Laura Tom­lin­son tells YH Ally about be­ing back in the hunt for medals after hav­ing two chil­dren

The Olympic dres­sage rider talks to Al­li­son Lowther about be­com­ing a mum, over­com­ing an ex­cru­ci­at­ing in­jury and her plans to climb back on to the cham­pi­onship podium

Your Horse (UK) - - Editor's Letter - Like many work­ing moth­ers, Laura’s days are filled to the fi­nal sec­ond, man­ag­ing her diary with mil­i­tary pre­ci­sion

YOU COULD BE for­given for say­ing you’ve for­got­ten about Laura Tom­lin­son. But cast your mind back to Lon­don 2012 and the mighty Mis­tral Ho­jris (‘Alf’), when Laura was un­mar­ried and rid­ing as Bech­tol­sheimer, and you’ll re­call the orig­i­nal girl on a danc­ing horse. For a time, it was Alf whom small chil­dren wanted a poster of for their bed­room wall; Alf who was cred­ited for putting the Bri­tish dres­sage team back on the map — he won nine cham­pi­onship medals in all (see p25); and Laura was the only rider with a Union Jack on her jacket step­ping on to a podium. Those were the days of Ed­ward Gal and Toti­las’ gold-medal run and Parzi­val II, rid­den by Adelinde Cor­nelis­sen’s strong grip on the sil­ver. Un­til, of course, Vale­gro burst on to the scene and be­gan his reign with Char­lotte Du­jardin. A lot has hap­pened since Alf re­tired in 2013 at the age of 18. Laura has got mar­ried, bore two chil­dren and qui­etly built a solid string of horses to cat­a­pult her back into the lime­light. In fact one, she says, may be good enough for this year’s World Eques­trian Games (WEG) in Amer­ica (see p24). Laura’s fa­ther, the great Dr Wil­fried Bech­tol­sheimer, is also her trainer. An ex­pe­ri­enced horse trainer and coach, he was the first to no­tice the tal­ent of a cer­tain Carl Hester as a young rider. Carl joined the Bech­tol­sheimer yard and the rest, as they say, is his­tory. Like many work­ing moth­ers, Laura’s days are filled to the fi­nal sec­ond. She has to man­age her diary with mil­i­tary pre­ci­sion to com­bine tak­ing care of her two young chil­dren and fo­cus on her dres­sage ca­reer. “Be­ing or­gan­ised is key to get­ting the most into your day,” says Laura. “Most morn­ings are spent rid­ing at the yard and then in the af­ter­noon I’m in meet­ings, or spend­ing time with my chil­dren.” Hav­ing a pic­ture-per­fect yard in the Cotswolds must help. A large stone barn houses the main yard and in­door school. This is a busy com­pe­ti­tion yard, yet the at­mos­phere is calm. Horses doze peace­fully in roomy sta­bles, each with their own win­dow over­look­ing the out­door arena. Ev­ery sin­gle equine is happy and con­tent, don­ning iden­ti­cal green rugs with red bind­ing – the colour scheme match­ing Laura’s horse­box.

Laura mar­ried polo player Mark Tom­lin­son, who’s Eng­land’s cap­tain and six-goaler (in polo, ev­ery player is awarded an in­di­vid­ual hand­i­cap de­pend­ing on per­for­mance, with the high­est be­ing 10) in Switzerland in 2013. They are now a fam­ily of four, with three-and-a-half-year-old An­nal­isa and Wil­fred, just over 12 months. Wil­fred, fresh from an af­ter­noon nap, is al­ready a nat­u­ral in front of the cam­era – he never stops smil­ing. An­nal­isa has just re­turned from a morn­ing at preschool, leav­ing Laura a small win­dow of time to talk to Your Horse be­fore whisk­ing her away to a bal­let class. “That’s where I wear skirts,” whis­pers An­nal­isa, who’s a lit­tle shy, but with her mother’s re­laxed man­ner – and a love for ponies has al­ready passed on. Her favourite thing is Bibib. The 24-yearold minia­ture Shet­land lives in the out­door sta­ble block. “An­nal­isa loves rid­ing,” smiles Laura. “She took Bibib to Pony Club camp last year and took part in a fancy dress com­pe­ti­tion. They went as a uni­corn and princess.” We can only imag­ine how cute the pair must have looked. Laura, who has been qui­etly com­pet­ing — and win­ning — at In­ter II level on top of hav­ing chil­dren and re­cov­er­ing from in­jury, has a strong sup­port net­work around her. “It’s thanks to my par­ents and team on the yard that I can con­tinue rid­ing at the level I am,” she ad­mits. “They en­sure the time I have with my horses runs like clock­work so I can re­ally make the most of the time I’m rid­ing each horse.”

