Farewell to ‘one of dressage’s brightest stars’ who ‘made dreams come true’

  • Pinocchio, the multiple medal-winning ride of Sophie Wells who “made dreams come true”, has died aged 27.

    “Today the boy with the biggest heart went over rainbow bridge. Old age finally caught up with him,” said Sophie on Wednesday (20 March).

    Sophie and the chestnut KWPN gelding, who was owned by Neil and Jackie Walker, became a partnership in 2008. The following year they made their championship debut at the European Championships in Kristiansand, Norway, where they won three gold medals – the first from a British rider at grade V (then grade IV).

    In 2010 they won double gold at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky, USA, and competed on the able-bodied team at the young rider Europeans, in Kronberg, Germany. Two years later Sophie and Pinocchio won team gold, and two individual silvers, in front of a home crowd at the London Paralympics.

    “When I went to try him in 2008, little did I know how he would change my life. At just under 18hh, he was a gentle giant. He made my dreams come true and I was lucky enough to literally do everything with him,” said Sophie.

    “He came to me having failed a vetting due to numerous heart issues, but who knew that’s where his journey really began, and not where it ended. He wasn’t easy, but the good horses aren’t, but what he was, was a complete angel – the softest, warm hearted boy.”

    The pair’s other achievements included competing at the young rider World Cup final in Frankfurt, Germany, in 2011 – and riding at senior grand prix, including against Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro, at Hartpury in 2015.

    “He went on to take Emma Sheardown and Izzy Palmer to international competitions and made some more dreams come true,” said Sophie, who added that when Pinocchio retired from competition in 2018, he carried on “doing bits at home” until a few years ago.

    “When a horse has been part of your life for 16 years, it’s going to leave a big hole. He literally brightened up the fields as a chestnut in a yard full of black/bays. I will for ever miss seeing his face when feeding him every morning and his little ears pricked.

    “Thank you for everything you have taught me, I’m so beyond grateful to have had you in my life. I hope you had the best last few days being pampered and spoiled like the king you are.”

    Izzy added that she was “beyond lucky” to ride Pinocchio.

    “Thank you for giving me unforgettable experiences, for completely looking after me and for just being a total legend. We’ll never forget you gentle giant,” said Izzy.

    A British Dressage spokesman said that “the dressage world has lost one of its brightest stars in Pinocchio”.

    “A history-making partnership with Sophie, Pinocchio brought national pride on the Paralympic stage and the younger rider European Championships, winning the hearts of many along the way.”

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