Sophie Wells At The World Cup Final For Young Riders

We have just got back from the World Cup Final in Frankfurt, a prestigious competition that only invites 14 riders from around the world to compete. It is held at Frankfurt Christmas, Olympia type, a show which hosts many different disciplines within the week, from senior world cup qualifiers, to show jumping, quadrilles, and showing classes from children.

The run up to the journey did not go quite to plan as Noki stopped eating, quickly explained by a fractured tooth but we kept Rod Fisher, the team vet well informed. It was a quite odd that Noki got 2 ‘spontaneous slab fractures’ the week before Frankfurt, but my dentist and vet took good care of him and was soon back on form.

I had asked Mark Perry to accompany myself and Angela on the trip so he could take care of the driving and paperwork needed, as last year the weather was quite bad. We felt happier that Mark, who is much more experienced than us, would come and look after things.

We arrived at Dover in the early hours of the Tuesday morning, to find the docks closed due to the gales. There appeared to be a gap in the winds about lunch time, so we agreed to sit it out and wait for the 1.15pm ferry (which was actually the 9.15 – just everything was running late by then!) and if we couldn’t get on that, we would go back to Mark’s yard to give Noki a rest. Noki was a star and very chilled out about everything, eating drinking and sleeping while we waited, and thankfully we were allowed to board the 1.15pm ferry.

The waters weren’t too rough (we had been on worse!) and Noki coped brilliantly throughout. We got off the ferry and headed for Reims in France for the overnight stop. I was felt very proud of myself as I had driven the lorry for an hour in France.

When we arrived I took Noki for a little wander around their indoor school while Ange and Mark got the stable ready. Noki didn’t seem phased at all by the journey and looked great getting off the lorry.

The next day was an early start, as we had to crack on and head for Germany. We passed the German/French boarder and Mark said it was tradition to stop for ice cream there, so at 7am we were having ice cream!

We arrived in Frankfurt in really good time although it took us an hour to find the right entrance to get into the complex, it was very confusing! Eventually we got there at lunch time, and found the stabling was in a massive multi story car park.

We were one of the first to arrive and could choose any stable we wanted, needless to say this took us ages to decide! Quiet enough to sleep, airy but not cold, good light, not too far from the wash box and warming up, and enough space to get him in and out – we finally found the perfect stable and mark reversed the lorry into the car park to unload.

I took Noki for a little walk to warm up and it was a bit odd to say the least trying to dodge pillars in the middle of it. We set up camp outside the stable and made sure Noki was comfortable before going to explore. I wanted him to rest before I could ride him in the arena between 8pm and 10pm.

We soon found the arena, however it was an assault course to get there! We got to the 2nd warm up which was next to the competition arena and food court over looking it. We walked through the tunnel to get to the arena and when we arrived I felt likea a little kid at Christmas. The arena was HUGE and had tiered seating, there were spotlights, thousands of seats and 3 big tv screens hanging from the ceiling. It was more than I could have imagined! Even Ange and Mark were getting quite excited.

Obviously being an indoor competition everything is quite close and it makes the atmosphere more and more electric, especially with the lighting. After exploring we headed to the hotel, the FEI very generously paid for the riders rooms, so I just had Marks room to pay for. The riders hotel was amazing and prompted another kid at Christmas moment! It was a 5* hotel just next door to the venue and we really were treated like royalty.

That night I took Noki into the arena so he could have a little stretch and to give him chance to see everything as we couldn’t get in the arena on the Thursday. His eyes were so wide as he walked in, but he soon became quite chilled. I was careful not to do too much though and to save him for the next day.

The next day was trot up day, so I rode in the morning and it was absolute chaos with people jumping and tractors in the warm up. At one point, everyone had to go around the same way until someone shouted to change the rein and everyone proceeded to go in the other direction. It was incredible, nothing like I had ever seen before. However, it made me access my warm up as it was limited what I could do, we concentrated more on ourselves rather that the other 50 horses around us. Noki was a saint and trotted next to people leaping over jumps, and was not phased in the slightest. It was almost as if he got into his own zone too.

Trot up went well and Ange did a great job with turning him out so smart. I had clipped him the day before we left which helped but the pressure was on to get every single hair. We then headed back to the hotel for an early night as my class was in the morning the next day, and I wanted to do the arena walk at 6.30am. The arena walk was also amazing as we were lucky enough to be in at the same time as the senior dressage riders training. There were so many famous faces and horses to admire and get inspired by.

