SIDNEY — Halee Cummings’ father said his daughter would have critiqued his barrel race performance Sunday afternoon pretty hard.

“She would always say there were no excuses, and she’d never let us slack off,” Hardy Cummings said. “Her work ethic was unmatched, and she was just an amazing equine athlete.”

Cummings was the first rider during the final day of the event honoring his daughter, Halee Cummings, who died in September in an all-terrain vehicle crash that left her family and friends crushed.

“It was a devastating blow to the family and to the community, and it still is,” said longtime family friend Spencer Wright, a tattoo artist from Augusta. “Honestly I’d rather not be here, because I want Halee to still be here standing next to me.”

Hundreds of people, young and old, came to the last day of the Halee Lyn Cummings Memorial Barrel Race at the Silver Spur Riding Club in Sidney. The competition, which kicked off Friday with a pig roast attended by more than 400 people, featured more than 70 riders racing under sunny skies for prizes including belt buckles and cash.

But mostly everyone was riding for Halee.

“We all wish she was here, but I know she’s there riding alongside all of us,” Cummings said. “We were so proud of her, and we’re trying to make her proud of us.”

Cummings, aboard Sin, crossed the finish line with a time of 17.5 and Halee’s boyfriend, Nick Gagne, new to the sport of timed maneuvering racing, completed his run in 19.9 seconds. Jami Paquette, Halee’s mother and the event’s main organizer, did not receive an official time because she knocked over one of the three barrels. Halee’s two grandfathers also raced, as did nearly 70 others from Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Halee’s father was introduced first during the grand entrance before the competition, and he rode a sleek, tall black horse while carrying a flag with a photo of his daughter.

“That was the hardest part of the day,” Cummings said. “But it was also the proudest moment I could have.” Cummings said his daughter had a passion for horses and racing and traveled across the East Coast to compete, racking up championships from Virginia to Georgia.

“We have our moments, I suppose, when sometimes I just don’t want to get out of bed,” Cummings said. “But we’ve found by staying busy and doing (stuff she loved), it’s therapeutic.”

Paquette, Halee’s mother, and Cummings were overwhelmed by the support the family has received since the tragedy from friends, the community and even people that never knew Halee.

“It’s pretty mind-blowing to see the community and family get together like this,” Cummings said. “We give thanks to all the people who’ve come from far and wide to support our family through this tragedy.”

This weekend, far-and-wide included Vermont.

Teresa Randall and Sue Tice came from Vermont along with eight others, but they didn’t know Halee. They saw the event on Facebook through a barrel racing organization and saw all the support from the community and wanted to participate.

“The horse community is close and supportive of everyone, even if we don’t know somebody,” Randall said. “This is what we love.” The pair said they would definitely be back for next year’s event and guaranteed there’d be even more people from Vermont joining them.

“It’s what we love about the horse community,” Tice said.

Gagne, 23, said the weekend has been very emotional, but he’s received so much support from Halee’s family since September and has been with them “almost every single night since the accident.”

“She would’ve loved this event, but she’s probably (upset) that she couldn’t be here racing with all of us,” Gagne said before his turn in the ring.

Paquette said they have $6,500 in prizes for this weekend’s competition and hope to have $10,000 next year.

“There were so many people from the community who came together,” she said, to volunteer their time, money, food and everything else from the weekend, including the Silver Spur Riding Club, who let the family use their facility for the event.

Halee and her mother were planning on putting together a similar event before she died. Wright, who served as the event’s play-by-play and color announcer, said the event “would’ve been 100 times better if Halee was involved.”

Halee graduated a year early from Messalonskee High School in Oakland in 2014 and was enrolled at the University of Maine in Augusta. She was in her sophomore year, and though she hadn’t declared a major, her family said she was thinking about entering the nursing program.

“But this was her whole life and what she loved,” Paquette said before changing into her riding clothes and cowboy hat and climbing aboard Rando Roo. “She touched people everywhere.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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