One is the grandchild of a German billionaire. The other is a stable girl from Enfield. Yesterday they teamed up to win a historic gold
14:36 GMT, 8 August 2012
One is a friend to royalty and the granddaughter of a German billionaire; the other a former stable girl who left her local comprehensive aged just 16.
But yesterday Laura Bechtolsheimer and Charlotte Dujardin – two women from very different backgrounds – came together alongside teammate Carl Hester to win a historic team Gold in the Olympics dressage event.
It was Britain’s first-ever medal of any colour since the discipline, which tests the understanding between horse and rider as they complete a series of manoeuvres, became an Olympic sport 100 years ago.
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Golden girls of dressage: Charlotte Dujardin (left) and Laura Bechtelsheimer (right) have brought home the gold
Britain had never even finished higher than sixth in team or individual competitions – until yesterday.
The win also ended Germany’s dominance of the sport, which has seen its riders take seven successive Olympic titles.
The British team finished on an average score of 79.97 per cent, beating Germany’s 78.21 per cent and Holland’s 77.12 per cent.
Yesterday, crowds in the Greenwich Park arena in South London roared their approval as a grinning Miss Dujardin – who recorded a score of almost 82 per cent, a new Olympic record – left the arena.
There were chants of ‘GB, GB, GB!’ from the usually restrained dressage fans as Princess Anne nodded her approval.
And there were further deafening cheers as all three riders took to the podium to claim their medals, beaming with pleasure.
Four-time Olympian Hester, 45, said last night: ‘Both those girls are cool customers. The three of us come from three totally different backgrounds.
‘I learnt to balance and ride on a bareback donkey, Charlotte came through the showing world and Laura did everything across all the equestrian disciplines before she took up dressage.
Dream team: Great Britain's Charlotte Dujardin (left), Carl Hester (centre) and Laura Bechtolsheimer celebrate winning gold in the Equestrian Dressage team at Greenwich Park, London
United in winning: (From left to right) Carl Hester, Laura Bechtolsheimer and Charlotte Dujardin despite their different backgrounds, the trio led the country to glory
‘To come to an Olympics where we were possibly expected to get a gold medal gave me a frightening feeling, and I quite enjoyed it. I am looking forward to it all being over, to get the individual competition out of the way now, but it’s a truly special minute for everyone in British dressage.’
All three riders will now contest the individual freestyle to music final tomorrow.
But yesterday’s win was largely a product of two rival female riders from starkly different backgrounds:
The granddaughter of a German billionaire and property magnate, Laura Bechtolsheimer has been raised with every privilege among the horsey set in Gloucestershire.
Born in Mainz, Germany, she moved to the UK as a baby and feels ‘100 per cent British’. ‘My name is the only thing that’s German about me,’ she says.
Her riding career began when she was given a pony called Peacock for her third birthday and it was soon clear that she had natural talent.
After winning a national title in eventing at 12, she decided to concentrate on dressage and by 20 had become Britain’s youngest champion.
A year later the 27-year-old, who boarded at 10,000-a-term St Mary’s Calne in Wiltshire, graduated from Bristol University with a degree in philosophy and politics.
What a relief! Charlotte Dujardin, of Great Britain, celebrates after riding her horse Valegro during the equestrian dressage competition
She attended the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding last year with her polo player boyfriend Mark Tomlinson, while Zara Phillips is also a close friend.
Miss Bechtolsheimer has previously admitted to being embarrassed by her background. While others on the riding circuit struggled to afford their hobby, she was able to make use of a dressage training yard with 12 horses owned by her father Wilfried Bechtolsheimer.
The multi-millionaire businessman and equestrian enthusiast represented Britain at the 1995 European Championships.
She said last year: ‘For a long time I was ashamed of being such a lucky girl. I’d try to shun it, cover it up.
‘At one point I had to decide to accept it – yes, I am a very lucky girl, yes, I’ve got an awesome family and all the opportunities – now let’s go and make the most of it. I can’t spend my life apologising.’
For the past three years, she has been dating Tomlinson, whose parents Simon and Claire run the Beaufort Polo Club near the Prince of Wales’s Highgrove estate.
The couple live together in a Cotswold stone cottage, although the polo player spends much of the year competing in Argentina while she trains at her father’s estate in Gloucestershire.
Her first serious boyfriend was the German dressage rider Matthias Rath, who rides Totlias, one of the sport’s 10million ‘wonder horses’. Ranked first in the world, Miss Bechtolsheimer has to contend with rival Charlotte Dujardin snapping at her heels in fifth place.
The pair are said to have a ‘rivalrous’ relationship – something she doesn’t deny.
‘It’s always good if you have competition in the team,’ she says. ‘The more that are fighting for the top spot, the better.’
JUST 18 months ago, Charlotte Dujardin had never ridden a grand prix test, dressage’s highest level.
Now the 26-year-old holds two British records and our first Olympic dressage gold medal in the Games’ history. Her background could not be more different from that of Laura Bechtolsheimer. Born in Enfield, north-west London, Miss Dujardin left her local comprehensive school at just 16 after telling her parents that ‘school’s not going to teach me to ride any better’.
Pony mad, even as a schoolgirl, she has told how would take turns with her sister to ride their mother’s Shetland ponies in competitions.
Top marks! Laura Bechtolsheimer rises her arm in victory after competing with her horse Mistral Hojrisin
After winning at the Horse of the Year Show and Royal International Horse Show, she worked for dressage rider Judy Harvey for four years. Then, in 2007, her mother Jane suggested asking Carl Hester – also on Team GB and one of the country’s top trainers – if she could have ten days’ work experience in his yard in Newent, Gloucester. She never left.
Under his guidance, she quickly became a full-time rider. ‘I wouldn’t be where I am without Carl – he was my idol,’ she has said.
Miss Dujardin lives in a small cottage on Hester’s equestrian estate with her fianc Dean Golding and their boxer dog Winnie. She rides for up to six hours a day, and is superstitious – always wearing the same set of clothes to compete.
Hester, who is gay, allowed her to ride his young horse, Valegro, as a novice, planning to ride the animal himself when he reached international standard.
But Charlotte did so well with Valegro that he decided to let her keep him – sparking a golden partnership. Some commentators have spoken of the ‘telepathic’ relationship both horse and rider seem to share.
‘Questions have been asked whether I kept the right horse,’ he says. ‘But Charlotte broke the world and British record this year and that gives me so much pleasure.
‘I wouldn’t be disappointed if she performs better than me. It’s been a whirlwind rise for her.’
VIDEO: Team GB's dressage squad celebrate their historic win!…