I was drawn straight after the break in my class. Just before the break was the European champion and German Sanneke Rothenburger, which was quite a tough act to follow. However we didn’t let anything phase us and Noki warmed up really well. We put the double on half way through to let him get used to it, but he was opening his mouth quite a lot. I much prefer to ride in a snaffle, as I can hold the reins better. Noki feels more comfortable in a snaffle but for international able bodied competition, it is compulsory.

We were called in and the spotlights really hit us as we trotted in. We suddenly become quite aware that all eyes were on us. The test started well however it was the individual which we were not so well practiced in as the team test is more commonly used. Before we left, Angela spent the week breaking the test down into sections to really analyse and I even had homework each night!

Some of Noki’s movements were the best he has donem in particular his canter pirouettes. However his mouth did come open a few times but overall I was pleased with the performance and more importantly thrilled with how he coped with it all. I was over the moon when our score came up as 68.3%, awarded by 5 high powered judges at such a prestigious competition. We came 6th in the end, which was an amazing placing considering some of the best able bodied young riders in the world were there. I felt privileged to be there in such good company.

My aim was to get into the A final for the freestyle which meant making the top 7, and I had done it. It was also encouraging that places 4-7 were only separated by mistakes, which shows the potential. We didn’t quite realise that the prize giving was straight after the class so we rushed back and got his tack on and me dressed again in record time! Noki took the prize giving in his stride and wanted to show off in the spotlight when we had our lap of honour.

Noki’s owners, Jackie & Neil Walker, came out to watch and they were both thrilled with the result. It was really nice to see them getting so much enjoyment out of Noki and his achievements. I’m so appreciative of their support.

In the afternoon we went to the town hall in the middle of Frankfurt, which was surrounded by their Christmas market, to meet the Mayor. The Germans were obviously very proud of the show and of Totilas, as his name cropped up a few times! Huge thanks must go to Ann Kathrin Linsenhoff who still supports the young rider final, by sponsoring it and giving them such great hospitality. What we experienced was just a taster of what it could be like riding there as a senior in the Grand Prix.

That evening was the welcome dinner for the dressage riders. We had an amazing three course meal and got to chat with some Grand Prix riders sat at our table. We also took part in the Swedish tradition of toasting the horse by standing on the table and chair – which in a 5* hotel restaurant I found a bit amusing as the staff looked quite worried!

I was riding the following evening my sound check was at 6am, so I had another early start. It was a great opportunity to watch the many big names competing in it. I was drawn first to go in the music – typical!  I’m all about setting the standard on the day as that’s something we cannot control. Noki felt good warming up and when we went around the arena it was really buzzing as many people had come to watch on Saturday evening.

When Noki heard his music he got a little excited, which was lovely because he does love his music but it did up him 3 gears. It caused a few mistakes, however it was an amazing opportunity to be put in that situation and I have no doubt we will have come out of it stronger. We dropped one place in the freestyle to 7th, but in the scheme of things and being in the World Cup final, I was very pleased with it. We are different, being a para rider at an able bodied major competition however we seemed to be received really well and the judges were very complimentary.

Noki really showed off in the prize giving doing the biggest extended trot i’ve ever sat on, he felt incredible. I’m so pleased he enjoyed it as much as me and i’m glad it didn’t stress him out. Ann Kathrin Linsenhoff had arranged for each rider to have a photo printed for when we came out of the prize giving in a specially engraved photo frame, which I gave to Noki’s owners Jackie and Neil, as they have allowed me to ride him and are so supportive.

We went out for a celebratory meal that night with them before they had to fly back home and it really was lovely, I really appreciate all the hard work everybody has put in and all the support from Jackie, Neil, Ange and Mark who have made it such an enjoyable and memorable trip.

I feel it has been great preparation ahead of London next year and our campaign for it will get under way now. I am trying to look at my finances to see whether it is possible and figure out where would be the best to be based next year. Angela has been amazing in her training and providing help and support over the years. I feel basing with her in the run up to London will give more continuity and enable her to overlook every aspect of training and care of the horses for next year. We are a fantastic team and I couldn’t do it without her!

Sunday morning we did some shopping before we left, it was quite sad to leave as I had enjoyed it so much. We hit blizzards on the way home coming through France, but we did get into the Christmas spirit when we stopped for fuel.

I was able to wear my new Sponsors Jacket while we were away, with logos on the front and back it was great to wear around the venue and when I was riding.

Thank you to everyone, all my sponsors and supporters, my amazing team, my family and friends who have made this year possible.

2012 here we come!

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