Lara Butler Interview - Keeping Partnerships on Top Form
This month, Lara Butler took time out go her busy schedule to chat to us here at Everything Horse. A team reserve for the Olympic games in Rio, on the European team in 2017 and for the World Equestrian Games in 2018, she has more recently seen Nation Cup success and a double Grand Prix. We discussed everything from how she keeps her horses on top form, to how she looks after herself!
Hi Lara, first of all, please may you introduce yourself to our readers?
I’m a dressage rider. I work for the Bechtolsheimer family and have done for the past 11 years.
I have ridden dressage since I was 11 years old; I am now 32 (I think). I started riding because my parents had horses. My mum did showjumping and my father was in the King’s Troop. Then, I did all the Pony Club things, loved my ponies and did eventing.
I got a horse that couldn't jump, that's how I ended up going into dressage. I think from eventing, I wasn't very brave so I went into dressage (laughed).
I did junior and young riders, competing in my first junior European Championship at 15-years-old. I juggled that with school and then went to university. So my ‘professional’ career started when I came to the Bechtolsheimer’s in 2010. That's where my career took off from because they gave me a chance on one of their horses. I trained him up to the highest level.
Firstly, congratulations on team bronze at the Aachen Nation Cup and a double Grand Prix win at Keysoe CDI. You were riding Kristjan. Can you tell us about your journey with him and how you as a partnership got to the level you are at today?
So Kristjan, I’ve been riding since he was about six-years-old. He’s a homebred so they bred him here (Cranmore Farm, Gloustershire), and have known him throughout his whole life. But I took over the ride when he turned six.
He’s been on and off with his career for various different reasons. He’s a bit of a late starter because he’s 16-years-old now but he has been very cheeky to train. His changes were a particular highlight of his day, as opposed to my day (laughed)! He's just coming into his own now I've had him at Grand Prix (GP) for, coming up to, three-years.
This year has been our pinnacle. He is really stepping up into a different league now. I’ve got him to GP and once you get them to GP, you then want to step up to the level. It’s been really competitive and I guess that's what we’ve managed to do this year. Going to Aachen and finishing in the top ten and then our double win at Keysoe was the icing on the cake this year!
So this year, Kristjan is really coming into his own. How do you keep a horse like him on top form?
He has a lot of breaks. After a show he’ll have a little down time but he’s a horse who is very intelligent, so he actually enjoys doing the work. It keeps his mind ticking over. If he doesn't have too much to think about he gets very bored and starts squeaking around his stable. He’s got quite a lot of character!
We do a lot of stretching work and hacking to try and stimulate his brain, but not overwork his body now he’s a top horse. He doesn't need to do everyday movements because he knows them now. So for me, it is more about the gymnastics, keeping him soft and supple so that I can keep him sound and happy. When I go to a show, this means I can ask that much of him.
Obviously, you need to keep yourself on top form as well. Is there anything you include in your routine to do this?
At the moment I’m being kept busy with a lot of riding. Laura Tomilinson, who I ride for, she’s pregnant so I’m doing her horses.
Once a week I try to do a pilates session just to make sure my body is as even as it can be. Obviously, if I expect the horse to perform to the best of their ability, I need to not be inhibiting them in any way.
I also try to keep up with my regular osteo(path) to try and keep me in the right shape. I think as humans, we do alot for the horses and then we forget about ourselves and wonder why something isn't going right.
Despite a pretty immaculate competition record, there must be times where you think things could have gone better? How do you manage this?
Out of all of my results, I’ve probably only got about three or four of them that I'm truly happy with.
Somehow or another I would have messed up something. I am the worst person for riding the best test, but then messing up one movement. It would have probably been the movement that was double marked too, which costs me quite a few percent and I'm kicking myself afterwards!
Because I've done it so many times, I’m getting better at bouncing back. You have to try and not dwell on it too much. Unless it’s a recurring mistake that your making in the test, in which case you need to analyse the reason why. A lot of them, you kind of know what you did, so the next time, you just don't do it!
On my previous horse, Rubin al Asad, who kick started my career, I probably let him down a few too many times. That was at the early stage of my career. It’s unfortunate but I've learnt from it and now I hopefully don’t make so many mistakes with Kristjan.
Not only are you a brillant rider, but you also became a mum in 2019. Now the competition circuit is back in full swing, how are you managing a work life balance? Did you have any concerns going back to international level competition?
Well, I was very keen to get back to international competition. But it’s a very hard balance I would say. Especially now that my son (Jack) is two and a half years old, he’s suddenly much more aware when you’re going. It makes me feel extremely guilty. Once I'm away I'm not too bad. But I got back from the last show and he (Jack) told me that I “ride the neigh-neigh’s too much”!
I'm very lucky though. My husband (Billy) is very supportive and he now stays at home with Jack. Mine and Billy’s parents always come over and help too.
When he was younger he came with me. But now that he’s a bit older, he can stay at home. We’ve got enough people that can support both of us but it’s definitely a new thing I had to learn. I was surrounded by Laura (Tomilinson), so I knew it was possible. I took inspiration from her on that font, as well as the riding front.
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One competition essential? My UVEX hat, it always protects me everywhere I go.
Favourite venue? Aachen for an outdoor, Olympia (London International Horse Show) for indoor.
Someone you always turn to for riding advice? Laura Tomlinson.
A post-competition ritual? Get home and have a Chinese!
Are there any rides we should be looking out for?
I’ve got a ride on another homebred, Vincent. He is currently competing in advanced medium, but he does everything up to GP. I'm just working on the flying changes, which is another fun thing for me to do with him (laughs).
I have my own horse, Amiek C, who won the small tour classes I did with him last year. I’ve just stepped him up to Inter-II level. Hopefully, I'll bring him out to GP level very soon though.
He’s probably my next horse who will come along with Kristjan, next year. He’s very highly talented but again very intelligent. I’ve had him since he was three so we know each other very well. Sometimes it doesn't work and sometimes it does - we know what irritates each other!
So, what’s next for you?
I'm hopefully going to finish the year off at The London International Horse Show with Kristjan. That will be a nice way to finish the year off.
Next year, it will be nice if we can get back out again. The aim will be going for a team spot at the World Equestrian Games. There’s a lot of team mates that I’ll have to try and beat but that's my goal!
Header Image: Lara Butler riding Kristjan at Keysoe CD13* (Kevin Sparrow)
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