Mistral Hojris Nearing Retirement–A Look Back
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By KENNETH J. BRADICK
The big chestnut Mistral Hojris is likely to be retired at the European Championships in August after bringing to reality a fairy tale journey leading Great Britain to the pinnacle of the dressage world and winning new fans with a lust to see more.
“Alf,” as Laura Tomlinson–she used to be Bechtolsheimer before marrying the polo-playing Mark Tomlinson–called the horse who took her from Young Riders to the top of the Olympic medals podium, is now 18 years old and past the peak age of most top horses.
It’s just as well, Laura confides, that Alf doesn’t know his age and shouldn’t be performing the now famous centerline passage-piaffe-passage finishes that still win him ultimate marks of 10 as they have for years.
As the guardian of Mistral Hojris with quirks and all–he doesn’t like certain musical tones, for example–she wants him to leave the show ring before he starts to show his age, for people to remember him at his best, as he has been for the past five years.
The maybe retirement of Alf at the European Championships in Herning, Denmark, his country of birth, in August is fitting on two counts–it will be his fourth appearance at a Europeans held once every two years and considered the toughest contest of the best horses in the world as most are in Europe, and the extra challenge of not only performing well but good enough to book a starting spot at the global championship the following year, either the Olympics or the World Equestrian Games.
The story of Alf is the story of British dressage in the 21st century.
Before Mistral Hojris, never a medal in the century-long history of the Olympics, usually also-rans at European Championships and the World Equestrian Games. Not that Britain was without talented horses and riders, just not quite good enough or never enough good combinations at the time it counted.
Her parents had brought Laura from Germany to Britain as a baby and she became as thoroughly English as, well, only the Emglish can be. She was involved in horse sports growing up, taking up dressage after flings in other disciplines.
Enter Mistral Hojris as a 10-year-old to be her Young Rider horse in 2005 and who carried her to the first of 10 championship medals.
Laura began competng as a senior at the top CDI events in 2007. The pair were the top finishing combination on the British team at the European Championships in Italy and the next year were at the Beijing Olympics.
The breakthrough to the top ranks occurred the following year, top three finishes at shows in Germany and at home at Hickstead, and meeting in the show ring the horse that was beginning its domination of dressage, Totilas ridden by Edward Gal of the Netherlands, and another rising Dutch star combination, Parzival and Adelinde Cornelissen.
The 2009 European Championships beside Windsor Castle where Mistral Hojris and Laura led Britain to team silver and picked up an indivdual bronze, too.
The ride got better. Three silver medals at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky in 2010 (no prize for guessing the winner of all the gold).
In 26 starts in CDIs in 2009 and 2010 the pair finished out of the top three only once.
Britain was getting really “jazzed” about dressage, thanks to Alf and Laura.
Then along came two horses in the barn of Carl Hester, who had spent much of his early career at the stables of Wilfried Bechtolsheimer, Laura’s father or “Dr. B,” as he’s known in the horse world. Uthopia was ridden by Carl and Valegro by his student and assistant, Charlotte Dujardin.
At the European Championsips in Rotterdam in 2011, the three British combinations whose scores count in team competitions pulled off what not too long before was considered highly unlikely if not impossible. Great Britain won team gold.
Did she feel the pressure, a woman in her mid-twenties of whom so much was expected.
“It was not necessarily a burden,” she said. “I’ve been aware of the pressure, but it’s partly pressure I put on myself. The longer you do well the more people expect you to continue to do well and the harder it is to continue.
“You’re aware of what’s expected of you. The sport is difficut. Horses change. Two beings have to be on form at the same time.”
Mistral Hojris and Laura did their part to pull off the team gold at the Olympics in London.
The 100-year drought of Olympic dressage medals was over.
The year was phenomenal, Laura said, “a pinnacle of sorts for my horse. He was awesome. He got better and better and showed the best he can go on the last day.” That was when Mistral Hojris and Laura won individual bronze to add to their team gold.
While Uthopia and Valegro are ensnared in ownership issues and a recent outbreak of an equine infection caused put the competition schedule on hold, Mistral Hojris keeps chugging along as, Laura says, “luckily he doesn’t know he’s 18 years old.”
In their first show since the Olympics, at Horses & Dreams CDI4* in Hagen, Germany Alf showed the same metronome-like piaffe and passage to earn a score of 79.064 per cent, including two 10s on the final centerline from Stephen Clarke, who was president of the ground jury at the London Games.
After a couple more big shows, all being well he will truck to the European Championships in Denmark, his birthplace, for a final farewell performance.
His mates on the team are unknown at the stage. Alf is the constant in the cast, as he has been for years.
“He feels great,” Laura said, “supple and athletic. There’s no pressure, nothing left to prove. He’s in great form, enthusiastic and motivated.”
“I’ll just enjoy every ride on him while he’s fit and well. It’s really in his hands.”
While she looks to her younger horses for the future, she admits to a changed attitude to the sport, an “inner relaxedness,” then laughs as she says, “if there is such a word.”
“I still feel strongly about the same things, my philosophy hasn’t changed, won’t change.
“It’s a privelege to show off an 18-year-old. Andretti (her other Grand Prix horse) is also no longer competing.
“It makes me very proud they have got to that age and are still enjoying work. No one would ever guess their age.
“I’m working hard on a young string, hoping to produce something. Nothing will ever replace them.”