Local rider aiming for Paralympics

Sarah Cummings and her horse—Spirit Keeper—are turning heads at the national level for Para - Dressage.

Sarah Cummings and her horse

Sarah Cummings and her horse

In life it’s important to dream big, and Sarah Cummings is no different.

After two years of intensive training, the Cranbrook equestrian rider is aiming for a spot on Team Canada for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

She has been successful at various competitions over the last 24 months, scoring either first or second in every competition she’s placed, which has landed her in the top-10 list of eligible riders for the Canadian Para-equestrian Team.

Cummings describes a spot in the Rio Games in 2016 as an ‘impossible’ goal, but adds that the 2020 Games in Tokyo is far enough away for her to pad her competition resume for the Canadian team.

Cummings, who has always had an affinity for horses and equestrian riding ever since she was a little girl, competes in Dressage which can be described as the art of dancing on horseback or ballet on horseback.

“It’s something to compete in,” Cummings said. “I did a little jumping at one point, but it just terrified me because I would always forever fall off and I have to be very careful.

“The flatwork was the only thing offered that would go to the Olympic level through the para stuff, so that’s why we picked dressage, and then it’s not as terrifying for my coach to watch me train.”

Though partially paralyzed on the right side of her body because of Cerebral Palsy, she has been able to overcome the challenges of her physical limitations and thrive in the competition arena with her horse, Spirit.

She rides and trains out of the Riverbend Equestrian Centre out in Wycliffe, and is coached by Maya Huppie.

In order for her to break into the ranking and guarantee herself a spot on Team Canada, she needs to increase her judging scores by 10 per cent and compete in a minimum of six shows.

There are shows in Kalispell, Spokane and Kamloops that she attends during the competitive season—shows that get her ranked nationally and noticed by Equine Canada.

“That gets you ranked on the long list. The short list are the ones that go to the Olympics. I’m currently 5th on the long list so I need to increase my scores by 10 per cent,” Cummings said.

“The extended trot, the free walk, your freestyle—they all get scored and each move is scored out of 10. So when you increase that, it puts your [overall] score up.”

To reach that next level, she’s aiming at international competitions in California and Calgary which will be enough to break into the shortlist if her scores are good enough.

Doing live shows has been a new experience from when she first started competing, where scores were determined after taking video of a routine and sending it to the judges.

It was the videos that eventually landed Cummings on the national para-Dressage radar.

“From there, Canada’s coach—Lynn Marshall—noticed me on one of the videos, so she contacted Maya and Maya got me going on the whole thing,” Cummings said. “I looked into it, got classified, because you have to have different grades with the different levels of your disability. It varies so you can be put in different categories.”

Grades are differentiated by the degree of challenges faced by the rider, whether physical, visual, developmental or a combination of all three. Cummings is classified as grade 3, while the spectrum runs from 1a being a severe disability to grade 4 as being only a slight disability.

In addition to coaching from Huppie and Marshall, Cummings has also gotten some instruction from Jessica Wisdom, a past USA National Grand Prix champion.

“It’s interesting, because you have your coaches perspective, you have Team Canada’s coaches perspective, then you have this other person [Jessica] who’s not linked to anyone in particular, doesn’t have a favourite, and getting her to explain things is really neat, the way she helps describe things and can help walk you through it,” said Cummings.

Competing at the high level that she needs to reach her dream of reaching the Paralympics, Cummings is hoping to raise financial support from the Cranbrook and Kimberley business community.

She has managed to raise a few thousand dollars already with some positive response from the community and her goal is $20,000.

She has a Facebook page—Sarah Cummings Para – Dressage—and can be reached at secummings.2010@gmail.com or 250-464-1694.