Eight-time Paralympic gold medallist Sophie Christiansen has taken on a new ride to campaign for Tokyo 2020.
Seven-year-old Westfalian Die Furstin was sourced through Froxfield Dressage Sales, following an eight-month search for the right horse.
The 31-year-old grade I rider said she felt like she had been “looking for ever” before finding the 16.2hh Dankeschon x Furst Picolo mare.
“It’s very much different to 10 years ago now — it’s even harder to find a horse and more expensive,” said Sophie, who requires a forward-going horse with an excellent walk and a level temperament.
“I think a lot of people are unsure of what I need. When I called Froxfield after seeing Stella advertised, they said ‘we don’t know if she’s completely bombproof as she’s only seven’, but I had fallen in love with her and went to see her anyway.
“I went to try her during Storm Gareth and the indoor arena was so noisy, I was absolutely terrified but she didn’t bat an eyelid, she knew her job and made me feel so safe.”
After a second ride at her own yard, Sophie decided the chestnut mare was the right candidate.
“They offered to bring her to my yard for me to see her away from home, which they didn’t have to do, but because I’m a para rider, I think they wanted to make sure it was the right horse. She didn’t put a foot wrong even though they were cutting down an enormous tree around us and my trainer said ‘if you don’t buy this horse, I’m never speaking to you again!’” she said.
Sophie added that she would be taking it slowly with Stella this year owing to the mare’s age.
“Hopefully we’ll do a small competition at Bishop Burton in August, just low-pressure outings for now, but next year I have definitely got Tokyo in my sights with her,” she said. “She’s qualified for regionals at novice and elementary this year and I want my trainer to take her to those, as able-bodied dressage is a lot more atmospheric and I’d like her to experience it.”
Sophie has been a member of the British para squad since she was 16 and is a veteran of four Olympics, winning a bronze in Athens, a silver and two golds in Beijing and triple gold at both London 2012 and Rio 2016.
After her Rio ride Athene went back to her owner, she bought 17.2hh “Harry” (Amazing Romance) with Tokyo in mind, but has now put the 10-year-old gelding up for sale.
“It’s heartbreaking, but he didn’t want to be a para horse. There are certain horses that can’t stay quiet for 25 minutes of walk. He’s safe, or I wouldn’t be able to ride him, but he just didn’t have the consistency I need,” Sophie said.
The triple Paralympic gold medallist came out on top in the sport category of the 2015 awards
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“He’s a lovely horse and can do all the tricks for prix st georges — a lot of people don’t realise, but we do work the horses at home to at least medium level to keep them supple.”
Sophie said that subject to Harry’s sale, she would also be looking for a back-up ride for next year’s Games.
“My plan is always to go in to a Paralympic games year with two horses to campaign, so I would like to find another horse, preferably an older one,” she said.
“If there are any people who have a suitable horse and want to become a para owner, that would be great — we really need to bring more owners into the sport or we will get to the point where we won’t be able to afford to do it any more.”
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