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So the past couple of weeks has been a big turnaround for the big orange man in my life, Pinocchio. After being at a three-star grand prix international in the same class as Valegro, his next challenge was to do a grade 1a international with Emma Sheardown, just three weeks later.

I don’t know if there is any other horse in the world that could do that, he is just one in a million, as are his owners, Jackie and Neil Walker.

I have been riding Noki for nearly seven years now, and we really have been through so much together, the bond we have is special, and we trust each other. It was due to this trust that I knew we could work with Emma on him, in a short space of time to attend an international.

Emma is without a horse at the moment, after losing Wolf at the beginning of the year in tragic circumstances, and we have yet to find a perfect replacement. Netty at 24-years-old has done a great job of keeping her going and teaching Emma valuable lessons, but isn’t quite as supple as she once was.

Noki really looked after Emma. Grade 1a is the most disabled grade, and as Emma has Cerebral Palsy, she has a lot of tone and tension in her muscles, and involuntary movement. Her test comprises of walking, free walk, small circles, and halts. This all sounds fairly straight forward, until you try to keep the rhythm and contact the same for five minutes. Even with cooperating limbs that’s difficult.

At Bishop Burton CPEDI*** he followed me round the outside of the arena. I reassured him it was ok, before

Sophie and Noki

Sophie and Noki

starting the test with Emma. You could see in his eye he was trying to be careful and do what was asked. He hasn’t got the best of walks for 1a, after all not many grand prix horses have, however he most definitely has the heart for it, and that goes a long way!

Words cannot describe how I feel about this horse, and how proud I was of him in that arena. Although I have to say, I was the most nervous I have ever been watching him go into the arena. Although I’m not his owner, I still love him like he is my own, and now I appreciate how nerve wracking it is watching with no control over what is happening in the arena. He finished the competition in third place with +70% in the freestyle. Emma did a great job!

This horse has taken me to eight countries, to a para Europeans, one para World Equestrian Games, one Paralympics, two young rider Europeans, one young rider World Cup final, three under-25 grand prix internationals, two three-star senior grand prix internationals, numerous para and young rider internationals and national championships. He has also won five golds and two silver medals and won my heart! He owes me nothing and I owe him everything. I’m so happy that he is as cheeky and happy as ever at home, loves going away to competitions, and being involved. He literally hates time off and watching other horses going away without him. At 18-years-old, that is quite amazing. Such a gentle giant, I will always be eternally grateful to Jackie and Neil for allowing me the opportunity of having this bond with Noki, and Angela for helping to get the best out of him.

This highlights whatever happens in the competition arena, nothing can beat what you feel between horse and rider in your heart.

Sophie