Tales from Hartpury: meet the McLaren engineer juggling dressage and the race track

  • With her fast-paced, high-pressure occupation, you’d think Katie Lawrence, who rode Donaulied (River) to third place in the Petplan Silver Novice final at the NAF Five Star Winter Dressage championships, would find the dressage arena a breeze.

    “It’s not the same kind of pressure,” laughed Katie, who scored 69.86% with the promising six-year-old mare, who she bought two years ago.

    Katie works as an engineer for the McLaren team, as well as being a project manager in defence.

    “During the week, I am responsible for upgrading air traffic systems and then at the weekends I am out with the McLaren race team, working as an engineer on the supercars,” said Katie. “I’m the person communicating with the driver while he’s racing, asking how the car is driving and if we need to make any changes when the car comes in. I compare my role to a trainer changing a horse’s tack or bit to make it perform better.

    Katie’s day begins at 5.30am when she hits the gym before work.

    “I usually start work at 7am and then can finish anywhere between 6 and 10pm, so I fit riding in between. I used to work in F1 full-time, but now I just do it on the weekends, as it funds the lorry.”

    Currently based at the Swanmoor stud of Ben St John-James, Katie began her journey with River when she gave a friend at the Westphalian auction instructions to scout out any young horses she thought would be a good match.

    “I bought her over the phone,” Katie continued. “She was a gangly four-year-old but had lots of potential so I just went for it.

    She is amazing to ride and just takes everything in her stride — If I’m feeling nervous or unsure she just grabs my hand and says “come on mum, we’ve got this.”

    Reflecting on her test, Katie said she was delighted with her free walk and her medium trot.

    The pair qualified with a wild card, after winning their first round and standing fourth in the next. The aim for the coming season is to contest some six-year-old classes.

    “I am really chuffed with her,” added Katie. “It has been a really great experience, but it’s back to 5.30am gym sessions on Monday.”

    For a full report from the British Dressage Winter Championships and Area Festival final – as well as news, views and expert comment – don’t miss Thursday’s issue of Horse & Hound magazine (19 April 2018)



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