Sophie Wells’ blog: Hickstead, Hartpury then off to the Europeans

  • It only feels like 5min since my last blog, but a lot has happened. Hickstead turned out to be a very good show. On the first day I had Reece (pictured) in the inter I — only his second one. I felt I needed to practice competing on consecutive days to emulate our international competitions. At his last one in France, he became hotter as the show went on, and our final selection at Hartpury would be the same format.

    He warmed up brilliantly. I had no expectations going in as the class was massive — there were more than 30 people in it. Vicki Thompson-Winfield, who I started out training with for 3 years and have always looked up to, followed me in. Reece floated round the test with ease, only having a small loss of balance in his right canter pirouette and last halt.

    Straight after my test I went to help a young grade III rider I mentor, who was competing in the para restricted section. When I headed back to check the results for my class, I worked my way up from the bottom to the top and found we had come second with a massive 78%! I had to double check several times to make sure I was reading it right. I think I can settle for second to Michael Eilberg!

    Later that day I was in the inter II with Noki. We’re slowly gaining more confidence with the passage and I’m getting that feeling where I could ask for more. Grand prix has opened up a whole new world of dressage, co-ordination, balance and core for me. It’s certainly a steep learning curve, which is great experience and will hopefully develop me as a rider. We came out with just under 64%, which is progress, and left me with room to ask for more in the grand prix.

    The next day came and the open para classes started. I had Reece and a horse called Forever Himself in the grade IV. Forever Himself (stable name David, nickname Louis Spence) has been with us since the beginning of the year, and I have been bringing him on and giving him some experience at competitions. He’s not always been the easiest horse, but he’s really come on at home and we have been pleased with his progress. However, he had never been to a big show before, so it was a little unknown how he would cope.

    Reece was still on form from his inter I success, and 78% must be our lucky number as he came out with that in the team and 77% in the individual, which was great consistency. David coped brilliantly with the atmosphere in the team test in the small arena, gaining nearly 71%, however didn’t cope quite so well with the international arena for the individual test. Carefully trying to get him round the test we came out with 65%, which I was still pleased with.

    Noki did good in the grand prix and I asked for more height in the passage which has started developing, but consequently I lost some rhythm in the piaffe and had a few counting errors in the canter. But achieving our best score in grand prix to date — 65% — is definitely progress!

    Reece qualified for the music, which is the top rider from each grade competing against each other. Because of the decision to do the test at the beginning of the week, I felt it wasn’t fair to ask him to do another test that day, so I withdrew him and consequently David qualified. I didn’t have a freestyle prepared, but I dug out Touchy’s music from 2008, which suited him quite well. However the further through his test we went, the more wound up he got, resulting in him waving to the judges in his supposed canter pirouettes.

    Hickstead ran a great show, with consideration to the paras, and very polite guys on the gate that looked after us all week!

    There was a week between Hickstead and Hartpury, so I spent time hacking the boys and doing stretching work so as to not overcook them, followed by a couple of lessons in the last few days. Before I knew it, we were packed and ready for Hartpury — this time without David, but with Reece, Noki and Ed ready for their next party.

    We left at 3.45am to avoid the heat and traffic and to get there in time for the World Class vet, farrier, osteopath and saddle fitter to check the horses over before the trot up. We also got to go in the main arena for familiarisation.

    First day was team test, and I had been chosen to be on the team alongside Anne [Dunham], Ricky [Balshaw] and Tash [Baker] — a mixture of new combinations and experience. Reece felt a little flat in the first test, but the more we did through the week the better he got. We came to the conclusion that it was good for his body to have a really chilled out week before, but his brain was still on holiday! Lesson learnt! He still managed a solid 74%, which was good for the team and a win in the grade IV.

    Noki was in the inter II in the Premier League outside. We did better in the piaffe-passage, but had a few mistakes in the changes, again expensive. But we still came out with 65%, which I was very pleased with.

    Second day was individual day and Reece was getting better. I had had a few problems keeping my stirrups, and because I cant feel my feet sometimes I struggle to get them back without looking. I lost my right stirrup in the medium canter across the diagonal, and was trying my best to get it back. When I went into canter from the simple change it clanged against his side. Because he was hotter and sharper than the day before, he shot off thinking he was being responsive, but unfortunately that went quite far into the canter half pass, so I made the quick decision to turn around, get my stirrup back and get his confidence back before continuing with the test. I take full responsibility for it, and I’m not upset with Reece at all. We still scored 73%, so his better marks through the test made up for the expensive blip.

    Noki warmed up really well in the grand prix, and felt great going in. I was really nervous for some reason, maybe knowing how much I’ve got to learn, but Noki did well. We still had a problem with the one tempis, but if he gets nervous his changes are the first to go. We just have to build confidence with him in them. We scored 63% and I still I feel I learn massive amounts each test I ride.

    Reece was through to the freestyle on the third day, and I went through it several times in my mind listening to my music. I love his music, I spent hours trawling through to hand pick all the tracks in his freestyle and I love riding to it. He felt back to his normal sprightly self in the freestyle, and I even had the music louder than he has had before to give a bit more atmosphere. The test went really smoothly, and finished right on the music. I was thrilled to hear we had scored 80.20% and won the grade IV.

    The team won the team competition and the prize-giving was great, with lots of lovely prizes from the class sponsors.

    After the weekend the European team was announced, and I’m excited to say Reece and I have been selected to compete in Herning in August. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my whole support team at home and Angela Weiss, and all my fantastic sponsors and UK Sport and Lottery Funding, who allow me to do the sport I love every day. I’m looking forward to the next few weeks of preparation, so I will keep you informed…


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