Farewell Pinocchio, the history-making ride of Sophie Wells

  • Written By: British Dressage
  • Published: Thu, 21 Mar 2024 10:35 GMT

The dressage world has lost one of its brightest stars in Pinocchio, who passed away on Wednesday (20 March 2024) at the age of 27. A history-making partnership with Sophie Wells OBE, Pinocchio brought national pride on the Paralympic stage and at the FEI Young Rider European Championships, winning the hearts of many along the way.

Sophie Wells and Pinocchio

Neil and Jackie Walker’s Pinocchio (Landeur x Casimir), a KWPN gelding bred by AJ van Erp, and foaled in 1997, was produced as a young horse by Pippa Fisher before coming into Sophie’s life in 2008. Together, Sophie and ‘Noki’ went to their first Championships in 2009 – the FEI Para European Championships in Kristiansand, Norway – winning three gold medals, which were the first golds a British rider had ever won at Grade V (then Grade IV).

They went on to win more European golds as well as gold medals at the 2010 World Championships in Kentucky and at the London Paralympic Games in 2012. Together with Pinocchio, Sophie, who was born with amniotic band syndrome, also became the first para rider to compete on an able-bodied championship team at the FEI Young Rider European Championships in 2010 – and they were selected again in 2011 when they were placed 14th in the Individual Test. The ground-breaking pair represented Great Britain at the FEI Young Rider World Cup Final at Frankfurt in 2011 as well as going on to compete at Grand Prix level.

They rounded off their career together with CDIU25 starts at Roosendaal and Saumur CDIs, and CDI3* Grand Prix appearances at Hartpury in both 2014 and 2015, before Sophie handed the reins to fellow para dressage rider Emma Sheardown and, later, Izzy Palmer who both enjoyed international success before Pinocchio’s retirement from competition in 2017.

Sophie Wells and Pinocchio (2)

“Where do I start? Today the boy with the biggest heart went over rainbow bridge. Old age finally caught up with him…” said Sophie in tribute to Pinocchio. “When I went to try him in 2008, little did I know how he would change my life. At just under 18hh, he was a gentle giant. He made my dreams come true and I was lucky enough to literally do everything with him.

“Three European Golds, two World Golds, one Paralympic Gold and two Silvers. Two Young Rider Europeans, a Young Rider World Cup Final, U25 Grand Prix, Senior Grand Prix even in the same class as Valegro as our last outing, and so many wonderful experiences travelling the world going to some of the biggest shows but also the special quiet moments at home,” she continued.

When I went to try him in 2008, little did I know how he would change my life.
Sophie Wells OBE

“He came to me having failed a vetting due to numerous heart issues, but who knew that’s where his journey really began, and not where it ended. He wasn’t easy, but the good horses aren’t, but what he was, was a complete angel, the softest, warm-hearted boy. I can’t thank his owners, Jackie and Neil Walker, enough for trusting me with their gorgeous boy so long ago.

“He went on to take Emma Sheardown and Izzy Palmer to international competitions and made some more dreams come true. After retiring from international competition in 2018, he carried on doing bits at home until a few years ago.

“When a horse has been part of your life for 16 years, it’s going to leave a big hole. He literally brightened up the fields as a chestnut in a yard full of black/bays. And I will forever miss seeing his face when feeding him every morning and his little ears pricked.

“Thank you for everything you have taught me, I’m so beyond grateful to have had you in my life. I hope you had the best last few days being pampered and spoilt like the king you are.”

British Dressage offers condolences to Sophie, Jackie, Neil and all of Pinocchio’s connections on the loss of this very special horse.

Photo © Kit Houghton