Meet Lara Griffith, dressage’s rising star

  • A talented rider with access to some of the best training and horse power in Britain, Lara Griffith can't quite believe her luck

    Lara Griffith, 25, British dressage’s latest rising star, is heading to Olympia (16 December 2013) for her World Cup qualifier debut riding trainer Laura Tomlinson’s Andretti H.

    Lara contested her first international grand prix at Hickstead in July 2013 with Andretti and went on to finish third to Carl Hester in the grand prix freestyle at the National Dressage Championships in September.

    A 2013 appearance at Olympia will be the icing on the cake for the rider who arguably has the best job in dressage and admits: “I keep waiting for someone to wake me up”.

    On joining the Bechtolsheimers as stable jockey in 2010, Lara became responsible for exercising Laura’s horses in her absence — including Andretti, on whom Laura became national champion in 2010 and 2011.

    Over the years, Lara began training on Andretti under Laura and her father Dr Wilfried Bechtolsheimer’s watchful eyes with a view to competing him as a schoolmaster.

    He’s no easy ride, as Laura says, he may be easy in the movements, but you have to be able to use your seat to connect him.

    They go to Olympia with fair odds. Looking forward, Laura has even bigger plans for her protégé, saying: “We want to develop a future British rider along with our horses. The goal would be for Lara and I to ride together on the team at Rio 2016, perhaps even on home-bred horses — my parents would be beside themselves if that happened, Mum would grow to 6ft tall. Of course we’ve got a lot of work to do for that to happen, but you’ve got to dream big.”

    There is no shortage of superstar horses at the Bechtolsheimers’ yard to make this dream a reality, including Unique, Pamina (home-bred), Polar Bear (home-bred) and Kristjan (home-bred), who is one of Lara’s rides and according to Laura “gets better the harder the movements become”.

    Lara says: “My goal has always been to be like Laura and I’m always training with the future in mind — whether or not that’s Rio, we’ll see, it seems crazy to think about it.”

    Lara Griffith — the early days

    Lara  came from a “horsey” family. Her father was in the Kings Troop and her mother, Caroline, rode, acted as chef d’équipe for Britain’s under-21 teams, has been show secretary for a number of high profile events and is current British Equestrian Federation World Class co-ordinator for dressage.

    “My parents had a livery yard in Buckinghamshire when I was very young, so there was always a pony to ride,” says Lara. “I gave up when I was young for a few years though — I can’t remember why. When I wanted to get back into it my mum sent me to the local riding school for regular lessons through the winter to make sure it wasn’t just a phase.”

    When she was 8, Lara acquired a 5-year-old pony called Gamble.

    He took off with me a few times on hacks,” she recalls. “He ended up a good pony though, we sold him on to the Riding for the Disabled Association and years later I learned that [Paralympic gold medallist] Natasha Baker learnt to ride on him.”

    Lara joined Vale of Aylesbury Pony Club, mainly to event, but “didn’t do anything too serious” with the 13.2hh.

    She progressed to a 14.2hh called Mr Sparrow.

    “I got him on loan through Carol Hogg, who ran Under-21s Dressage, and started to take dressage seriously, joining the British Young Riders Dressage Scheme (BYRDS) and training with Dan Greenwood when he was based at Emile Faurie’s. Emile taught my mum,” Lara explains.

    Moving on to horses

    By 13, Lara grew too tall for ponies and loaned her first horse, Sir Dunaway, with a view to doing dressage.

    “He taught me up to advanced medium level and we’d spend a few weeks in the summer training with the Moody sisters [Becky and Hannah],” Lara recalls.

    Next she needed to move on from her schoolmaster to a junior team contender. Continuing a tradition of loaning rather than buying equines, she took on Morgi Fortuna, with whom she contested the 2004 Junior European Championships aged 15.

    “That was the first year I met Laura Tomlinson — she was on the young rider team with Douglas Dorsey,” recalls Lara of her now trainer.

    Lara loaned another horse, Warlock, who had been on the Dutch young rider team with owner Veronique Andre de la Porte. The Dutch family were happy for him to go to a nice home and continue competing.

    Warlock taught me the most of all of them. We kept him until he was 17, when he went back to the Netherlands in retirement,” she says. “He was a schoolmaster, but not easy. I took him to the 2006 Junior Europeans having only been riding him for 3 months. By 2008 he’d taken me up to young rider level.”

    On Warlock’s retirement, Emile Faurie — with whom Lara was based for 7 years — helped her secure the ride on Hilary Sawyer’s smart grey mare Dawning Hopes.

    “Being a big mare, she was a completely different kettle of fish,” says Lara.

    The pair contested the 2009 Young Rider Europeans and were the best placed British combination in Lara’s last year at the level.

    Emile didn’t feel it was right to ask the mare to continue to grand prix and so Lara, while studying equine science at Oxford Brookes, concentrated her efforts on producing Anne Hutton’s Don Benito to prix st georges level (PSG).

    “He was my first young horse and I was proud to produce him to PSG as that’s what you’ve got to be able to do to make it — produce horses,” says Lara.

    She sold the gelding in 2013 and purchased a three-year-old from the Netherlands to fit in well among her responsibilities as stable jockey for the Bechtolsheimers.

    To find out how Lara landed the best job in dressage, and read all about her relationship with trainer and mentor Laura Tomlinson, don’t miss the 28 November 2013 issue of Horse & Hound magazine

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