An Evening with Paralympian Sophie Wells OBE


What a wonderful two hours spent in the company of Sophie Wells – AWESOME! As my local Co. Wexford farmer would say “She is Some Woman for One Woman”.

Sophie started the evening by giving us some of her childhood memories, how she started her life with ponies then horses. Sophie learnt to ride at a Riding School local to her parents’ farm in Lincolnshire when she was 6 years old, and had her first pony at 7 years old, a smart little chestnut which she showed. Sophie was born with amniotic band syndrome, this means she has no feeling in her feet and does not have the full complement of fingers on each hand. A brief foray into show jumping confirmed that her path was Dressage with a capital ‘D’! Her last Pony Club camp was at age 10 and then she started lessons with Vicky Thompson-Winfield once a month. Sophie told us how inspired she was by Vicky, and in 2002 aged 12 she went to the Under 21 Talent Spotting at Addington. There David Hamer, head of the World Class Programme, suggested to her Mother that Sophie looked at the Para Dressage route and from age 13 she has been part of the World Class Programme. Sophie is now classed as a Grade V Para Rider, this means a riding a Medium test and for the Freestyle up to PSG.

In 2008 aged 18 she won the Junior International class at Hickstead Under 21, thus becoming the first disabled rider to win an able-bodied International Event. Sophie was then named as the first reserve rider for the Paralympics in Beijing, 2008. However, sadly she had to withdraw as the horse was found to have a tumour in his foot. Continuing to look at her Olympic career Sophie went to London in 2012 where riding Pinocchio her medal ‘haul’ was Team Gold, Individual Silver and Freestyle Silver. In 2016 riding Valerius in Rio she took Individual Gold, Freestyle Silver and was a member of the Gold Winning Team. Moving swiftly to Tokyo and after the postponement to 2021 Sophie was again representing Great Britain, in a team of three with Sir Lee Pearson, and Georgia Wilson. Again it was a haul of medals on the relatively young horse Don Cara (Donnie) – Team Gold, Individual Silver, and Freestyle Silver. In between these Olympic Games there have been numerous World Equestrian Games medals and Para European Championship medals, meaning 21 Gold medals and 13 Silver medals – so far.

However, this presentation wasn’t just about the success of this talented rider but about her outlook on life, the day to day routine of keeping the horses ‘on form,’ her coaching of both able bodied and Para riders and her recent journey to the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. From being coached by Vicky, Sophie moved to Tracey Woodhead and finally to Angela Weiss, where she lived in her lorry for two years, staying at Angela’s yard for six years admitting she was totally addicted to horses. In 2016 Sophie returned to her parents to set up her own yard coaching, in her words, “all comers, loving helping riders to progress, to learn and to enjoy their horses”.

And so, to the Tokyo Olympics. Sophie admitted to a roller coaster of emotions when Covid 19 caused the postponement of the 2020 Games. Having been focused every year since she was 17 on the various Championships/Games she found an inner strength to reassess her own values and motivations. Whilst she missed the pressures of competing, she found an interaction and connection to people that helped her mind-set. As 2021 approached, with the first 3 months in Lockdown, her first competition, as for so many of us, was behind ‘closed doors’ and her top horse ‘George’ had an injury early in the year. She found herself juggling with training her own horses and her clients especially Georgia Wilson whose horse Sophie schools as well as coaching Georgia. Other members of Team GB were the indomitable Sir Lee Pearson, a Grade 2 Para rider, Georgia Wilson a Grade 2 and reserve Natasha Baker a Grade 3 rider. Sophie explained to us about the travelling of the horses to Tokyo, the backup team for the Para Riders, the isolation procedures in Tokyo especially as she managed to catch Covid prior to the flight date!! Then there was quarantine in UK prior to flying out for herself and the horses – a nightmare. But they arrived in Tokyo to an amazing venue with brilliant accommodation for the horses ,loads of hacking tracks, wash bays etc. The biggest problem was the climate 32/33 degrees with high humidity, the horses were not allowed out of the stables between 11am – 3pm. Whilst her horse Donnie can be anxious he thrived on the one-to-one attention.

The team was not expected to do well and Horse and Hound predicted team bronze which they all felt would be good and without that extra stress of being predicted to win Gold Sophie felt they all relaxed and enjoyed themselves. Whilst there was no ‘crowd’ atmosphere Sophie told us the ‘Buzz’ from the team people was amazing. Sophie and Donnie scored 73.2% despite – Sophie told us – a mistake in the canter. The photo of Sophie leaving the arena on Donnie in tears of emotion just said it all to me.

Then I guess the tension was massive as the FEI website stated that GB had won Gold whilst the Para website stated the Gold had gone to the Dutch! SUCCESS Team GB had the Gold medal by 0.6%. I must remember that not only did Sophie ride Donnie but she also warmed up Georgia’s horse, gave Georgia some coaching and called the test for her. Sophie and Donnie also collected the Individual Silver and the Freestyle Silver medals. Since the Olympics Donnie has been so much more confident – Bless him.

Sophie told us that she still trains with Angela Weiss who has been a huge influence on not only her career but also her life.
Let me take you back to my first paragraph: This is Some Woman for One Woman.

Report by Jillie Rogers BHSI