Laura Tomlinson: ‘I’ve learnt competing during times of chaos isn’t fair to anyone’


  • Top British grand prix dressage rider and Olympian Laura Tomlinson on balancing family life – with four children – and bringing on her horses

    I have to start by congratulating the fabulous gold medal-winning European Championship team who rode some inspirational tests in Riesenbeck last month. Since then, we’ve also seen Carl Hester crowned national champion for the umpteenth time – he’s such an inspiration.

    From our camp, Lara Butler rode our 18-year-old home-bred Kristjan down the centre line for the last time for a successful and emotional last competition together. The pair have been a combination since 2011 and have had some fantastic international wins. It’s always an honour to have a horse for so long, and to retire him still enthusiastic and fit is a blessing and would have made my father proud.

    I opted out of the Nationals this year as my grand prix horses and I needed to do some more homework, because I was just into the thick of the back-to-school period with three of my children. While, after an eight-week break, we felt rather ready to send them back to school, the number of things to buy, name and organise can become overwhelming.

    In those times, my horses are definitely my sanctuary. But I’m learning that competing during times of chaos isn’t fair to my horses or myself. Now that we’re settled back into a routine, I have a few hours each day that are mine again and I can focus on my small string without clock-watching.

    I’ve definitely felt the need to take a moment to work on my grand prix horses at home before stepping back out on the international circuit. I also need time to put into my upcoming horses to bring them to the next level. However, I’m conscious I have to use my time wisely, given that I have limited hours for my horses.

    Making training time count

    I have a lovely but quirky six-year-old mare that needs time, and also my three middle-tour horses should be prioritised. I have a 10-year-old gelding who is at grand prix in training, but I need to work on his confidence – both in training and through groundwork – with Claire Gallimore, who has helped me with many horses and their quirks.

    I have also relatively recently acquired an eight-year-old gelding from Holland who needs a winter of learning that he has a neck and is welcome to use it! He’s extravagant but likes to be short in the neck with virtually no contact, so I’m working on transitions, stretching and polework to encourage him to draw more into the hand and build muscle in the correct places.

    When I ride our home-bred, seven-year-old Full Moon, it reminds me of the value of spending time on the basics and how hard it is to develop those building blocks when the horses are a little older. He is the example for what I need to feel on the others. He has that softness and suppleness that goes with a genuine connection and correct responsiveness to the leg.

    These are the vital ingredients for a top-level horse and what I strive to recreate over the gloomy winter months.

    I competed Full Moon and the eight-year-old recently at Summerhouse in the prix st georges and they came first and second with 74.5% and 74.2%. This was interesting for me as they could not be more different in how they go. It was nice that Full Moon came out on top, as he is the more correct horse and presents a more harmonious picture than his more expressive but tighter stablemate.

    I plan on using my local competition facilities over the winter to give the horses ring time and the chance to consolidate their homework in low-pressure competition environments. I recommend short-term goal setting and polishing up on the basics in the darker months when it is easy to lose motivation.

    ● Do you struggle to balance childcare and riding over the holidays? Write to us at hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and county, for the chance to have your views published in a future edition of Horse & Hound magazine

    • This exclusive column is also available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 26 October, 2023

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