Baku, Azerbaijan - Equestrian heroes - and a very special dog - were celebrated tonight at the FEI Awards Gala 2014 presented by Longines.
The five winners of the “Oscars of the equestrian world” 2014 were presented with their awards by outgoing FEI President HRH Princess Haya on her final day as FEI President at a dazzling ceremony in Baku’s fabulous Buta Palace.
The winners, who have made outstanding contributions to the growth of equestrian sport in 2014, are:
Reem Acra Best Athlete Award: World Jumping champion Jeroen Dubbeldam (NED)
Longines Rising Star Award: Vaulter Lambert Leclezio (MRI)
Best Groom Award: Jackie Potts (GBR), groom to Eventing world number one William Fox-Pitt (GBR)
FEI Solidarity: Equine therapy centre Equal Ark (SIN)
Against All Odds: Para-Equestrian Dressage athlete Sydney Collier (USA) with her service dog Journey
Against All Odds: Sydney Collier (USA) with Journey
Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Sydney Collier was diagnosed with the rare Wyburn Mason syndrome at the age of seven. The disease has meant that she has been faced with significant obstacles, but these have not prevented her from reaching her goals. The 17-year-old has undergone a series of operations, including three brain surgeries, is blind in one eye, and a stroke at the age of 11 led to paralysis on her left side.
Despite these challenges, she has pursued her dreams relentlessly, and after competing at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 this summer, is determined to continue training and represent the USA at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. In between training in New York, 10 hours away from her family and friends, she also volunteers once a week to speak, motivate and encourage young people of her age who do not have the same motivation and family support that she does.
Sydney Collier was also recently announced 2014 Junior Equestrian of the Year by the United States Equestrian Federation.
Journey, the star service dog in Baku
Sydney’s service dog, the white standard poodle Journey, who became famous during the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 in Normandy for being the first dog to get accreditation for a World Championship, created a buzz again tonight when he arrived on stage at the Buta Palace in Baku, complete with bow tie. After travelling over 9,000 kilometres from New York, Journey took to the stage to receive his own FEI Award, a personalised dog bowl.
"Winning the FEI Against All Odds Award means so much to me as an individual, and as an athlete,” Sydney Collier said. “Life has routinely thrown speed bumps and curves on my plans, but my passion for horses and their incredible spirit has repeatedly helped me find a way around obstacles that others might have seen as insurmountable.
“In winning this award I now have the incredible opportunity to share with so many others facing similar circumstances that their goals do not ever have to be put aside. The world out there is filled with wonderful opportunities as long as you are willing to push yourself to reach them. I would like to thank the FEI for creating this award to help continue to inspire every athlete, regardless of challenging circumstances, to strive to be their best every day in and out of the saddle. And to my family and my trainer Wes Dunham who have been beside me every step of the way. I wouldn't be standing here today without each one of you supporting and cheering me on through thick and thin.
"It means even more to me to have my special service dog Journey by my side to accept this award. When Journey was granted his credentials at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games a world of opportunity and education was opened. Together Journey and I are now able to share with others the special working relationship and independence that service animals grant their handlers. The icing on the cake? Journey loves horses as much as I do!"