Catching up with Sydney Collier on National Championships, Paralympic Goals, and What's Next
Thursday, November 5, 2020
Earlier this fall, U.S. para dressage athlete Sydney Collier, 22, of Ann Arbor, MI, was named reserve champion at the 2020 Adequan®/USEF Para Dressage National Championship at Tryon International Equestrian Center. Sydney and her mount All In One, an 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Abanos x Dauphin) owned by Georgina Bloomberg’s aptly named Going for Gold, LLC, have been laser focused on a bid for the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, since they began their partnership together.
Georgina purchased All In One for Sydney in July of 2019 to help the determined rider realize her goal. Sydney has represented the United States at the 2014 FEI World Equestrian Games in Caen, France, and the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games, where she finished seventh individually riding Western Rose.
After the postponement of the Paralympic Games to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sydney has adjusted her plans, but has not given up on her goal of representing her country on the global stage. The past year was not without success for her and “Alle,” and included a promotion on the Para Dressage Pathway lists. Sydney and Alle made a transition to an Elite designation, which is the highest tier in the program designed to identify and assist athletes on their track to becoming medal contenders at the Paralympic and World Championship level.
Sydney rides at Grade I for para-equestrian dressage, in which the tests are performed at the walk only. She began riding as able-bodied at the age of seven, but switched to para-equestrian at age 11 after being diagnosed with the rare Wyburn Mason Syndrome. The congenital birth defect caused tumors and a massive stroke. A brain surgery also left her with limited use of the left side of her body, completely blind in her right eye, and three-quarters blind in her left eye.
Learn more about Sydney and Alle’s recent national championship performance and what’s next for them:
1. What is your reaction to how Alle performed at the national championship in Tryon?
Alle blew me away at Nationals. His love for competing together with me was evident more than ever, and all of our hard work at home really paid off. We entered the show ring each day with a deeper understanding of one another than we have ever had before, and, to me, that is what para dressage is all about, understanding your partner in the ring while making those five to six minutes look effortlessly connected. Alle, my support team, and I stepped up our game at such a critical time in the qualifying period for the Tokyo 2021 Paralympics. I am so grateful that all of our hard work and dedication at home paid off in the show ring because, in the end, it is all about how you apply what you have been working on at home to competition.
2. How did you reevaluate and change your program in 2020 after the cancelation of events and postponement of the Paralympic Games as a result of COVID?
COVID-19 has obviously thrown the entire world for a loop. With so much uncertainty, it’s hard to know the plan for the week let alone a year. Living with my condition, I think I am uniquely blessed in this time because I have never been able to really follow a planned schedule due to the curveballs that my body throws at me in the form of strokes. As a result, I have learned to adapt. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we have no idea what the future will hold.
We left Wellington in the spring to return home to our new base in Massachusetts as planned and sat down to create a plan for the coming year in order to make the team. I have been really lucky to have such a positive team around me throughout all of quarantine and the delay of the Games. They were unfazed and, like me, chose to view the delay as a blessing in disguise. It gave us even more time to focus on all of the little details and become more polished as a combination vying for a spot on the team. I got really lucky to be able to live at the barn where I train, so even when the barn was shut down due to quarantine, I was still able to ride. Thanks to virtual zoom workouts, online sessions with my nutritionist, and online school, I was able to maintain a sense of normalcy. As a rider, I knew that my passion for competing with Alle was burning brighter than ever, even without shows running. I decided I wanted to take this time to become as mentally and physically fit as I possibly could.
3. What is your pre-test routine?
I have a very specific pre-test routine that I have worked really hard to perfect with the help of my sports psychologist. Since I am such an extroverted person, I have to be careful about not getting in the zone too early and getting low on energy, but not too late where my brain is in 50 places at once. The key is taking two hours to myself before I ride. I work with our team physio, Joanna Frantz, to help get my muscles loose and relaxed. Then, I get in the zone by putting on my noise-cancelling headphones and I listen to my “showtime” playlist, which consists of anything from rap to folk music.
I draw out my test, visualize, stretch, meditate, deeply breathe, and get in the right headspace to step into the show ring successfully. I wear my noise-cancelling headphones right up to the minute I mount up. Ring-side visualization was my best friend in Tryon, and I feel like my “pre-show” routine is becoming more finely tuned as I am beginning to understand more and more about what I personally need to be successful with Alle in the ring.
4. What are judges looking for in a 10 walk, and what makes Alle ideal?
In para dressage, the judges evaluate the horse’s quality of movement, throughness, and the accuracy of the shapes ridden by the rider. The rider’s body and position isn’t taken into account. Alle is a one-of-a-kind horse for my tests because his walk flows consistently, is rhythmic, and follows in one tempo. He is very uphill naturally throughout the whole test, which shows off how his movement comes from behind and flows throughout his body into the contact of the bridle. It also helps that he really loves to walk!
In my grade, the flow between movements and the consistency of the activity in the walk are the biggest things that are taken into account. Since I am paralyzed on my left side and have no feeling, I have to be really diligent about not letting my left hip freeze up and affect his walk.
5. What's your favorite way to unwind after a competition?
My favorite way to unwind after a competition is to return home to spend time with my friends and family and to take time to celebrate my love for equestrian sport. For Alle, he loves anything where he is getting a ton of attention. His favorite way to unwind is turnout, and he loves to get as dirty as possible so he can get groomed and have all the quality time he wants. He is also extremely fond of his carrot time or anytime food is involved. He has quite the personality, is a very cuddly horse, and would take spending time with people over anything. I feel so lucky to get to work with him.
Sydney is currently focused on her 2021 debut with Alle at the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival’s CPEDI3* beginning on January 27.
(NOTE: All Photos Courtesy of Jump Media)