The next day it was my turn for our Individual test. I’m glad Grade IV were early in the day as I’m not a fan of waiting around, so we had the same routine as before, and Helen treated my legs before my boots went on this time, all about prevention being better than cure. Noki felt good warming up, focused, but the timings didn’t run as smoothly as the last test, and we had a problem getting my training radios off and then didn’t get a chance to do my pirouettes before going in. Noki was a little more apprehensive going into the stadium for the second time, probably because on the first he didn’t know what to expect, so he did get a little tense. But he stayed with me. The test started well, and now I’m stronger within my position I’m not compensating so much for the lateral work or when he goes against me. I had to try and get a little more relaxation into the walk in the Individual, as in the Team test he was a little tense, but there is also a fine line between having him pinging enough for all the advanced work and extensions, then soft enough for the walk work. I really tried to use every inch of the arena to my advantage, and it was all going well until my first medium canter on the diagonal, we came to collected, then it’s a short length of counter canter to a simple change near the corner. I collected him but we obviously had a small miscommunication and he trotted before the simple change. It’s a small mistake that magnifies with it being an important movement, and also comes off the submission mark. I knew at that point I had blown it… That’s just how it is, you can’t win a Gold medal with mistakes unless your close rivals have mistakes too. I knew unless I was to get 10s for the next few movements I would have lost Gold. It didn’t stop me riding the rest of the test, but that’s horses, and I take responsibility for that. We came out half a percent behind Michele George, close, but just not good enough. I am thrilled to come away with the Silver individually, but of course there is part of me that is disappointed. I think if any elite athlete tells you they are happy to settle for less than Gold it’s a lie, just because we are all going for Gold, that’s why we are there, and have got to the level we have, we train to be the best. But at the same time having a good past record puts pressure on you to do the same again, and people sometimes think it will just happen. It doesn’t. We work hard every day trying to cover every angle, improve every part of the puzzle – because Gold medals don’t come that easy, in fact any medal doesn’t come that easy. Our real aim was to come to London and have 3 good tests, because besides the medal targets, I really wanted to feel like I could ride Noki in the arena and produce the harmony we have been training so long for. I wanted to show Noki off at his best and for myself personally I wanted to be someone my trainer, my owners and my whole team could be proud of. I feel I achieved that, I know I definitely felt so proud watching him walk in for his prize giving, it’s such a team effort, and we have come so far with him, that’s my Gold medal.
I’m thrilled that the team won Gold. We had secured it before Sophie Christiansen went in to do her Individual test. Any 3 of the 4 combination scores could have been taken and we would have still won! We won with a Paralympic record score, and Noki and I were the second highest combination.
The 1st September was the first day for individual medals. Tash was early in the Grade IIs again, so I was there early to cheer her on! She rode fab and got a great score, but the 2 German riders put up strong performances which ended up a very close Silver and Bronze in the end. When we found out Tash had won Gold, Lucy jumped on the back of my scooter and we scooted round the other side of the stadium to see her, I knew she would be crying and her mum Lorraine, and then we were all crying. I tell you, it’s catching!! It was what we had dreamed of, and I was so proud of her for doing it! I don’t think I have ever cried so many happy tears for someone else when Tash got on the podium and got her medal, hearing the National Anthem. I was a mess! I had to have serious words with myself after that, as I was pretty exhausted that night, and couldn’t waste any more emotional energy!! Noki went well again in training, we did enough to get him ready for the next day’s competition, but not too much so he would be tired! It’s a fine balance! The British team are so lucky to have the support of UK Sport and Lottery Funding to enable us to have so many support staff to help us do our job. Mark Fisher, the saddler, was there every time I rode to alter the saddle if necessary, as Noki had changed shape through ‘fittening’ up in the last few weeks, so we had a few slipping issues, but all of them sorted immediately by Mark.
Lee went well in his test for a Silver medal, Lee has made it no secret that Gentleman is a bit tricky, and he found that going into the tests there. Lee has been on top for so long, people often say it’s not getting to the top that’s the hardest, it’s staying there, and that certainly is true!
“So being the first day, I just took Noki for a little stretch in walk and trot, to get him used to the arenas and surface, as it did have a slightly funny feeling about it in a couple of areas. We had a press conference over the weekend, where the press was invited to ask questions with us all sat there which was quite good. I really think we had a great team this year, a good mix of experience and youth, Tash and I were always referred to as debutantes, and the other 3 as veterans! We all get on really well, support each other and socialised together especially the girls sharing a flat with Helen Mathie our physio, and Lucy Bell, who is a physio and carer for this trip, but also is Chef d’Equipe for the Vaulting teams, so is very experienced with major competitions too.
