For US Para-Dressage rider Sydney Collier, the quest to find another horse was like finding a needle in a haystack.
With less than a year to go until the Rio Paralympics, Collier, who won the Against the Odds award at last year’s FEI Awards, and the 2014 USEF Junior Equestrian of the Year, knew the importance of finding another equine partner to add to the team as competition heated up in pursuit of Rio. The new horse had to be a lot of things.
“It was a challenging search. Some horses can carry a para rider, but they’re never fully happy about it. Others cannot accept it at all. But there are a precious few who don’t just cope – they thrive and become something incredible!” said Collier, who competed for the US at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014 in Normandy riding Willi Wesley.
“It’s like the light turns on for them and they turn on. I love the challenge,” she said, “because you’re asking the horse an almost impossible question! They are broken and trained by able-bodied equestrians. Essentially, you’re asking the horse, ‘do you understand? How quickly can you figure this out? And most importantly, can you thrive within the new experience?’ And it turns out Scampano 2 (barn name Scampi) is one of those once in a lifetime horses for me.”
From the first ride, it became immediately clear to Karen Ramsing-Bixler, owner of KCR Dressage LLC, that the 12-year-old bay Oldenburg gelding (Sandro Hit x Landadel) paired with Collier generated a special magic.
KCR Dressage LLC is a Wellington based operation importing, training, and selling quality horses for the American market. Scampano 2 had spent just over a year with head trainer Sahar Daniel Hirosh when Ramsing-Bixler learned Collier was searching for a new ride.
“He is an amazing horse with a willing mind and a good soul. Scampi took to his job for Sydney right away! He put his mind to the new task of para-riding and began to shine! Plus the horse loved her from the first moments. It felt meant to be,” Ramsing-Bixler said.
“I am blessed to have a strong team. Sahar’s partnership with his horses is exceptional. He loves his horses and they love him. When horses are trained in trust and you gain their hearts, you have access to every talent they possess. We spoke about the potential and felt it was a superb match.”
She said that Scampano 2 has expressive gaits and a heart for his rider. “It soon became evident that Syd and Scampi had struck up a remarkable partnership in a very short time. He has a big walk, and I was amazed to see Sydney manage the movement with ease.
“But the trot! She came across the diagonal in that fancy trot of his in full sport mode and sat him like a pro! I thought, ‘This girl can really ride!’ And ride him she did, doing leg yields and transitions, closely following instructions of trainer Wes Dunham, who knew just how to bring these two together. I will never ever forget the miracle unfolding that day!”
Despite the gelding understanding Collier in a way few other horses do, Ramsing-Bixler adds, “make no mistake, Sydney is not just a passenger up there. Scampano must be ridden with half halts and seat aids.”
For Ramsing-Bixler, who is a USDF Gold and Silver medalist, the dream to compete at a world competition seemed out of reach following a battle with cancer and back injuries. So when the opportunity came to see one of her horses potentially compete at the Paralympic Games, Ramsing-Bixler says something just resonated inside of her.
“Sydney’s smile and infectious joy caused me to realize that if the only thing coming out of my program is to help her achieve her dream of riding in the Paralympics with a KCR horse, then the whole enterprise has been worth it. When Sydney rides down the centerline, she takes with her the hopes and dreams of all those who will follow, facing insurmountable obstacles of their own. This is what the Paralympics is all about: a celebration of the horse and the triumph of the human spirit. What an honor for me to be part of this venture!”
Collier is thrilled with her new mount: “It’s like a dream come true”.
“I am forever grateful to Ms. Ramsing-Bixler, Mr. Hirosh, KCR Dressage, LLC and my trainer, Wes Dunham, for giving me this opportunity.”