Sophie Wells dressage blog: Paralympics part two — winning medals and making unforgettable memories

  • After riding my winning individual test at the Rio Paralympics I went straight to media while Reece was cooled off in the misting fans and got ready for the prize giving. I got to Channel 4 and they wanted to see the confirmed score and final standings on the screen just before my interview, but when I saw it written down, I was a crying mess again, hence the emotional interview. For those who know me, I’m not an emotional person, and it takes a lot to make me cry…

    We were then straight into the medal ceremony without a chance to take in what was really going on. But walking down to the podium, seeing Reece being led in by Ange and Sophie made me swell with pride, and of course cry a bit more. Ange and I have worked so hard with Reece over the past 10 years, which made it even more special.

    The national anthem and standing on the top of the podium was just the best feeling. It’s really hard to describe sat here tapping away on my laptop. It’s always an honour to wear the British flag on your jacket, but it takes it to another level at a Paralympics, and to then stand on the podium hearing our national anthem is just something else. It’s also the first time the grade IV gold medal has ever been won by a British rider in the history of the Paralympics, so it was another first, and one I will always treasure. This medal was also won by Noki. I wore his tail bracelet through all my tests, so he was with me — the one medal I didn’t manage to win for him, and his owners, Jackie and Neil. They have taken me so far and he really deserved this too.

    My Rio haul

    My Rio haul

    It was probably two hours after my test that I was able to finally get changed and sit down for five minutes to take it in.

    The rest of the day went in a bit of a blur. I went to see our family and friends and the rest of my support team at British house that night, and we had dinner together which was lovely.

    The next day we gave Reece a little stretch before the freestyle the following day. I did wake up that morning and have to pinch myself to make sure it was real and it actually happened.

    There are some strong riders and horses in grade IV now. The best trainers in the world are being used and para sport is really coming into its own.

    I was really looking forward to my freestyle. It was a new composition by Tom Hunt, made especially for this competition. There were a few hurdles in the way of trying to sort the floorplan and music, but I was really pleased with the outcome. I hadn’t ridden it in competition before, but I had ridden through it at home and it had worked well. I had it on repeat through my head phones between the individual and competing in the freestyle. I was really ready for it, excited I think, and really looking forward to getting into the arena again and making the most of our time there.

    I had decided on loud music in the sound check to get the atmosphere going and I found it was quite spine tingling.

    I was the first of the Brits in the freestyle, and was eager to get on and start our warm-up.

    Towards the end of the warm-up I was having problems holding my reins in my right hand. My loops, which are on buckles are leather and my saddler, Andy Milner, has made the leather rolled and narrow so it fits on my one finger on each hand, remaining secure which has helped a lot this year. My right hand finger isn’t full length so it doesn’t bend around the loop as far, and I’m very reliant on the grip of my gloves to keep me from losing the reins. I think my glove must have got wet when we were washing Reece off during his warm-up, which lost some of the grip, so just before going in I was worrying about keeping my rein. Once it pops off the end of that finger I lose the rein completely, which scares me sometimes.

    I started my test and the floor plan was riding well. I got to the walk and the first movement is the extended walk, which I was grateful of as in the transition my loop slipped off my right finger. My reins were then more the length you would have for free walk and not extended, which the judges picked up on which was frustrating.

    We missed our first flying-change of the first line of tempi-changes, which made us finish late going into a canter pirouette, which then made things a little tense, but we got it back and managed to do it well on the other rein. The compulsory movements had all come off, and the music fitted, which are the main things in a freestyle. Plus, I really enjoyed it.

    I was pleased with the test, it wasn’t perfect, but there wasn’t much wrong with it either and I was shaking a lot afterwards! I went to cool Reece off and we heard that we had gone into silver medal position at the end of the class. The margin was so small; 0.15% behind Michele George from Belgium, who had taken silver in the individual. The score, 76% wasn’t near our personal best of nearly 81%, but that didn’t reflect how he went.

    My team with Reece

    My team with Reece

    Three judges had me to win, but the other two that didn’t had a bigger margin, which meant we ended up in silver. I was so pleased with the individual medal. Of course the freestyle mattered, and it would have been great to get a hat-trick, but we can’t control the outcome, we can only control our performance in the arena.

    Continued below…

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    It was also great to hear we had won the team competition by a massive 20%. Then it was time for the medal ceremonies for the freestyle and the team. The horses were extremely well behaved and a credit to our whole team. I hope everyone who was out in Rio with us, and also our home teams that help us keep things going, and the horses in top condition all year, know that these medals are won because of the great people we have around us and the hard work we all put in. All this made possible by our sponsors and supporters, World Class, UK Sport and Lottery funding. Honestly, I hope you all know how much your support means. Dressage is far from an individual sport, it relies on the strongest team. Also the messages of support from home, on social media, texts, emails, cards etc, honestly mean so much. So thank you!

    The two days after competition and flying home went really quickly. I was really sad to leave…. I was ready to go home and see everyone there and make sure everyone was ok, but we had the best time, in a very beautiful part of the world, with good company and amazing experiences; memories that will be with me forever.

    Flying home on the BPA chartered British Airways plane with the golden nose was just incredible. How I got into first class with so many amazing athletes around me I will never know, but what an experience!


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