There was never any danger of Laura Bechtolsheimer, who has been on all the British dressage teams through ponies to her senior team debut this year, thinking Lucinda Fredericks’s ride Headley Brittannia was enormous. Her first comment — “she really is pint-sized” — is not at all surprising, bearing in mind the smallest horse Laura has is only a fraction under 17hh, and Douglas Dorsey, her team horse, is just under 17.3hh.

In fact, 15.3hh “Brit” owned by Hong Kong-based Katinka Thorburn, is probably the smallest horse Laura has ridden since her European team pony, Golden Dancer. However, size isn’t everything, as the 2006 Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials four-star title the mare picked up proves.

As Laura, who used to event before concentrating on dressage, gets up on Brit, Lucinda advises: “She’s like a little bubble to ride. Don’t be frightened of revving her up, she’s better that way but she always stays rideable. The only thing to remember is don’t touch her ears — she hates it.”

“Where’s the neck,” jokes Laura as she walks out of the American barn towards the arena, comparing the conformation and “slightly” more conservative movement of Brit with that of Douglas, her big-moving warmblood.

Lucinda watches Laura ride her pride and joy around the arena. “It is a bit unfair on them both,” she says. “Poor Brit has only had three schooling sessions since Burghley. She’s spent most of the time hacking on the plains with the children and Laura has come straight from the World Cup qualifier at Olympia. Brit’s trot must feel like a sewing machine to her — I reckon it takes me a minute longer to do a CCI**** test than anyone else.”

After warming up the little mare, Laura asks for a bit of lateral work — first shoulder-in and then half-pass. “She is very rideable,” observes Laura, “and she does the lateral work very easily. But sitting to that trot — I can feel her bouncing me out of the saddle.”

Moving up to canter, Laura tries some tempi changes and pirouette work. These movements are not required in horse trials but Brit is working at advanced medium to prix st georges level at home.

At Lucinda’s suggestion, Laura tries an extended trot — the mare earned nines in her Burghley test for the movement. There is no doubting Laura’s surprise. “Where on earth did that come from?” she asks, as Brit flashes across the diagonal.

Revved up a bit more, the mare throws some passagey steps before Laura brings her back to walk and gives her a pat.

“That was brill to watch,” says Lucinda. “You have her much more ‘up’ than I do and I reckon if I sent her to you for six weeks you would have her sorted. I might just do that.”

Laura Bechtolsheimer enjoys a pop on Headley Brittannia

At the end of the session, the offer “Fancy jumping her?” meets definite agreement.

“You will find the more you press her the higher she goes,” says Lucinda, and so it proves, with the pair finishing off over a sizeable fence. The verdict?

“Great fun. I was amazed how much bigger her stride became when we were jumping,” says Laura. “She was incredibly pingy. In the barn, she looked so small to have done what she has, but having sat on her, I can imagine her jumping round Burghley — but not with me on board! She was incredibly easy and responsive, very through and supple.

“I was impressed with her canter pirouette work and she was even in both reins — in that respect, I hardly dare say it, better than most dressage horses.”

  • This feature was first published in Horse & Hound (21 December, ’06)