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. My aim was to try to continue to do both able-bodied and Para Dressage and show that it’s about the Ability not Disability!
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 Medium for the individual tests and Prix St George level for the freestyle.
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 Lottery Funding 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. 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, and ultimately Team Gold and 2 Individual Silvers at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
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. After London we achieved another dream in competing at Grand Prix nationally over the premier league circuit in 2013, then in 2014 we managed to be selected to go abroad and compete in U25 Grand Prix aswell as complete our first senior International Grand Prix at Hartpury CDI***. I feel incredibly honoured to have been given the opportunity to dance with Noki, and that he is still going strong into 2015 at 18 years old, as cheeky as ever.
I’m also incredibly proud to have another top ride, my baby Valerius (Reece), who I bought in 2007 rising 5 years old. 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, and 2013. He was reserve for London 2012, but got his limelight at the World Equestrian Games in Caen in 2014 winning Team Gold & 2 Individual Silver medals. Now training at Grand Prix and aiming for Rio Paralympics 2016!
The latest horse to join my team is Jorge, C Fatal Attraction, owned by Charlotte Hogg. I am very grateful for Charlotte and her families support, and really hope she enjoys being part of Team Wells and enjoying the sport of Para Dressage! Jorge joined the team in 2013 as a rising 6 year old, and competed at his first international in 2014 coming second to Reece at Hartpury CPEDI***. He will also be aiming for Rio Paralympics 2016!
I very much hope you enjoy my website, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with myself or my team with any queries, I look forward to hearing from you.
Follow Sophie's latest news on her regular blog on the Horse and Hound website.