Sophie Wells’ blog: sad times and my grand prix debut

  • We had a very sad day saying goodbye to friend, and team mate, Jo Pitt at her funeral in Norfolk. It was very emotional, but so nice to see how many people were there to celebrate her life and memory. Our team showed it’s strength as we pulled together and helped each other through the day. I’m sure we will all ride with Jo’s determination and spirit this year ahead of selection for the Europeans.

    On a brighter note, the last couple of weeks have been quite exciting. I was preparing to do my first grand prix, which was just a small one at Vale View. However, a few people caught wind of what I was doing there and a small crowd turned up. No pressure then!

    It feels weird to be competing without the worry of selection pressing down on us. It’s become quite normal for me to have pressure with every test I ride, what with para selection and having done young riders for a couple of years. On this occasion I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be, more excited and wanting to do it! Competing at grand prix is something you dream about, in the hope one day you will have the horse power to do it. So to do it on Noki, who was originally being sold as he wouldn’t make grand prix, has made it more special. Four and a half years of work and basics has paid off.

    However, the test didn’t go without it’s problems — pooing in the first piaffe didn’t help matters. But all in all I got round, did the right movement at the right time and didn’t go wrong. We came out with 64%, which I was thrilled with, and there was plenty of ground to build on, too.

    Last week we had squad training at the Unicorn Trust, a beautiful centre in Gloucestershire where we have been lucky to train since I started in 2004. It’s like our third home! We saw the relevant support staff, doctor, physio, sports psych, saddler, vet, osteopath, farrier, S&C coach, the list goes on! So it was a pretty busy couple of days.

    We then went on to Somerford Premier League, where I was entered in the intermediate II and grand prix on Noki and the pris st george and intermediate I on Reece. The weather was pretty terrible both when we left Stow-on-the-Wold and when we got to Somerford, so it was great when we were put in the lovely new permanent stabling. They were massive, airy stables and the horses were soon catching up on some sleep. The weather didn’t improve the next day, so I got absolutely soaked warming up for the PSG on Reece. We don’t have the luxury of an indoor at home, so he’s quite used to it, but the fence blew down on the horse walk and the flags were going mad.

    Thankfully the weather calmed down a little for our test, but Reece was quite hot. We had a few mistakes, but it was good experience as we are campaigning him for the Europeans this year. We came out with 64% which was a bit disappointing, but mistakes are costly at this level. A quick change and hot drink and I was warming up Noki for the intermediate II. I was pleased with how he came out — also a few mistakes but he generally had a confidence giving test ready for the grand prix the next day. We came seventh in both classes, which isn’t bad for a Premier League.

    The weather was beautiful the following day and it didn’t even feel like we were in the same country as the day before. British weather! I was on at 8.15 on Reece in the intermediate I — an early draw and just before Spencer Wilton, who has been winning all the small tour classes at the premier leagues this year. Reece felt amazing in the warm up and much more mine. It was his first intermediate I, but he feels ready for the level now and much more mature.

    The test went well and I came out feeling pleased. He still felt hot, but in a good way, and it was nice to get out and do a different test on him as he has just done paras for the past two years. We scored 68.9% and took third place in a big, strong class just behind Spencer, so I was very proud of him. Holding his own at this level is a real step in the right direction.

    Noki was quite late on in the grand prix. Carl Hester had two in the class, so it was even more amazing to be doing your second grand prix in the same class as Carl, with five international judges looking on. Nothing like jumping in at the deep end! As Carl was competing, his magnetic draw brought a nice crowd around the arena for the grand prix. Luckily Noki likes his crowds!

    The test went well in general — he felt in good form and we got across the trot half passes, which have to be the hardest movement! The piaffe was good and the passage needs establishing with the height, but it’s still early days and will grow with strength and confidence. I made a few silly mistakes such as doing an extra stride in the canter zigzag, which was expensive, especially when you times it by five! And a couple of his ones were short. He thought the test must be nearly over when we cantered down the centre line to do our pirouettes and proudly halted thinking he had finished. It was uncharacteristic and we obviously lost a few marks, but we picked back up.

    Once we have our confidence, we can start going for more expression and the frame the judges want. But I’m happy where we have started — we scored 63% despite the mistakes and came 12th out of 25.

    I’m really looking forward to Hickstead and Hartpury, where I will be competing in the Premier Leagues with Noki and the para classes with Reece.

    Till then,


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