Like many parents, Sara Sellmer’s wanted their daughter’s education to be well-rounded, so along with ballet and piano, they enrolled her in riding lessons. That awoke a passion for horses in the young British Columbia girl and before long, her dad Wolf was hauling her and a little Quarter Horse to shows in a two-horse trailer behind a wood-panelled Jeep. Next came an Appaloosa jumper pony. When Sellmer discovered eventing through Pony Club, she was hooked.
Although she has competed in the hunter, jumper, and dressage rings, eventing is her discipline of choice and in 2015 she was ranked 5th in Canada in the FEI standings (she is currently 15th). “I love the community in eventing,” says Sellmer, 35. “I’m a huge cross-country fiend. I like it and it suits me and my lifestyle.” She also appreciates that event horses have to be well-trained for three phases and that a compassionate and systematic training system can work for all three.
Sellmer knew in high school that she wanted to be a professional rider and coach, but to appease her mother, Tricia, she briefly attended college before focussing on an equestrian career. She brought many young horses up through the ranks and managed stables and show barns in the lower mainland before opening Z-Eventing in Kamloops in 2017 on a 37-acre farm she owns with her husband, Mike Martin, a miner she met on a blind date.
Sellmer learned from a who’s who of coaches and clinicians including Nick Holmes-Smith, Clayton Fredericks, Blyth Tait, David O’Connor, Leslie Law, Leslie Reid, Joni-Lynn Peters and George Morris. She considers her most valuable mentor to be Dr. Andrew McLean, who taught her equitation science, an evidence-based understanding of horse-rider interactions. It involves the application of objective scientific methods to identify what training methods are ineffective or causing equine distress in order to improve learning and welfare. “Getting involved in equitation science changed it for me and I learned how horses learn and think,” she says. “It has made a huge difference in my horses and students.”
The equine most influential in Sellmer’s development was Lanzelot Z (“Zee”), the horse after which her business is named. In 2004, Julia Stanley sold Sellmer the green Zangersheide gelding for one dollar. Zee was a challenge for Sellmer – in the area where she lived, riders hacked their horses to the local riding club. But Zee would adamantly refuse to do that. He routinely got eliminated at events, would go through hedges rather than jump them, and would bypass the water obstacles. But as her ability to ride and train improved, the pair made it to the FEI CCI** level and in 2010 Sara was long-listed for the Canadian Eventing Team.
“Zee was a really important horse to me at the time. I’ve had horses that have done more than he did, but he was a symbol of everything I had become,” she says. As the demands of eventing were hard on him, Sellmer gave the gelding to dressage rider Sara Pocock, who competed him successfully to Prix St. Georges. Zee, now 19, has since returned to Sellmer’s farm to teach novice event riders.
Two years ago, Sellmer was enjoying success with the Irish warmblood TF Kreisler (“Brad”), a horse she felt could progress to the highest levels. Their results included fifth-place finishes in the 2015 Galway Downs CCI** and the 2016 Twin Rivers Spring Three-Day Event CIC*** in California, and second in the 2016 Aspen Farms Advanced Horse Trials in Washington. Then TF Kreisler suffered a fatal heart attack on course in October, 2016, at the Woodside International CIC*** in California.
It was another tragic blow for Sellmer; her father had died earlier that year and the family farm had to be sold. But last year, friend Amy Click lent Sellmer an Oldenburg mare, Rubia, and Sellmer and the horse excelled in competition, including placing second in the one-star division at Rebecca Farm and winning the Aspen CIC*.
“I poured my soul into this beautiful horse,” says Sellmer. “I got her ready to do a two-star, but I realized she was the perfect Young Rider horse, so I gave up my ride on her to Amy’s daughter, Harper, and they qualified for Young Riders this spring.”
Currently, Sellmer is competing Freesala, a Canadian warmblood mare by Freestyle, at the one-star level and is bringing along an “exciting” young Thoroughbred stallion and two four-year-olds out of Thoroughbred mares sired by Sara Pocock’s KWPN stallion, Connoisseur.
Sellmer remains passionate about coaching her 40 students of all levels. She instills good horsemanship as well as sound riding skills. She still has a goal to make it to the four-star level – if she can find an equine partner up to the job.
“I’m not going to try to fit a square peg in a round hole,” she says. “It’s only if I have the right horse.”