Sophie Wells’ dressage blog: Kick the rider, pat the horse moment

  • The first of this year’s selection trials were at Vale View winter championships.

    Jorge (pictured) had a warm-up class on the Saturday and then both Reece and Jorge competed in the championships.

    Reece had to compete HC as he hadn’t qualified due to his time off last year. In the warm-up class with Jorge it was apparent early on that he had an issue in the contact. He was sitting behind it and didn’t want to take the contact forward. I tried lots of different techniques to try and make sure he was pushing from behind into the contact but it made little difference. I was in two minds whether to take him into the test but I did just to get him into the arena. It was his first show of the season and he is normally a bit looky at everything, but thankfully he wasn’t too bad and I managed to get through the test with no contact to score nearly 70%.

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    When I was cooling him off I was wracking my brain to think what could be causing the problem when I remembered I had cleaned his bit with something to make it shiny and maybe hadn’t washed it off well enough. So that night I left it in boiling water for quite a while and really cleaned it with water. Thankfully on the Sunday he was so different, back to his normal self, and I was able to go for a better test.

    Jorge won the championship on 72% and Reece did a good clear round which was needed as they were both going on to Deauville CPEDI3* two weeks later.

    In between we had a squad training session where all the riders who are long listed for Rio attended. We went through our music to see if we could change anything and were put through our paces with all the support staff too. None of it would be possible without UK Sport and Lottery Funding.

    Deauville international was another selection trial, and an international that had a lot of the judges on the ground jury who would be in Rio, so it was important we made a good impression!

    The horses travelled out there with the rest of the team as did I and we had two training days in the main arena before the competition started.

    This competition was Jorge’s first one abroad this time last year and I can’t believe how much he has come on, not only in his mind but also physically. He took everything in his stride, seemed to accept that all the decorations and tables were not going to eat him and focused on his work. There was even good behaviour through the trot-up which I always worry about as Reece is known for his airs above the ground.

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    Team test day and Reece was put on to the team. Both horses competed in the team test but only Reece’s score counted, although they were so close — just 0.2%! Reece did a good clean test although there were still some areas to tidy up and he got quite wound up in the small warm-up, which seemed to cause a problem for quite a few other people too.

    On the individual day Reece was on a mission and he did a better test, but there were still times where relaxation could have been better. This was particularly the case in the walk where he likes to be thinking 10 steps ahead anyway, so when the rain started pouring onto the roof of the indoor arena as I went into walk it didn’t help! I felt that I had to ride with all the experience I had to manage him and all of his energy, but the test finished and the judges loved it — we scored 74.98%.

    Jorge went really well too. I asked for more in the warm-up in the trot work and the aim was to carry it through to the actual test which I managed in some bits, but we also had a few not too fluent moments where he didn’t do anything wrong, but was just so in tune it was down to me to maintain the balance. Hopefully this is where there is still so much more to come, just getting it in the test at the right time is a little harder than it looks! I did have a mistake where he broke to trot at the end of the medium canter when I collected him with my seat, but I didn’t support him with enough leg. Kick the rider, pat the horse moment! But it still transpired Reece won on 74.98% and Jorge came second on 72.6%. It’s all heading in the right direction. This meant that Reece was through to the freestyle to music. I think it’s a shame that you can only take one horse through as I love “dancing” to Jorge’s music! It will have to wait until next time.

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    It’s a massive operation and requires team work to go to these internationals. It comes from the funding we are fortunate to get through UK Sport and the Lottery, to be in a position to take the team of support have. A big thank you to everyone who contributes to our performances; it takes a lot to pull off the six minutes in the arena. Particular thanks to Ange and my groom Sophie for their help and Mark for having to do more driving to pick us up and drop us off as I couldn’t get everything plus two horses in my lorry!

    So onto the next challenge and to keep pushing those boundaries and seeing how far we can go! Keep your eyes on the stars and feet on the ground — there’s lots of work to do.


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