The Horse Show

Sydney Collier’s Olympic Quest Gets a Leg Up

Sydney Collier (USA) & Western Rose - Team Test Grade Ib – Rio 2016 Paralympic Games – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – 11 September 2016
Sydney Collier riding Western Rose

Paralympian Sydney Collier is on a mission to help the U.S. stand on the podium at the 2020 Paralympics and she has a new sponsor supporting her Olympic ambitions in US Show Jumper Georgina Bloomberg

The Horse Show is hosted by Chris Stafford

Podcast length 27′ 55″

Paralympic dressage rider Sydney Collier, 21, is based in upstate New York from where she is aiming for her second Olympic Games next year and hopes to have a new partner to take her on this journey.  Since 2016 after she suffered her 5th stroke she has been classified as a Grade 1 rider, which is the most severely impaired, Sydney has long since battled against all the odds since she started riding some 14 years ago. 

But nothing has deterred her from the sport she loves and the partnership she strives for with her horse. She was a member of the 2014 FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy riding Victoria Dugan’s Warmblood gelding Willi Wesley finishing 13th. Two years later she returned to the squad to make her Olympic debut in Rio, this time finishing 9th in the team test and 7th place in Grade 1b Individual Championships on her trainer Wesley Dunham’s horse Western Rose. She then has since teamed up with a new sponsor in show jumper Georgina Bloomberg and their quest now is to find a horse for Sydney for the Tokyo Games.

Sydney Collier, Winner of the 2014 FEI Against All Odds Award

Sydney Collier, Winner of the 2014 FEI Against All Odds Award

Sydney’s website  – http://www.sydsparaquest.com/index.htm

Sydney on Twitter and Instagram

Sydney’s story…

I started riding at the age of 7 and instantly fell in love.  A wonderful school horse named May who taught me the basics and the competitive world life year I began riding, a routine vision screening changed my life in ways I could not have imagined.  Within weeks I was diagnosed with the rare Wyburn-Mason Syndrome, a life threatening condition that causes arteries and veins to grow together causing vascular malformations (AVMs) inside my brain.

My AVMs could not be easily removed due to their location deep in my brain and the rarity of my syndrome offered few options for treatment. They quickly began affecting my vision and the control of the left side of my body. I was at an extremely high risk for dangerous hemorrhage. Hampered by a lack of treatment options in my hometown of Ann Arbor Michigan, I traveled to Stanford University Medical Center in California to seek medical options where others saw none. Over the course of eight years I endured a series of experimental treatments including CyberKnife radiation, blood vessel embolization and brain surgery. During a risky brain surgery in 2009, I suffered a devastating and massive stroke. Despite this setback, I entered a rehabilitation center and was determined to get out of my wheelchair and return to the sport of riding. But with my new body, many said I would never return to the sport I loved. They told me I needed to accept that my dreams of becoming a Three Day Eventer were now out of reach. I refused to believe them – regardless of my condition all I could think about was once again sitting on the back of a horse. I needed to get back and fulfill my goals no matter who said I was reaching for the impossible. 

Just one year after my stroke, in 2010, I attended the World Equestrian Games as a spectator. Ironically, this was the first year Para-Dressage riders were included in competition. One of the first Para-Equestrians I met was Jonathan Wentz. I remember seeing him ride at WEG, and I walked up to him and said, “I think I need to know you!” I was so glad I did.  Jonathan, who was one of our country’s most accomplished riders, became one of my mentors and dearest friends.   He shared with me how important it was to pave the way for Para-Equestrians because the sport was growing but still emerging.

Seeing the Para-equestrians that day, literally changed my life forever. From hoof beat to hoof beat, a brick wall inside of me came tumbling down.  I realized just how wrong I was to think that riding at the High Performance level for our country was impossible. Sure, I had all these crazy orthopedic devices strapped to me, I walked differently than most, I looked different – heck, I used my teeth now as my second hand, but I was a horse fanatic with goals to succeed! Watching those riders made me feel like I was capable of far more than what my medical diagnosis offered. I suddenly felt free of the baggage my AVMs had placed upon me for years. I knew I had to become one of these riders -and nothing was going to stand in my way!

In 2012, I met my trainer Wes Dunham and made difficult decision to follow my goals and leave my family and friends in Ann Arbor to train with Wes in Millbrook, NY.   My family came together in ways that might seem impossible to others to help my dreams come true. My Grandparents sold their home in North Carolina to move My Grandparents sold their home in North Carolina to move to Michigan to help care for my two younger brothers so my Mom could live with me in NY while I trained and competed. They all have made sacrifices and inspired me to be and strive for more even when the odds seemed to stand in my way. Ever since I made this commitment, I have worked tirelessly with my team and sponsors to achieve incredible success. At age 16, I earned a spot on the US Para Dressage team and was the youngest competitor at the 2014 WEG in France. At age 18, I won the 2016 US Para-dressage National Championships and became the youngest member at the equestrian portion of the 2016 Paralympics in Rio as a part of Team USA, where I placed 7th overall in the highly competitive para-dressage grade 1B.

I have dedicated my life to service and I maintain a busy schedule combining athletic, equestrian training, guest speaking, volunteering and giving riding demonstrations at a variety of events. Since I graduated high school in 2015, I have attended college part time and plan to continue my educational pursuits toward a degree in either special education or recreational therapy.

Alongside these goals I continue training to represent the USA on a team at the 2018 World Equestrian Games and 2020 Tokyo Paralympics Games and help the USA stand on the medal podium.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: Sydney Collier riding Western Rose in the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games
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