Dur­ing both of her preg­nan­cies Laura stayed fit and ac­tive, and con­tin­ued to ride some of her older horses for as long as she could be­fore she gave birth. “I didn’t gain much weight ei­ther time, so I was quite quickly back in shape,” she says. But it wasn’t all plain sail­ing. Shortly after hav­ing Wil­fred in March 2017, Laura be­gan suf­fer­ing from ex­cru­ci­at­ing pain in her left leg and numb­ness in her calf and foot. An MRI scan re­vealed a slipped disc was press­ing on a nerve. In­tense treat­ment, plus the added chal­lenge of a new­born baby, meant Laura’s re­turn to the sad­dle was short-lived. “Out of all the eques­trian dis­ci­plines it is dres­sage that causes the high­est amount of con­cus­sion on your spine, be­cause you spend all your time sit­ting down in the sad­dle,” she ex­plains. “Over time this im­pacts on your back. I still have to be care­ful and take care of my body. Fit­ting in a warm-up be­fore I ride, reg­u­larly go­ing to the gym and do­ing Pi­lates are all a must if I want to be able to keep rid­ing suc­cess­fully. “When I first got back in the sad­dle, my left leg and gluteal mus­cles were quite weak and my horses took full ad­van­tage of that, push­ing through my left leg aids. Ask­ing them for fly­ing changes was par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult for me to do.” It took months to re­cover, but it paid off. Laura says she feels a much stronger rider fol­low­ing all that re­hab. Her horses are go­ing bet­ter than ever, too. All in all, mother­hood clearly agrees with Laura. She talks openly and hon­estly about man­ag­ing the work-life bal­ance, and she hasn’t lost any of her de­sire to win.

My left leg and glutes were weak, and my horses took ad­van­tage of that

Alf still lives with Laura. He’s 24 years old now and liv­ing like a king in his re­tire­ment. Although Laura is still best known for that part­ner­ship with Alf, two po­ten­tial medal con­tenders – Fal­latijn Van Kairos (Finn) and Du­val’s Capri Sonne JR (Cass) – are wait­ing in the wings. “I’ve been off the scene for a while, but I’m very ex­cited about these horses. Both could be on GB dres­sage teams in the fu­ture,” says Laura, with a hope­ful glint in her eye. At first glance, Finn could be mis­taken for Alf as he’s al­most a mir­ror im­age, be­ing chest­nut with four white socks and a blaze. “His nick­name is Alf Ju­nior,” laughs Laura. Finn is eight and, looks aside, also has very sim­i­lar move­ment to Alf. “He’s tal­ented with a great tem­per­a­ment, too. He’s a prospect for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.” Four sta­bles along is Cass. This hand­some black stal­lion is fur­ther on in his train­ing. “He’s the one I’m hop­ing could catch the eye of the se­lec­tors for WEG,” states Laura. If ei­ther make it, Laura con­fesses that she’s re­lieved nei­ther horse shares Alf’s quirky na­ture. It was well doc­u­mented that he wasn’t an easy ride, and be­ing sen­si­tive to noise made rid­ing him in front of a large crowd tricky. “Both Cass and Finn are un­com­pli­cated, which is ex­actly what I need now I have two chil­dren to worry about. There’s no way I could have an Alf now,” she laughs. As we pre­pare to say our good­byes, I ask what Laura she does in her down­time. “Down­time?” she asks with the be­mused look only a mother of two would have. “It’s a lit­tle dif­fer­ent now,” she muses. “We went ski­ing in Fe­bru­ary, so spend­ing time with my fam­ily is down­time from the horses. But rid­ing is down­time from be­ing a mum. “Hav­ing two chil­dren has had such a hugely lev­el­ling ef­fect on my life. “An­nal­isa and Wil­fred bring so much joy and hap­pi­ness and when per­haps a com­pe­ti­tion hasn’t gone as well as I’d like, com­ing home to my chil­dren makes it all OK.”

Laura’s two chil­dren have in­her­ited her love of horses

Laura and her fa­ther, Wil­fried Bech­tol­sheimer, work to­gether to train the horses

An­nal­isa loves help­ing her mum with yard du­ties

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