‘He deserved to go out on a high’: top British-bred grand prix horse retires aged 18

  • Kristjan, the British-bred international grand prix horse and top ride of Lara Butler, has retired from competition aged 18.

    The Polarion gelding was the Bechtolsheimers’ (Ursula and the late Wilfried, parents of Laura Tomlinson) first home-bred, and Lara started competing him in 2012 when he was seven.

    “I always really liked Kristjan, and I actually rode him on my trial day for the Bechtolsheimer’s when I went for my job interview in 2010,” Lara told H&H.

    “He was very correctly trained, but even now he’s not your typical dressage horse. As a young horse he needed a lot of time to develop his body. He always had a very big character; he very much has that Trakehner side of him and we used to call him our ‘little devil’. He did quite a lot of bucking while we taught him changes, I used to dread those moments when Dr B would say, ‘Right, let’s do some changes’!”

    Lara and Kristjan made their international debut at small tour level in 2017 at the Hartpury CDI3, which remains a memorable competition for Lara.

    “I managed to beat Charlotte Dujardin on Hawtins Delicato in the [intermediate I] freestyle. I remember coming down to the prizegiving and they said ‘You’ve won’ and I said ‘Don’t be silly!’” said Lara.

    “I borrowed old music of Laura’s, which was Jennifer Lopez, and it’s always been in everybody’s head since that that’s my music for him. It was a combination of songs but it was Let’s Get Loud for the start. He has that little swagger about him when he’s coming into the arena, and he loved it, he loved dancing.”

    Lara and Kristjan continued to compete at top shows at home and abroad, including the London International, Aachen, Le Mans, and Hagen. In 2018 they won the intermediate II final at the British Dressage national championships, the year they stepped up to grand prix. In 2019 they were reserve national champions to Carl Hester and Nip Tuck.

    “Kristjan is quite cheeky, but he’s very trainable and he loves working. He’s a show-off – sometimes not always in the right way – but he just loves to be the centre of attention, so in that respect he was perfect,” said Lara.

    “He liked going into the ring and having all eyes on him. The smaller the crowd, the more he was like ‘Yeah, I’m not doing this’. Some of my best rides with him were at Aachen, because he just loved having all the attention on him, he thought that was fabulous.”

    Another memorable moment was at the London International in 2021, where they were eighth in the grand prix and fifth in the freestyle.

    “In the prizegiving I think I gave everyone quite a scare, we went round then as we went out he launched and everyone gasped, but I stayed on. I think all of my standout memories were of him just being a complete character!,” said Lara.

    Lara and Kristjan recorded 43 top-10 placings in their 48 international starts. In September they were fifth in the grand prix at the BD national championships, and third in the freestyle, their final competition together, before Lara announced Kristjan’s retirement.

    “He’s 18 and this was his fifth year at grand prix,” said Lara. “He’s helped me develop again as a rider, going from producing an average test to really riding every movement, and I’m so much more in the zone with what I need to do – and that was the main focus with him this year.

    “We just thought he’s done a lot for us; he’s British-bred, he’s the Bs’ first home-bred, and he deserved to go out on a high. I said to our trainer Carl (Cuypers) before the nationals, that it should be Kristjan’s last outing, and it was like Kristjan knew. We did the grand prix and he was really good, then in the freestyle I couldn’t stop smiling during one of the last lines because for once we’d nailed our extended canter into piaffe – then I came out in an extended trot and I just looked at Carl and he was smiling. Lydia, who looks after Kristjan at home was there too, and we were all in tears after.”

    Kristjan will be a schoolmaster for junior rider Sophie Wallace, who is based with Lara and Laura, over the winter, then enjoy his retirement in the field with Lara’s other former top horse Rubin Al Asad (Rufus), who retired in 2021.

    “He’s going to leave a very big gap on the yard because we don’t really have anyone else with that amount of character,” said Lara.

    “But I’m sure he’ll torment me and the others as we go hacking round the fields, and come running over with Rufus to set off whoever I’m riding.”

    Lara said it feels “a bit like an end of an era” with both Rufus and Kristjan now retired.

    “When Rufus retired I had Kristjan to focus on,” she said. “This very much feels like I’m starting a new era. I’ve got my newer horse, Amiek C who I brought out at grand prix earlier in the year, but he’s recovering from a bone bruise at the moment. I’ve also got a couple of five-year-olds and I’ll still help Laura with her string.

    “It feels a little strange, but in a way it’s quite nice because it’s giving me a moment to reflect on the last few years. I feel like I can start again a little bit. I’ve got a young son, who’s just started school, so I can maybe have a little break from shows until next year and spend a bit more family time as well.”

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