We had our allocated training times each day, and Sunday was the first day that anyone was allowed a slot in the ‘field of play’! Because we were only allocated half an hour, I decided to ride Noki in the morning in another arena then walk with him stretched out in the afternoon in the main arena. It’s worked well in the past as he gets a good couple of sessions out of the stable instead of hand walking all the time, and it gets him relaxed in the arena. We had a similar routine on the next day except I picked him up to give him a trot around and in the arena. Outside the riding, I had a small drama in that my phone stopped working, ok but it is a vital time to keep communication and the phones we were allocated for the games were £10 from Tesco and had buttons which we had to learn to use all over again!!…Not brilliant so I felt pretty stranded without any communication! Turned out that my phone had completely died, so a trip to Westfield that evening to get it sorted, even though it was bank holiday they were still open until 10pm, which was amazing!! I did a deal with Apple so that I could get a replacement then and there and could carry on as normal!”
“We arrived at Arrow and got Noki settled in his stable, unloaded the lorry and stacked our pallet. Each horse had its own pallet of feed and hay or haylage. All the feed bags and supplements had to be new and unopened, and the pallet wrapped in cellophane. Emma Kent, who has been back and forth training with Ange with her horse, has been looking for another horse for Rio for a while. She found one she really liked and got it to come to the Arrow while we were there that evening for us to see. He looked lovely and Emma looked confident on him, which is a big step. We all headed back to the hotel and out for dinner that night before trying to get a good night’s sleep for the last leg of our journey to Greenwich.
The next morning we arrived at the Arrow to find a massive red coach to take the 5 riders and 4 support staff into the Olympic village, it was certainly spacious! It was quite weird only going 18 miles down the road, but it was only then that we allowed ourselves to get excited at last… It’s so hard to stop yourself getting excited in the run up, as we all know anything can happen with horses. We got to the Olympic village and had a quick tour around the dining hall, gym, non alcoholic club, shopping including post office, dry cleaners, bank, salon – it was surreal! We got news through that the horses had arrived safely on Mark Perry Transport, and everyone was setting up the stables. We were due to head over on the buses that would take us from the village to Greenwich Park each day, however by then it was 4pm Friday night, traffic was terrible, so the decision was made to stay in the village and unpack. So we decided to decorate our rooms too! Tash (Natasha Baker) and I were sharing a room and had received loads of good luck cards that we put up with flags and bunting to make it a bit more homely.
Next day was our first trip out to Greenwich to see the horses and the venue. Obviously we had seen the main arena stadium, or ‘field of play’, when we went to see the dressage at the Olympics. But it was quite impressive behind the scenes! A massive veterinary centre which included X-rays, theatre, padded box and farrier’s forge – where they could even make shoes! A big stable block full of wash down boxes, the stables were all completely rubber matted, even the walk ways, and we even had a tack room each! There were 5 outdoor arenas, 1 covered arena, 1 lunge pen, the stadium, gallop track, a medical centre and dining area for all support staff and riders. I think we were very lucky to have such amazing facilities, and then to think that it was all temporary and built on stilts or crates. Just amazing.”
“Well it wasn’t the easiest run up to leaving for London! I was getting Noki out for the farrier on the Monday before leaving on the Thursday and I took his boots off to find a splint sticking out of his leg! Obviously I was slightly panicky, but we trotted him up and he looked good, we lunged him and he was fine, we prodded and poked, and he didn’t seem sore. The only way I can think he did it is he crosses his legs and scratches each leg with the other one, not normal, but when he does it he tried to push his stable boots down. There only seems to be so much you can do to wrap them up in cotton wool and stop them self harming!! Mark, my farrier, looked at it and seemed happy, then the World Class Farrier, Ian Hughes, came the next day to shoe Ange’s horses and had a good look at him, and there still didn’t seem to be a problem. Typical when only a few days before we had a home visit from the World Class Vet, Osteopath and Farrier. This was also after the last day of substitution, where I could swap for my reserve horse, Reece, so thank goodness everything was ok. I had my last few gym sessions with my Biomechanics coach Teresa Dixon, having recovered well after being kicked by Reece, and I definitely felt I was going into the games as fit and strong as I have ever been.
We left for the official meeting point, Mark Perry’s Arrow yard, on Thursday 23rd, to get there for 3pm. I came to start the lorry after it was all packed, and nothing! Arghhhhhhhh! Timing!!! So we spent the next hour on the phone to Dad so he could talk me through connecting everything to jump start it. I was quite proud of myself that I managed to do it on my own and was thankful I had an emergency breakdown kit in the lorry! So we then got Noki on the lorry, an hour and a half late, and we were half an hour down the road when I realised that with everything going on, my last job was to get Noki’s ice boots out of the freezer and I had forgotten! So a quick call home, and Amie had to drop everything and try and catch us up. In the meantime we had to stop for fuel and we were in two minds whether to turn the lorry off in case it didn’t start! So finally we were on our way, hoping that we had had our share of bad luck…”
“Sophie, 22, pushes herself to compete in able-bodied events, contesting two Young Rider European Championships. She is the only paradressage rider to have done so.”
“Anyone who has watched paradressage can tell you about the calibre of the riding.”
Sophie was also featured wearing the Hunter Jacket by Asmar Equestrian – the stylish sport jacket designed for performance.