Sophie Wells is an inspirational but also a modest young woman. In a relatively short period of time, and through a combination of sheer hard work, determination and talent, Sophie has risen to the very top, and all of her family, friends, sponsors and supporters are very proud of her. We hope this website shows just how passionate she is about her horses and her sport.
Now let Sophie tell you her story in her own words...
I was born on the 5th of May 1990 with Amniotic Band Syndrome. This is an unusual condition of foetal development in which fibrous bands of tissue that originate from the amniotic sac encircle and constrict certain foetal areas, which in my case has affected my hands and ankles. I lost many fingers along with movement and feeling in my feet, and it also caused nerve damage in my lower legs. I still have nerve problems which bother me on bad days, but I’m lucky to get a lot of help when I need it.
I don’t come from a horsey family but I grew up on a farm with my parents and brother Luke. I tried quite a lot of sports when I was young, and although I was allergic to horses then, I really wanted to learn to ride. I started riding at the local riding school when I was 7, and a few months later was the proud owner of my first pony, Crystal. I competed in all the usual Pony Club activities, but after a couple of bad falls whilst jumping, I took up able-bodied dressage.
From the age of 10 I spent three years training with Vicki Thompson (now Thompson Winfield) and nearly three years with Tracey Woodhead. Both of them gave me a great start in dressage and taught me so much. I couldn’t have had any greater inspiration at the start of my career and I’m so grateful to Vicki and Tracey, and also to my parents who made it all possible
In 2003, David Hamer, who is the World Class Development discipline co-ordinator for Para Dressage, spotted me at an Under 21 talent spotting competition for able-bodied dressage riders. David urged me to go for classification and to try for the ‘World Class Start’ Para Dressage selection trials, and I was selected onto the programme in 2004. So now I had two show careers – able-bodied and Para Dressage!
Para Dressage riders are classified depending on their degree of physical disability and range from Grade 1 to 4 (referred to as I to IV). Grade I riders have a greater degree of disability than Grade IV riders, and the tests reflect this in the movements that are required to be performed. I am classified as Grade IV, which is roughly equivalent to Prix St Georges level.
I really want to mention the World Class Para Dressage programme here, as I owe it so much and want to thank everyone involved for my success. All the World Class programmes are Lottery funded through UK Sport and were set up to provide an established development pathway for young, talented riders. The programme provides top class training, support and expert advice ranging from sports psychology for the athletes to veterinary care for the horses. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without it and in 2009 I moved up onto the World Class Performance Programme.
As well as the support from World Class, I have also been incredibly lucky to have been coached by Angela Weiss since 2004. Angela is my role model, not just in riding, but in coping with all the other stresses around horses. She's taught me how to deal with everything in the best way as I've grown up and we really are a great team. There have been plenty of challenges, including the simplest things like holding the reins, because of my missing fingers. I usually ride with special loop reins and a snaffle bridle, but in (able-bodied) Young Riders, I have to ride with a double bridle and the curb rein just lays over my hand. It can get a bit tricky but the horses have got used to it and so have the judges!
I have had several horses that have had a big influence on my career, from my first dressage pony, Signets Crescendo (Solo), who got me onto the World Class Programme, to my Welsh Section D Derwen Rendevous (Rodney) who took me to my first international competition. Then there was Touchdown II who really helped me to get noticed by the selectors and we were First Reserve for the Beijing Paralympics 2008. Unfortunately Touchy went lame with a tumour in his foot and had to retire, but this opened another door and led to Pinocchio (Noki) on whom I was given the ride by his owners Dr Jackie and Neil Walker
Noki has given me the biggest leap onto the international and Championship stage. We became the first British Grade IV rider to win internationally on ‘own horses’ (Para Dressage used to take place on borrowed horses), and we then went on to win 3 European Gold Medals in Norway in 2009, and 2 Gold Medals at the World Equestrian Games in 2010 in Kentucky.
As well as our Para Dressage adventures, Noki also took me to two (able-bodied) Young Rider European Championships in 2010 and 2011 and the Young Rider World Cup Final where we came 6th. I was so proud of my boy as he enabled me to be the first Para rider to compete on both the able-bodied and Para Championship teams. He is still my current ride and we are aiming for the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
I’m also incredibly lucky to have another top ride, my baby Valerius (Reece), who I bought in 2007. He was reserve for the World Equestrian Games in 2010, and not to be outdone by Noki he won 3 Gold Medals at the Para European Championships in 2011. He is also is aiming for the London Paralympics so fingers crossed for the biggest year of my life!
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