Sarah Butler went to visit Sophie Wells at her yard to talk about her achievements, her typical daily routine and 2012 goals including the London Olympic selections.
Sophie is a reigning World and European para-equestrian dressage champion who competes in para and able-bodied competitions.
She was born with Amniotic Band Syndrome which occurs when the fetus becomes entangled in fibrous string-like amniotic bands in the womb, restricting blood flow and affecting the baby’s development. This meant Sophie lost some of her fingers and parts of others andhas been left with limited movement in both her hands and feet. Despite this condition she has overcome the odds to become a highly regarded successful dressage rider at 21 years of age.
Sophie started riding when she was 7-years-old at the local riding school on normal pony club horses. At the age of 10 Sophie moved on and started to train with Vicki Thompson-Winfield, specialising in Dressage. When she first started riding she didn’t have her special reigns, which meant she fell off the horse quite a lot.
Luckily Vicki introduced her to Jaguar who designed a special pair of reigns for Sophie, which she uses to this day. Sophie trained for 3 years with Vicki and gained a really good grounding to her equestrian career in dressage. She then went on to train with Tracey Woodhead and is currently trained by Angela Weiss and has been for the past 8 years. Angela has been a huge influence on Sophie’s career and she credits Angela’s skills for the medals she’s won.
Sophie believes you have to be committed to riding and her top tip is to enjoy the horses and the riding.
In total she has four horses at her yard; Reece, Pinocchio, Touchdown and a young horse – which she is bringing on with the 2016 Olympics in mind. One of Sophie’s top show horses is Reece, she describes him as quite a character. She has had Reece for 5 years, since getting him as a baby. Sophie insists he is very much still her baby and they know each other inside out!
Her other top horse is Pinocchio (Noki) who is a 14-year-old Dutch horse owned by Dr Jackie Walker. Sophie started riding him 3 years ago. He was ridden and trained by Pippa Fisher in his early days, getting him to all the top shows nationally and internationally.
It was decided that Pinocchio wasn’t quite good enough to go into Grand Prix, despite having a few of the moves, as he gets quite stressed and tense. Sophie got Pinocchio to compete in para competitions and he helped her win her first medal at the 2009 Para-Equestrian European Championships in Norway. They went on to win two gold medals at the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky before attending two Young Rider European competitions.
Sophie has a retired horse at her yard called Touchdown, he retired at the age of eight from a tumour in his foot. He first got Sophie recognised in the para and able-bodied world, where they came reserve in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Tack & products used
In her everyday riding Sophie uses black country saddles. They are single flap, which enables her to have very close contact with the horse. Not only do the signals get through better but it helps tackle the height difference between her and her 17.2 horses.
She uses special looped reigns where the buckles can move up and down depending on how long she wants them. Typically Sophie will hold the loop with one finger on each reign, proving to be vital piece of tack for her.
She is allowed to use her reigns for able bodied classes but has to ride in a double bridle for young riders and senior international competitions. At home and at national competitions Sophie favours a snaffle. In her opinion this shows better riding skills as there is no relying on two bits. Holding the reigns is a big disadvantage as she is unable to hold them properly and struggles with just one pair. The fewer reigns she has the easier it is luckily enough to be allowed to salute with just her head.
In para competitions she is allowed to have two whips, as some days she loses a lot of power, as a result of the nerve problems. In able bodied national competitions she is allowed to use two whips unlike international competitions. To prepare herself for this she tries to use them as little as possible so she doesn’t rely on them and she wants the horses to have maximum sensitivity. On a really bad day Sophie will have the whips on her legs, so the horses will have to be sensitive to that.
Sophie is on the only one who rides Reece and Noki. Anglea who schools them will occasionally sit on the horses if Sophie is having a bad day but she hasn’t rode Reece for 3 years which means everything is going well!
To keep her horses mobile Sophie uses Blue Chip Joint RLF, which she finds very beneficial, especially with Noki as his joints are stiffer. Since using the liquid joint supplement she has noticed a real difference.
Sophie’s Daily Routine
Sophie grooms for herself and spends a large amount of her time mucking out the horses and caring for them. She usually rides in the morning and over lunch before the horses get turned out in the afternoon. She thinks it’s really important for them to still be horses and have their own time out of the stable. In the evening Sophie puts the horses to bed, checking on them at around 10pm, where she’ll skip them out and give them another rug if the temperature has dropped.
In her day to day schooling sessions Sophie aims to achieve real submission, acceptance of the aids and sensitivity. She uses a lot of transitions in her work to make sure the horses are really listening to her and to get them more on the hind leg. She uses a lot of circles and turns to make sure she’s not going round the school the whole time. The horses don’t get picked up everyday in real competition work as she doesn’t think they need it. Sometimes they’ll have a hard day followed by an easier day. Its more about the basics that solidify how they are going to go in competitions.
Plans for 2012
Sophie has a very exciting year lined up consisting of lots of qualifiers and the Winter and Summer Championships. She is also competing in a couple of international competitions in France and Belgium as part of selection for the 2012 London Olympics. The final selection is at Hartpury International in July, where Sophie will find out if she is competing in the 2012 Olympics.
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