Laura Bechtolsheimer Thriving on Pressure at the Top

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Laura Bechtolsheimer on Mistral Hojris at the European Championships. © 2009 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Laura Bechtolsheimer on Mistral Hojris at the historic European Championships in 2009 when Great Britain won team silver and Laura individual bronze. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Although only 25 years old, Laura Bechtolsheimer thrives on the pressure of being at the top of British dressage that now ranks among the elite nations of the sport.

Laura is ranked third in the world with Mistral Hojris, or “Alf,” as she calls her favorite horse, that led Great Britain to an historic team silver and an individual bronze at the 2009 European Championships on their home turf at Windsor.

The World Equestrian Games in Kentucky in September is Laura’s main focus and the pair are tipped as possible individual medal winners despite the daunting prospect of a Dutch squad that includes Moorlands Totilas and Jerich Parzival, the Nos. 1 and 2 combinations in the world, and a resurgent German team led by Isabell Werth.

Dressage at Hickstead this year is Laura’s second Exquis World Dressage Masters, the first in the global lineup of five €100,000 (£83,400) CDI5* events being at Hickstead in 2009. The other WDM events in 2010 were Palm Beach, USA; Munich, Germany; Cannes, France; Falsterbo, Sweden for the first time, and Hickstead as the finale. In addition to the total of €500,000 there also a WDM Nürnberger Rider Award of €25,000.

The emergence of Laura at the very top of the sport is a rare confluence of factors that is good not only for British dressage, but is driving the sport to unparalleled popularity. Not only has she built a stellar competition record, her youth, energetic enthusiasm and an easy rapport with media around the world place her in that elite group that have become superstars through performance and media savvy–Anky van Grunsven, Isabell Werth, Edward Gal, Adelinde Cornelissen and on the other side of the Atlantic, Steffen Peters.

At this year’s WDM in Hickstead, Laura is competing with Andretti “so the pressure and expectation is not quite as high as with Mistral.”

However, dressage is receiving more attention in Britain than ever before, Laura says, “so the pressure to perform and win medals is higher than ever before.”

“This does not make me nervous or effect me in a negative way, the fact that there is pressure on me is because I have been successful which gives me confidence.

“I enjoy a bit of pressure, it gives me that edge that makes you that bit better than at home in training.”

The words of wisdom she tries to abide by: “In order to have a lifelong positive relationship with horses a good sense of humour and a healthy dose of self criticism are essential!”

Many star athletes in all sports are superstitious: the clothes they wear and even the order in which they don each item of clothing, for example. Not Laura.

“I believe we make our own luck, I was blessed with great opportunities and I work hard not to waste them,” she says. “Relying on luck means you haven’t done your homework!

“I do stick to my competition routines for myself and each horse once I have a system that I know works. This gives me and my horse security but with horses you must also be flexible and adapt when things change.”

German Olympic gold medalist Klaus Balkenhol, who has a long record of training some of the top dressage stars and was coach of the U.S. team for eight years until 2008, was key to elevating her skills to the elite ranks and remain an idol.

But now she trains with her father. And her success at the World Equestrian Festival in Aachen earlier this month shows that it is working.

Laura Bechtolsheimer on Andretti with Klaus Balkenhol and her father. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Laura Bechtolsheimer on Andretti with Klaus Balkenhol and her father. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com