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Sophie Wells’ blog: success in Deauville

It’s been pretty chaotic with us recently, with a very exciting new addition called “Fatal Attraction” — or “Jorge” to his friends — who we bought just before we went to France to compete.

He’s only six this year, so very much a baby and needs time to mature, but he’s a lovely character and I love working with him.

We went to Deauville in France to a para international competition with Reece. It was part of our selection trials for the Europeans this year, which are in Denmark.

Although Reece has been competing internationally for four years now he’s not been to many venues abroad, so I was keen to get him somewhere different.

It was also my first international outing since the Paralympics last year and I admit I was raring to go.  And I think it’s the right time for Reece to take over from Noki in para competition — he feels ready.

The trot up always has an air of anxiety, but for us it did for a different reason. Reece is fairly well known for not being the best behaved in-hand. I have an amazing picture from the Europeans In 2011 with him flying through the air during the trot up — something I wish he didn’t make a habit of.

The start list looked pretty heavy, with riders from last year’s Games and previous medallists, including Michele George who won gold in London.

Reece was feeling great in training, but I was aware that the judges’ boxes were tents on stilts, and the wind in the morning of the competition was causing a few problems for some of the horses.

Reece warmed up well. He was concentrating completely on me when we went into the test, didn’t look at any of the distractions and did the best test I had ridden on him. He really felt as if he was floating on air and each movement ran into the next.

We won the team test on 75%, 5% ahead of the rest of the field and his personal best score at an international. I knew that I had to reproduce it again in the individual to a new set of five judges.

The individual also went well with another 75% win for us. It was a consolidating performance for us as a partnership, and proof of him stepping up into Pinocchio’s shoes.

I was really looking forward to the freestyle. I spent a lot of time last year creating the right floorplan and trying to find the best style of music for him. I only had the chance to perform it once last year so I was looking forward to doing it again.

When I got on to warm-up, Reece was quite hyped up. Definitely not tired from his trip! He almost felt like he needed a quiet stretch day before his next test to chill out a bit, but it’s great he’s feeling good in his body and eating well.

We had a small blip in our complex floorplan, which I completely take the blame for. In the extended trot I asked for a little too much stretch in the frame, which ultimately we are looking for, but at this stage just tipped us over the edge and he lost balance into a slightly dramatic giraffe impersonation. But the rest of the plan finished well and we recovered.

He got a massive 78%, and won the freestyle, which meant we were horse and rider of the show. An incredible achievement and one that I am very proud of my boy for. It’s been a long six years since he started as a gangly five-year-old.

Back from France and attention was now on Noki to prepare for our first inter II outing. It was my aim after London that Noki would retire from paras and we had a new challenge that lay ahead — grand prix. But to do a grand prix I have to compete in an inter II to be eligible, so it was handy to have one just down the road at Vale View.

It was Noki’s first competition outing since the Games, and I think he was a little disappointed not to see 12,000 spectators when he got out of the lorry. After a few nerves in the warm-up, he settled down. It was weird to feel nerves, but without the pressure of selectors watching every step.

This is for us now! We had a great ride, and even the more difficult movements of the piaffe passage we got through — next time I can ask for a bit more. We  got an eight for his one-time changes, which he was so eager to show off coming down the centre line in our kur in London! Now he can actually do them in a test and not get penalised — providing they are in the right place.

Finally I would like pay tribute to my friend and team mate Jo Pitt. She was dedicated to our sport and so passionate about her horses. A role model to everyone. I can’t get my head around it — we were competing in France only a month ago. My deepest sympathies to Hazel and Bob, her sisters and Rory. I am so pleased you found happiness and success, but taken too soon. There will be massive hole in our team. Thinking of you, never forgotten.

Until next time,

Sophie

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