Four-time Paralympian Sophie Christiansen has found her “para unicorn” as she looks ahead to Paris 2024.
This month Sophie said that after a long search, she had bought 12-year-old KWPN stallion Gladstone from Oakleigh Farm Stud. “William” is a familiar face in the para dressage world; he was formerly competed by Sophie Wells and shortlisted with her for the 2018 World Equestrian Games.
Sophie told H&H it had been difficult finding the right horse; one she had on trial turned out to be unsuitable and two others were deemed unsuitable during their vettings. Her former ride Scirocco T, who she bought last year with hopes of championships, started struggling with lameness issues, and does not look likely to return to competition.
“It’s so difficult to find the right horse for grade one,” she said. “They have to have the perfect temperament – and have an amazing walk. That’s why it’s probably harder finding a grade one horse than other grades, because it’s all about the walk.”
Sophie said she had been keeping people up to date about her horse search on social media when Sophie Wells contacted her and suggested William, and put her in touch with Oakleigh Farm Stud.
“Although it’s taken a long time to find the right horse, everything has worked out and I really feel that William is the best horse I’ve seen in 10 years,” she said.
“When Sophie used to have him we always joked he’d make a brilliant grade one horse. And when I went to try him we just clicked and I thought, ‘We need to get this horse!’.”
Sophie said because William is a “once in a lifetime horse” it was a big decision for his owner Charlie Zehetmayr to sell him, and she will be “forever grateful” to her.
“Everyone who knows William says his temperament is perfect for me, and not only does he have this humongous walk, he’s got the X-factor,” she said.
“Being a stallion, he will really make the judges sit up and take notice. I feel very lucky to have him. I can’t thank Sophie Wells enough, without her this wouldn’t have happened.”
Sophie paid £80,000 for William – using money she had saved for her wedding, and £7,000 from donations via a GoFundMe page. The crowdfunding page remains open, and Sophie hopes to raise further donations to help with her ongoing costs towards Paris.
“I had put the money aside to get married, but thankfully my fiance [Peter McKnight] is very supportive and wants me to get to Paris,” said Sophie. “I can’t believe how many people donated to the GoFundme, it’s just incredible.”
Sophie said people have asked her why she has to fundraise, and she explained that she has “picked the most expensive sport”.
“As I’m grade one and need a certain type of horse, many owners can’t support me and I need to think outside of the box when it comes to fundraising,” she said.
“Without owners I worry that it won’t be sustainable for up and coming para riders of the future. Able-bodied riders often rely on owners to provide rides but as I’m grade one and need a certain type of horse, owners that may want to support me are unable to due to not having that para superstar. Due to the lack of visibility of para dressage, owners may underestimate the training para riders can put in to improve their horses, just like Olympic riders.”
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