Cochranite Sydney Montieth says it took a while for it to hit home that she won the three-day event at the Ocala International FEI horse trial.

Held Apr. 14 to 17 in Ocala, FL, she topped her division with 36.5 points, ahead of a field of Americans, Mexican, and fellow Canadian competitors. American Maxine Reston was second with 38.9.

"I was taken back a bit," she says of winning. "It took a while for it to sink in that we had successfully completed the weekend in first place. That was a bonus to everything else I learned that weekend."

"We've worked very hard to get here. I've worked with an amazing coach here (Olympic qualifier Holly Jacks Smither), and my horse and I have created such an awesome partnership that every time I go out I feel confident and ready, and that all of our hard work and long days are going to pay off."

Montieth rides Flanagan, a 16-year-old Welsh/Warmblood cross, a bred that makes him smaller than the majority of the horses they compete against.

She says finding Flanagan was a bit of a fluke. When she went to buy a horse, they had brought him by mistake. She worked him while they went to retrieve another horse.

"I just fell in love with him, and when you see something in a horse like that is special, you just jump on it. I was lucky enough to know that there was something special about him back then, and I've had him ever since."

She started show riding in her early teens, then took a break while attending Randolph College in Toronto.

At one point, she had discarded the idea of show riding and eventing with Flanagan, and instead use him as a trail horse, or continue to lease him out to younger riders.

"He came back to me about a year ago. and honestly thought he didn't want to event. I just didn't think he had it in him. I didn't think he wanted to play that game anymore

"The more he came back, and the more we trained, the more he became confident and I became a better rider. He showed me he wanted to do this, and so we started competing again, and he started to do well.

He hasn't been the easiest horse to bring along.

"There's been a lot of times when I thought that he didn't want to do this, and I wasn't a good enough rider to bring him along, but with the help of my coach, we were able to overcome those obstacles. Now he absolutely loves it. He's the happiest he's ever been. He's super fit, and he's just ready to rock."

They are now returning to Canada to compete in some tougher preliminary trials.

"I'm just going to keep listening to him and if he wants to keep going, then we'll keep showing. Whenever he says I don't want to play anymore, then that's when we'll listen and we'll go from there."

Her passion is to have a successful business in the horse industry, work with young horses and athletes, and continue to compete.

Montieth trained for years at Tristar Equestrian in Airdrie in showjumping and started eventing about a year ago.

Sydney and FlanaganSydney Montieth and Flanagan with the ribbon and banner they won at the Ocala International FEI horse trial. (Photo contributed)