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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!!

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Sophie’s Paralympic Story Continued…

…Tuesday was the last chance for us to get into the field of play, so we all decided we would like a run through of one of our tests. I chose the Team test as we had had a lot of emphasis on it from the team as it was quite important to go towards the team medal, that GB have never lost at a major championship since the sport began in 1996. No pressure! So I trotted through the chute, and straight in, dodging the other riders, but got a good feel as to what it would be like, and let Noki know that going in there meant business, and I could make any corrections then too.

The next day was trot up day! The horses were turned out immaculately, Michelle Tipper was grooming for me and Lee for this competition, much to Amie’s disappointment, but accreditation had to be done before she joined us. Next time! But Michelle did a great job turning them out, and thankfully all the British horses passed the trot up without a problem, so we could get on with training for that day. I only wanted to give him a stretch as he had worked for a couple of days and needed an easier day before the competition started. It’s funny how everyone’s routines are different on the team, but they all seem to work for each individual and it does show many paths lead to the same goal…

It was also the Opening Ceremony on Wednesday too. We had been strongly advised not to go, and we all, except Lee, decided to stay in. I really wanted to go, but I know all the standing around for hours in the cold would be negative to my performance, especially as I have problems with my nerves anyway. I was a bit gutted we couldn’t all watch the Opening Ceremony together with the rest of our support team, they all had a party at the hotel in Greenwich and we just had to stay in our flat, which was a bit of a downer considering what a big occasion it was. We had a TV appearance at the beginning of the ceremony at 8pm, pretty prime time! We did it at Paralympic GB House, then the girls, Lucy and Pippa (Pippa was our press officer for the games and also works for the BEF), had a girly night in, opening the balcony door so we could hear the roar of the stadium live as well as seeing it on the TV whilst wearing our very fetching white tracksuits! I would have loved to have experienced the feeling of walking in the stadium and hearing the crowd go mad for Team GB, maybe next time! It was probably a good thing we didn’t go as my legs took a turn for the worse that night. I had tried to keep things under control, I bought a scooter that I could whizz about on instead of loading my nerves with the walking, but I think the stress of the occasion, the long days, lack of sleep (as I wasn’t sleeping very well anyway while we were away), caught up and my legs suffered. People always think it’s funny when I whack out a hot water bottle which I take everywhere, along with my crutches, even in the summer. When my legs go, the nerves go into overload, my lower legs cramp up and it’s a really horrible nervy pain, that makes it difficult to walk, and I lose a lot of the power in my legs because of it. Heat really helps the muscles to try and relax and keeping weight off them helps too. I just hate not being able to do stuff. We have controlled it for a while with medication, but despite upping the dosage it couldn’t control it this time. My scooter then decided to die on me the next day, turns out the fuse had blown in the charger socket, so it had to be taken off to be mended, leaving me with my crutches. A fly then decided to try and commit suicide by flying into my eye, still being a problem hours later, leading our team doc to clean it, put anaesthetic drops in and having antibiotic drops, slightly dramatic for a pesky little fly! But the important thing was I still managed to ride and Noki was a star. I often have to carry 2 whips when my legs are bad to back up my leg aids so he is quite used to it. And as long as I can ride I’m happy…

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