – we are finally able to give the adequate thanks he so much deserves. That day could have changed everything. It was a wreck and (Clayton) had several things wrong with him.”
Chelsea and Clayton had never forgotten Dr. Sadler’s act of kindness after Clayton’s mishap on aboard a horse named Johnny Isalena at the 2013 National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) Snaffle Bit Futurity in Reno, Nevada. After the judges whistled off a cow, instead of leaving the pen quietly, that cow chose to leap into Clayton and the horse, who at the time wasn’t registered and was known simply as “Johnny,” sending them both crashing to the ground.
Johnny was more or less unscathed, and fellow competitor Justin Wright rode the horse later in the round to complete the run and place 23rd. Clayton took a harder hit.
“I’ll never forget it. He jumped right up like he was going to walk out, and then he fell back down to the ground,” Chelsea told Quarter Horse News in 2018. “We all ran to the back gate, and a couple of the guys carried him out. When he went down, he didn’t remember much. He finally came to when he was out of the arena.”
That’s when someone they didn’t know, a man they now realize was Dr. Sadler, jumped into the confusion and chaos to take charge of the incident.
“He cleared the scene,” Chelsea remembered. “He was very polite, but assertive, and he looked at me and said, ‘I’m a doctor. I’m going to get this handled.’ He got a stretcher there right away and gave the medical personnel instructions.”
Dr. Sadler also made phone calls. When Chelsea and Clayton arrived at the emergency room, they were taken directly back to a treatment area, despite an expected three-hour wait. Within five minutes, Clayton was ready for X-rays, where doctors found a broken rib, a bruised lung and damage to the ligaments in the knee.
“That was only my second cow horse show I went to with Clayton,” Chelsea said. “It’s burned in my brain. We literally refer to (Dr. Sadler) as the Angel Doctor In The Gray Hat.”
Dr. Sadler remembers the situation a little differently. There were no angel wings wafting him into the arena. In fact, he couldn’t find the stairs, so he jumped the rail to get down.
“That was a pretty impressive wreck as wrecks go. I thought it would be worse than it was,” he said. “I went to see what I could do to help. It just so happened I was guy who was there and was able to help out.”’
After helping out in the arena, and then letting the emergency physicians at the hospital know what to expect, Dr. Sadler went back to preparing for his own first Futurity as an amateur.
“I went on and showed my horse and ended up middle of the bunch,” Dr. Sadler said. “It does make you think about things when you’re going down the fence. It definitely makes you think twice about it, but I had come off my horse practicing a couple of days before that and didn’t get hurt, but as an amateur, it will perk your eyes up for sure and make you very aware that you’re not taking a Sunday drive.”
Dr. Sadler and his wife, Dr. Jennifer Sadler, are both emergency room doctors, and both have worked – unofficially – at a number of cow horse, versatility and cutting shows.
“I was just doing what ER doctors do and trying to be helpful,” he said. “They were very nice that day. She was obviously shaken and upset and concerned. I tried to reassure her, and after getting down there and seeing him, I felt like he was in better shape than I had anticipated.”
Clayton’s wreck was early on in Dr. Sadler’s cow horse experience, and the Sadlers have followed Clayton’s career with a lot of interest as he has gone on to become a father and to win the World’s Greatest Horseman title, among many other accolades in a career that so far has yielded more than $913,000 in earnings.
Chelsea, aware that Clayton’s career could have gone a different direction after the wreck, called Dr. Sadler before Christmas.
“I thanked him, and he said I thanked him a million times that night, and I said, ‘It’s still not enough.’”
Chelsea said she hopes to meet Dr. Sadler in person, perhaps during next month’s NRCHA Celebration of Champions.
“We’d like to take him to dinner during the show,” she said. “It’s hard to come up with a gift or the words to someone who provided so much stability and comfort.”
Chelsea’s lasting memory from her second cow horse show is simple: People cared. That’s why she’s still part of it, she says.
“But I’ll never go down the fence myself, I can tell you that.”