Sophie Wells’ dressage blog: Quick changes and WEG selection

  • The past couple of weeks have been crazy! In my last blog we were packing and on our way to Hickstead, with six horses, two lorries, two grooms and our trainer, Angela [Weiss].

    Reece (Valerius) contested the para grade IV summer championships, which was also part of our selection for the World Equestrian Games (WEG). He’s had a bit of time off with a few niggles, so we didn’t go into it feeling the most prepared. In fact he was like a fire breathing dragon on the first day of training, so he was clearly feeling better. He got 74% in the team test — a fairly average performance for him — he wasn’t at his best, but he did what he needed to do to win the class.

    We worked on his trot for day two to get it more connected and forward while maintaining the cadence. We had torrential rain and a horrible thunderstorm just before I got on; the thunder and lightening felt like it struck one of the stables.

    However, Reece is quite use to the rain, and splashing through puddles. Deb Criddle told me seven years ago when I was new to the performance side of the sport: “Use mother nature to your advantage — ride in the rain, wind, hot sun, you don’t know when you will have to during competition”. Very good advice!

    Although I thought Reece’s second day of competition was better than the previous, despite the weather, the judges didn’t agree and gave us 69%. But later we checked and the sheet had been added up wrong. So we got 71% — better, but still not what we wanted.

    Jorge (C Fatal Attraction, pictured top having a snooze) was super at the show. The more we do, the better our relationship is and our bond is getting stronger. He went well on the first day in the team test to gain 71% and second behind Reece. Then on the second day, he wasn’t so keen on the lake at the C end of the arena or the rest of the arena being fairly under water, which resulted in some understandable tension. However he came out with 69% and the same score as Reece, apart from collectives, which was a bit bizarre!

    You live and you learn

    I had a tricky show at the Hickstead Premier League. David (Forever Himself) was not a fan of the arena and all the distractions. He was very tense in the prix st georges (PSG) so I decided to retire him in the canter work. It’s not something I do very often, but he got to the point where it was getting worse and it wasn’t fair on him to carry on. The next day in the inter I he was tense, but he was manageable. It was far from his best test, but he got through it and learnt from it hopefully.

    Noki (Pinoccio) didn’t feel himself. He had little energy and I was worried about him — we made quite a lot of mistakes and lacked energy in both the inter II and grand prix. I got our team vet to check his heart, which was normal for him, which was a relief, and got his bloods tested when I got home.

    Hartpury here we come

    On to Hartpury. This was Jorge’s first international, which was exciting and a proud moment. The same team were supporting us, two different grooms to get experience, and the World Class team were also there. It was my first senior international at big tour — very exciting but also very scary! It was also the final selection for the paras for WEG too, so pressure was on.

    Reece showed his lack of work the past month or so, and was quite looky in the first test. Jorge was very concentrated though, so I thought he might have the edge and take the lead over his stable-mate. But Reece won with 72%, followed by Jorge on 69%.

    In the individual Reece was getting better, and his mark improved to 74% as did Jorge’s to break that 70% barrier. Reece qualified through to the freestyle, which was moved to just before Noki’s grand prix. I was so nervous for the grand prix that I had to really focus on Reece and try and put it out my mind. It worked and Reece was back to form, gaining 80%.

    Quick Swap: paras to grand prix; horses and bridles

    A change of jackets and horses, and I was immediately warming up for the grand prix. Noki was quite strong and forward in the warm-up, so I struggled to get him together. I had to get him listening and hope the movements came off!

    Quick swap into the double bridle after my first part of warm up in the snaffle (as I struggle to cope with all the reins). I got through the test and didn’t know how it felt; it was a bit of a blur because I was so nervous!

    I didn’t expect to qualify for the freestyle, as all the riders that had got there were better than we were, so I was happy if I could do a good test. 63.8% I was happy with, and even happier the head judge at C gave us over 66% and two other judges 65%. We qualified for the freestyle in 11th place, so I was over the moon.

    Dancing Shoes On

    The rest of my para team decided they would stay and support me, which was nice, so we all stayed in the lorries and had a chilled day before the freestyle in the evening. I stretched the other boys, and watched the inter I class of the international before I started to prepare for my test, listening to my new music. It was hard to find something to follow Noki’s Pinocchio music I used for the Paralympics and small tour. But I love it.

    The freestyle went OK. We had a bit of a miscommunication at the start, as he likes to know where he’s going, so being our first grand prix kur, it was a bit new, but the canter work came off and it mainly fitted to the music! The German judge Peter Engel gave us 71% for second, but overall we finished 6th with 66%, which I’m so happy with.

    We left just after 11pm and drove home getting back after 2am at which point we had all five horses to put to bed!

    Next Stop World Equestrian Games

    The WEG team was announced after that weekend, and I’m delighted to say Reece and I have been selected, with Noki & Jorge as my direct reserves. I’m so proud of them, and it’s a real testament to what we have been trying to do building up a strong string during the past few years.

    A big big thank you to Team Wells, all my sponsors and supporters, owners that continue to support my dreams, and friends and family. It’s much appreciated! Thank you!

    Sophie x

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