Written by: Pamela Young
British Olympic dressage medallist Laura Tomlinson counts her blessings, itches to get back in the arena – and yearns for a good night’s sleep.
Brains, beauty, fame, fortune, happiness – she has it all, except enough sleep. The reason you may not have heard much lately from Britain’s Olympic gold medalist Laura Tomlinson (née Bechtolsheimer) MBE is easy to explain. The past decade has been a series of milestones for this star of British dressage. The now 32-year-old university graduate made her senior team debut in 2006, went to two Olympic Games, two European Championships, a World Equestrian Games, won individual and team medals, got married and had two children – the youngest of which is four months old.
The granddaughter of German billionaire Karl Heinz Kipp, Laura would never deny that she has led a privileged existence and moved in society’s highest circles. Princes William and Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge attended her wedding to polo player Mark Tomlinson, after all. Laura appreciates how blessed she has been, supported and encouraged by her parents Wilfred and Ursula, respected horse people who were instrumental in launching Carl Hester’s career.
But it was her own drive and determination which turned a hobby into a profession. Her medal-winning partner Mistral Hojris (Alf) was retired in 2013, but with two prospects in the offing, Laura is quietly impatient but quite confident that it’s just a matter of time before she is back at the highest level.
For now, though, there are some things more important than world rankings. Presently she is content enjoying motherhood and all the joys (and sleepless nights) it can bring.
Life must be pretty hectic, especially since the arrival of your son Wilfred in March.
Pretty full on! If I hadn’t slipped a disk right after Wilfred was born I would be riding more, but at the moment I fly in and fly out of the barn and ride in between feeds. I breastfed my daughter Annalisa and am breastfeeding my son. I don’t want to cut any corners as a mum. You get this chance only once. I can’t spend the same time as I used to with the horses, but I am lucky that the stables are only metres away and I literally work from home. My parents are also only across the field and they are really helpful. I doubt it would be any different if I had a grand prix horse, although if I had another Alf, I definitely wouldn’t have the time. He was like having a child!
What is your plan to get back into competition?
Having a baby and coming back without a GP horse is a lot tougher. But I have some very exciting young horses – Capri Sonne Jr and a seven-year-old, Fallatijn, both of which should be ready in time for the next Olympics. Fallatijn is a leggy chestnut like Alf, but not quite as crazy. I’m working on getting my career back on track and I’m confident I’ll be back soon at the level I want to be at. I always tell myself the harder the journey, the better the reward.
How did you get started with horses?
Mum got Dad into horses from motor sports before they were married. We all rode, my brothers and I, but I was the only one to carry on. Mum and Dad were into three-day eventing before dressage. Mum was always a rider. She helped out at a Trakehner stud when she was a teenager. She rode the pregnant mares for gentle exercise because she was light. She never competed, but she has always had a great eye for young horses with talent. Her management and attention to detail are incredible. Both my parents are key members of my team.
What’s your earliest horsey memory?
I was desperate for a pony of my own and on my third birthday the doorbell rang and standing outside the door was a Palomino pony, all plaited up. I called her Peacock.
Can you identify a turning point in your career when you said to yourself, ‘I can earn a living doing this and reach the top’?
After I graduated from Bristol [University] in 2007 it could have gone either way. I had always given the riding half my attention, half my effort, because I was at school studying and playing other sports. I thought when I graduated I should go for it – give the riding my full attention, give it my all. I made the Olympic team in 2008; it wasn’t the success I had hoped for [team fifth and 17th individually], but I learned so much from the experience and it told me I was on the cusp. A year later at the Europeans in Windsor we won a team medal – yes, a team medal – who would believe now after all our success how momentous that was then? After that, Alf went from being the most volatile and inconsistent horse to the most consistent. He put me on the map and gave me confidence and maybe even more importantly, I earned the respect of my peers. I had every opportunity growing up; I have a very blessed background, and Alf allowed me to break free from that. Everyone knew how difficult a character he was to manage and how hard it was to achieve what we did.
Horsepower aside, is there another ingredient that gives you a competitive edge?
Having three older brothers, I wanted to do whatever they did and do it as well or better. It was all about survival! I think that gave me extra bite and feistiness. Discipline and determination would be a factor. I always wanted to do everything well, be it playing hockey or doing well at school. Juggling all that taught me much about [time] management, which is important for what I do now.
How would you or your friends and family describe your personality?
I’m definitely an optimist. Even if I have a big knock I’ll be working out how to solve the problem straight away. I think I’m pretty relaxed generally and I have a good sense of humour and like to have fun. Sure, I can be serious and ambitious, but I would hope to think I don’t lose perspective. Hopefully they’d say I see things in a measured way.
If life hadn’t taken you on this path, which profession would you have pursued?
If I couldn’t be in the sports world, playing international hockey, I would like to be a political journalist. I studied philosophy and politics at university.
Where is your favourite place in the world?
Kenya – it makes me feel like I’m in the world as it was meant to be before we did so much to mess it up.
Where would you most like to go that you haven’t been?
New Zealand. My husband has been there to play polo and it looks so beautiful, full of fun, chilled-out people.
When and where did you last go on vacation?
We always go to Switzerland for Christmas. I was skiing by my third birthday. I couldn’t ski this year because I was pregnant.
Do you have a health and fitness regimen?
Well, if I wasn’t doing physio for my back I would be doing pilates twice a week and kick boxing twice a week. I like being fit. I have to say now that the most important thing to good health is a decent night’s sleep!
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Chocolate Hobnobs. I can get through a whole packet in an afternoon.
If you had a life lesson to share with us, what would it be?
Always keep a sense of humour, don’t be too serious, and be a good friend. If you are a good friend you will always have good friends who are honest with you and help keep you grounded.
If a genie were to give you three wishes, what would you wish for?
Like all mothers I would only have one wish: that my children live a happy and healthy life.
If you were having a dinner party and you could choose four guests, living or dead, who would you invite and why?
I’d have my husband to help me cook. I’d invite Dame Judi Dench, such an incredible lady; Keith Richards, he’d be cool at the after-party; Winston Churchill; and the Queen. She’s led such a life, I think she would be fascinating and I think she would get on with the others although we’d have to be careful of what Keith would say.
What’s the most surprising thing most people don’t know about you?
I don’t go out very often but when I do, I am impossible to manage!
What part of your life could use some improvement?
I could do with a few more hours in the day to have time for myself.
Date of Birth: January 31, 1985
Hometown: Ampney St Peter, The Cotswolds, Gloucestershire, UK
Nickname: ‘Bech’ or ‘Bechstol’
• 2009 European Championships, Individual bronze, team silver
• 2011 European Championships, team gold, individual bronze
• 2010 World Equestrian Games, individual silver, team silver
• 2012 Olympic Games, team gold, individual bronze (all with Mistral Hojris)
• Rosalie B, 11-year-old black Westfalen mare
• Unique, 13-year-old Holsteiner mare
• Duval’s Capri Sonne Jr, 10-year-old black KWPN stallion