It doesn’t seem possible that so much time has passed by since I’ve seen you. I still can’t believe you are not here.
It feels like just yesterday that you told me about playing soccer, a 19-hand horse at your barn, and riding mountain bikes down hills. I can still see the chairs and table where we sat, and our laughter still echoes in my head.
I am writing you today because I am going to be traveling to Kentucky soon to compete at the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships. Kentucky! NAJYRC! Can you believe it? It was the dream, and now it’s the reality!
I wish beyond words that I would get off the trailer next week and find your stall card in the stables just like I did five years ago. I want you to know—you did it. You really really did it! The hard work you started many years ago—the path you blazed strong and true for riders like me, the endless hours in the saddle and countless sacrifices you made to live your dreams and develop it for others. You did it.
Those demo rides we did in the Rolex arena in 2011 have traveled across miles and desks and piles of paperwork. They live forever within the cyber world of the internet, and now they are making history. Your history, the history you created for every para junior/young rider who follows in your footsteps.
Five years ago you arrived in Kentucky to showcase your passion; I showed up to start my dreams. I had never performed a freestyle; you had danced among the best of the world at the World Games. You knew exactly what you where doing; I hoped and prayed I had a clue.
You never questioned my experience (or lack thereof); instead you encouraged me to have fun. I might have accidentally cut you off in the warm-up ring as the reality of the venue overwhelmed me. You smiled, probably realizing I was like a kid in a candy store (or maybe a bull in a china shop). You answered every question I had to ask and probably wished I had asked a few more.
I had seen the Rolex arena numerous times as a spectator. From way up high, seated on a folding seat, it seemed so small, but standing at the entrance it seemed to go on forever. The idea I would be riding—actually riding inside it—while others sat up there seemed like a dream. You let me “fan girl gaze” for a moment, and then you caught my eye. You snapped me back to reality and said “Sound check. Go get ready for sound check.”
If only you knew, if only I had asked, because you know what… those two words “sound check” were as foreign as a distant language—but I didn’t want you to know because it sounded so simple! Unfazed and intrigued, off I went smiling from ear to ear. I was ready to show up ready for this “sound check” you spoke of so insistently.
Bless your heart you didn’t laugh (too hard) when I showed up on horseback to sound check. I will never forget thinking as I looked up from my trusty steed into those stands, “Wow they sure are waving a lot at me—I must be doing a super great job down here.” Imagine if I had known the truth! Thank you for keeping a straight face when you clued me in about “sound checks.”
Sound checks, which I learned that day, are done not only unmounted but actually without horses at all. Then thank you for laughing with me after you got these words out with a straight face, because I think it was the funniest thing I have ever done, and I am sure you agree!
We danced that day in the Rolex ring in Kentucky. We danced with heart and passion and determination. You brought years of experience and talent, and I brought a desire to learn. You blazed a path that day, and I was—and continue to be—honored to follow it. You made history Jonathan—yes, history—and we will continue to grow it for you down here.
Thank you for being a role model, a competitor, a teacher, a comedian and most importantly a friend. I am leaving for Kentucky soon, Jonathan Wentz, and you are coming with me. Ride on, my friend.
Jonathan Wentz, who represented the United States at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (Ky.) and at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, died in 2012. This is the first year that para-dressage is included in the NAJYRC, scheduled for July 14-19 in Lexington.
Sydney Collier was a member of the U.S. Para-Dressage Team at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in France, and the recipient of the 2014 Junior Equestrian of the Year Award from the U.S. Equestrian Federation. She and her service dog, Journey, hit the spotlight at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Get to know Sydney by reading her blogs, and follow her journey on the road to the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.