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  • Writer's pictureFran Cleland

Para riders get opportunity to ride under world-class coaches

ABOVE: Sophie Wells instructing Bridget Murphy at one of the clinics. Picture: ONE-EYED FROG

THE para equestrian community in Australia has been fortunate to be able to attend clinics this month with some of the world’s finest coaches. British gold medallist Sophie Wells is now on the last leg of a whirlwind tour running two and three-day clinics in Perth, South Australia, Victoria and NSW. Sophie’s coaching skills are excellent and her attention to detail in preparing and executing test movements is remarkable.

As one of the most decorated para equestrian athletes in the world, she started her competition career when she was just 13 years of age. Now at 32, Sophie has already won eight paralympic medals and is training for her fourth paralympic team position in Paris next year.

Sophie was joined in Melbourne by UK dressage team medallist Spencer Wilton with each coach working with both able-bodied and para athletes for three days.

ABOVE: Sophie Wells.

The clinics were full in every state and Sophie commented that she was surprised at the large number of athletes who participated around the country.

It was a truly amazing opportunity for our riders from those just starting their competition career to past, current and potentially future international athletes and Sophie treated every one of them with the same intensity and passion.

Melanie Diplock was one of the riders who participated, saying she found it difficult to sum up her experience in just a few words.

“I rode out of the second lesson to a small group of fellow riders and when asked how did (I) go, I simply replied ‘I want to do it again and again’ like a small child riding for the first time,” she said.

“To be taught by someone with a disability is different, her techniques are very classical and similar to other top British riders but it’s just as if she understands you.”

Melanie said all riders appreciated the opportunity to interact with the coaches on and off their horses.

“The chat with Spencer and Sophie on the Sunday was so much fun,” she said.

“They were so generous with their time and so down to earth – I think we all felt a little bit star struck at the start but after that night we all felt very comfortable asking questions we wanted to.

“As it was a small group it just felt like a barbecue at a mate’s place having a chat and catching up and that for me was very special.”

Melissa Cannon also commented on the benefits of being coached by someone who really understands riding with a disability.

“It was like learning to ride again but I was fascinated how Sophie motivated the horses without needing legs effectively,” she said. “It was nice to see the vision become reality.”

Claire Skerman described the clinic as one of the “highlights of my riding journey so far”.

“I have been watching in awe of Sophie since becoming a para rider and can’t believe the opportunity came up to be coached by her,” she said.

“I had so many light bulb moments and feel very positive going forward with my new horse with lots of things I can work on. Sophie was so down to earth and encouraging.”

ABOVE: Spencer Wilton working with Zoe Veranas. Picture: ONE-EYED FROG

For Emma Booth, the training with Spencer has come just at the right time.

“The para clinic with Spencer put the passion back into my riding,” she said.

“It made me remember what I love most about the sport. I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity and for the motivation I needed moving forward.”

The clinics were arranged through a collaboration between Dressage Masterclass and Equine Pathways Australia.

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