Sophie’s Paralympic Story Continued…
…so the first day of competition arrived, and it was the Grade II and Grade Ib kicking things off. Tash wasn’t exactly quiet when she got up at 5am to get ready as she was competing at 9.30 in the morning!! But it was something we both had to get used to as we competed on alternate days so every morning was early! I decided to get up early too and go down to ride before Tash did her test to get it out the way before it got really busy. Noki went well and was feeling ready to start his competition the following day! Tash kicked off in style, going early in a big class, she scored a massive 76% to put her in the lead! But it was a long wait to see if she had done it, but she had and by quite a margin. The weather wasn’t brilliant, so the organisers decided to put sandbags around the arena to stop the boards being blown away. A few riders had problems, as the sand bags were not there when we did the familiarisation, which Petra (Dutch Grade II) complained about. However it was the same for everyone and it was done for safety. I was then treated by Karen and Helen, my pelvis was slightly out and my legs were still bad, so everywhere I went I had my hot water bottle stuffed down my coat, and had some treatment and acupuncture, which, although I don’t like, my legs respond well to, and because they were very tight it wasn’t the most pain free treatment either.
We tried to keep my pre performance routine the same, although it was a bit difficult when Ange was in a different place to me. A 6am start to get the bus to Greenwich, the ‘grab and go’ carts were a god send at that time of the morning, and although the dining hall was vast, it wasn’t quick. I went through my test with Ange as normal before getting on, but as I was putting my boots on and zipping them up it caused my left leg to cramp because of the restriction… so it was great to have Helen on hand (and the hot water bottle) to massage and apply heat to try and settle it down. Luckily we allow for this sort of thing to happen. The warm up went well. Because there were so many arenas, they had each rider in their own arena for the last 25 minutes of their warm up, so there was no dodging other riders and we could just concentrate on ourselves. Noki, Ange and me!
It was very strict with timings so 2 and a half minutes before your test time you have to leave the warm up to walk to the holding area before they take you through the chute to the stadium. It was a good place to do a couple of canter pirouettes to just make him sit a bit more before going in. I trotted through the chute as I thought if he walked in it would give him the chance to be taken aback by the atmosphere in there, so we trotted in, and because it was a British rider, the crowd couldn’t contain themselves and cheered as we entered. I have to say though, that is one of the standout moments of the Games for me. The first time of entering that arena for competition, feeling the atmosphere, seeing the background of the Queen’s House and Canary Warf, and hearing the crowd go crazy for just entering. It was really special. But, we had a job to do! The arena felt calming actually. Although there was the magnitude of the occasion, it felt like the crowd and judges were far enough away from the arena that you had space to do your job without feeling everyone was on top of you. It was quite quiet in there too, even though in the stands the music was quite loud, you could only really hear the shrieks of children. Anyway, I rode my ass off in there, and it totally paid off. Noki was an absolute star, when everyone cheered going in I could feel him pause and look with his eyes, I patted him and it was as if he went ‘ok Mum, that’s cool, I can do this’. You definitely had to have a relationship with your horse for it not to affect them in there and that showed! I couldn’t have been more pleased with my test, he listened to me, we did what we had practised, and we nailed a lot of movements we had really worked on, like the medium canter on a 20m circle which is quite horrible. It was only when we halted and saluted (which we got a 10 for!!) that we really noticed the crowds!! I had to take a minute walking out of the arena to really just take in how many people were there, and how crazy they were going after the test! It was amazing!! I’m so grateful to have the ride on Noki, and so proud of him for trying his best for me in that test. It was very emotional when I came out and was greeted by my support team headed by Ange and a lot of them started crying too! After all, this is what we work for!! The feeling is something I just can’t describe, but it is the best feeling. I don’t ride for these competitions, I ride because I love my horses and love training them, I’m very lucky that this can take us to competitions like this and be rewarded for that. When the score was announced I couldn’t believe it, it was a personal best internationally, I couldn’t ask for more. I did a fairly emotional interview on Channel 4 after that as we are ushered down to the ‘mixed zone’, where all the press are, straight after we get off. I’m known for not being that emotional, we don’t really do crying, unlike my roommate Tash haha, I must have caught it from her! We worked our way through the mixed zone and then at the end a crowd of people had gathered at the accredited entrance, everyone wanted photos and autographs, it was amazing! A bit of a celebrity moment, and a bit surreal, but I’m so grateful for all the support we have received. After that we made our way to the newly named pub ‘Gold and Saddle’ after the amazing equestrian success of Team GB at the Olympics, to meet Jackie and Neil, Noki’s owners, for lunch and my boyfriend and his brother. It was lovely to see everyone as we didn’t get much chance while we were in the ‘bubble’.
At the end of the first two days, all the team riders (Lee, Deb, Sophie and myself) had got really good 70%+ scores for the Team test which put us in the lead overnight. No partying that night, not until the end of all competition as we still had a lot of work to do!!