‘I’m overwhelmed with emotion’: how Sophie Wells won Tokyo Paralympics silver on the ‘Ferrari’ Don Cara M

  • Sophie Wells claimed an emotional individual silver on her reserve horse to complete a British hat-trick of medals on the opening day of dressage at the Tokyo Paralympics (26 August).

    Sophie and the Don Jovi son Don Cara M danced their way to a medal with a score of 74.41% (74.405%) on day one in the Equestrian Park. The grade V rider wiped away tears as she left the arena, showing just how much this meant to her.

    Every medal is a huge achievement in its own right, but today’s achievements will live long in Sophie’s memory for many reasons. Tokyo was an entirely new ask for “Don”, owned by Roland Kinch. The 12-year-old gelding had an 11th hour call-up to the British side, following the withdrawal of her experienced championship campaigner C Fatal Attraction, owing to a fitness issue.

    The pair’s scores were trending close to rival Belgium’s Michel George and Best Of 8 for gold, before a miscommunication in the transition from walk to canter dropped the pair just below.

    “This horse has never been abroad, he’s never competed abroad, he’s never done a championships. Even though he’s 12 he is so green in that respect and he’s such a sensitive person,” said Sophie, who was recommended for the ride by the horse’s former campaigner, Amy Woodhead.

    “It means the world to put him on the world stage and just start to show the judges that they can give him the marks. It will take time, but I’m thrilled that they’ve had the confidence to do that because most of these judges have never seen him before. It’s just so exciting.”

    What “Don” could achieve – and how he would cope with the demands of these Games remained unknown. Add to that the fact that this is a relatively new partnership and the achievement becomes even more impressive.

    “I’m so overwhelmed with emotion because I came into this having absolutely no expectations, just a little bit of fear of what he could do in there – for the bad! But I also had belief in him that if he relaxed and he was with me, I knew he could [win a] medal,” said Sophie.

    “I’m not at all disappointed that he was leading and then we dropped, because if we had that mistake a couple of months ago, he would have absolutely lost the plot after that. He would have thought he’s done something wrong, and that’s literally all it is is – he over tries overthinks it, and then catastrophises it in his mind. For him to then come back to me especially for the canter work is so exciting.

    “Psychology has been the absolute biggest thing – if he could have a psychologist, I would have got him one,” added Sophie. “[The key has been] just a lot of one-to-one time with him. I think being in a smaller yard, I’m the only one that rides him and I think that is a massive thing for him, and he will continue to flourish. In that test, I was literally there just guiding him. At no point did I have to push or to do anything, he’s like a Ferrari and I’m [the one] touching the buttons.”

    She added Don “doesn’t have a weakness”.

    “He’s got a great walk, trot and canter,” she said. “He can’t do flying changes, which is why he came to me, because for paras he doesn’t need to. So he was a bit of a write-off for able bodied, because he couldn’t go any further than medium. And I think that’s such an amazing thing that he can be at the top of a game and be so amazing, because his talent is there, and it’s there for the future. This horse will be amazing.”

    The result caps a phenomenal start to the Games for Paralympic GB’s equestrian side. Sophie’s silver, plus Sir Lee Pearon’s 12th Paralympic gold on the homebred Breezer, plus a bronze for Georgia Wilson (Sakura) – who is coached by Sophie – provided a glittering opening to the squad’s campaign.

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