Grit and gratitude from serious injuries: show jumper Paula Wolontis knows how to thrive amidst difficulties

Paula Wolontis is a goal-driven show jumper, who has had to adapt and grow in the face of difficulties during her years as an equestrian. Right now she is going through rehabilitation for a stress fracture in the knee – and this is not the first time she has had to put her riding plans on hold and focus on her health.

In 2016, when Paula was 17 years old, she had had the best competitive season of her career up to that point. She had won the Finnish national championship in eventing and was a part of the national team. Everything was going as planned, until one day in a regular riding session a little mistake turned into a tragic fall and five broken neck vertebrae.

“Doctors said that I might not necessarily be able to return to riding or sports in general”, Paula recalls. “It was mentally very challenging, especially at first.”

The transition from a successful competitive career to an uncertain and lengthy rehabilitation process would certainly not be an easy thing for anyone to handle. For Paula it was very transformative, she had to rethink pretty much everything. Recovery took time and at first even the most basic things were physically hard. She wasn’t sure if she was ever going to be back on horseback and it felt challenging to find anything good in such a serious situation. But she knew she had to find some sort of a silver lining in the situation, as severe as it was.

“Even then I only saw one way out of it: I was going to recover fully.”

It took her six months of hard work, but she managed to recover and return to riding. Being back in the saddle just wasn’t as easy as she would have expected. She recalls being excited and happy about it, but at the same time it was a new kind of challenge.

“I wasn’t on the same level as where I left off; I had to kind of start over. I had to work on that.”

Paula had known for a long time that she wanted to go as far as possible in riding, and this was just another obstacle to overcome. Being a competitive rider had taught her to commit to the process and push through difficulties, so she knew what to do and got to work.

Once recovered, Paula decided to go chase her dreams abroad. In 2018 she lived and worked in Switzerland, spending her days riding horses. But then, bad luck found her again. She got injured while playing football and broke her femur and shinbone. That was yet another disappointing setback, which caused her to stay away from riding for months. But you know the drill by now: she decided to recover fully and then she did just that.

A job offer took Paula to Germany where she rode multiple horses per day. She also bought a new horse and was thrilled to have her own horse for competing after a long time without one. Everything was really clicking into place. But then – yes, you guessed it – things got tricky again.

This time it wasn’t a sudden injury that caused her to press pause. She had been feeling a bit tired for some time, but had still continued working. It took her a while to realize she was actually sick, and when she did go to the doctor she was told that she had myocarditis. The doctors told her to come up with a new life plan, riding full time had to come to an end.


“I have learned a lot through these setbacks. I’ve had to have a pretty strong mental state, and it has been improving as well. When my neck broke, I also sought help from a sports psychologist, and that was very beneficial”, she explains.

With her earlier injuries she had been able to make a full recovery and get back to how things had been, but now that wasn’t an option anymore. It was time for a new plan, even if it meant a massive change.

Even though this was never in the cards for her, Paula moved back to Finland and started studying at the university. She still has her horse and wishes to continue riding and competing soon. The myocarditis situation is long gone, but then there’s the stress fractured knee. It has been bothering her for nine months already, and there is no certain schedule for when she will be back on horseback.

It takes a lot of patience and determination to keep rehabilitating injuries and trusting the process, but luckily Paula knows how to do that.

How exactly, you may ask. Let’s dive a bit deeper into all of that.

“I have learned a lot through these setbacks. I’ve had to have a pretty strong mental state, and it has been improving as well. When my neck broke, I also sought help from a sports psychologist, and that was very beneficial”, she explains.

Through her hardships, Paula has found gratitude. She has learned to appreciate small things and not take anything for granted, as cheesy as it might sound to some. At the same time she knows she’s not easily rattled by anything, she has learned just how resilient and capable she is in the face of difficulties.

“I try to always think about why I do what I do and somehow zoom out of the whole situation. Like, okay, now there’s a setback, but it doesn’t define the rest of my life”, Paula describes her mindset. “I focus on the big picture and consider what I can do to achieve my dreams and goals. The world won’t end even if there’s one injury – or more.”

“I’ve been saying from a young age that there are no limits to my dreams.”

Paula knows how important overall wellbeing is, and a healthy lifestyle is close to her heart. The significance of good nutrition, rest and exercise has only increased for her after injuries. She hits the gym regularly and joined the Equestrain team to keep improving. Right now she works with a physiotherapist to rehabilitate her knee and is very keen on getting better.

“You have to be realistic”, she says when talking about setting goals. She is the kind of person to believe in massive dreams – and put in the work for them – but she also knows how to set realistic goals to support the journey towards those dreams.

“Sure, it’s not fun to rehabilitate when you’d like to do things at full throttle. But then you can think about what you can do next as things progress. When you do one thing well, it always opens up new opportunities.”

We are sure that with that positive attitude and solution-oriented mindset she can tackle just about any challenge. But what’s next for her?

“I really want to progress to a higher level in riding, but first, I need to make sure that my knee is in good condition”, she says, and we know the rest will follow.

“I’ve been saying from a young age that there are no limits to my dreams.”

Follow Paula’s journey on her Instagram!