Laura Tomlinson pays tribute to her late mother-in-law
LAST month, we suffered the sad loss of my mother-in-law, a lady who featured in Horse & Hound magazine countless times as a pioneer in her field. Claire Tomlinson was not only the loving mother of my husband Mark, and his siblings Emma and Luke, but the first and only woman to reach a handicap of five goals in polo.
It was for her that the Hurlingham Polo Association changed the rules to allow women to play on the high-goal (top-level) circuit, previously a privilege only for men. In that first season that women were allowed to play the high-goal, Claire won the prestigious Queen’s Cup with her team.
Claire provided women in polo, as well as in sport across the board, with inspiration. She was a mother of three when she reached her peak, which makes her achievements even greater in my mind.
At her memorial service, I was impressed to see people from so many walks of life and all age groups, demonstrating how many people she touched and the number of people she had helped – either personally or through the Beaufort Polo Club. She changed the face of coaching in polo and was a true horse person, always remaining humble enough to keep learning.
Claire was a role model for many, especially in the polo and hunting worlds, and she was respected by the whole equestrian community.
Quest for equality
WOMEN of my generation and those younger are lucky to have had trailblazers such as her, to initiate the quest for equality for women who choose to have a career in sport.
In dressage, it is normal for us that male and female riders compete against each other on equal terms, and though in many sports this is not physically possible, it’s great that women have started to play more traditionally male sports in their own leagues.
Polo now has a thriving women’s game and it was great to see in the news recently that professional female footballers will receive improved maternity rights within their contracts.
It is so important that women feel that they do not have to choose between being a parent or having a sporting career, and that instead more is done across all professional sports to create better care for women during the time when career and motherhood meet.
Another positive step was the FEI’s move to freeze 50% of a rider’s world ranking points if they are granted a medical or maternity leave of absence from the sport. These steps allow women to choose to become mothers without such detrimental effects on their careers – a problem that most men cannot encounter.
But more can be done to help educate women on how best to be mentally and physically healthy during and after pregnancy, and that can then enable a mother to get back to her sporting career safely and in her own time.
Being a mother and able to be present for their children should not stop women from having the best career they can. We have come a long way since Claire’s day, but there is plenty more ground to cover in professional sport in general, from better treatment of female athletes to equal pay.
One thing is for sure: I am immensely proud to carry the Tomlinson name in equestrian sport and have a lot to live up to when it comes to determination to “do it all”, because very few ladies “did it all” in the way my mother-in-law did.
● Do you have memories of Claire Tomlinson? Share them with us at email@example.com
- This exclusive column is also available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 1o February
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