Chatting with Laura Collett, one of GB’s bright young stars

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Laura Collett is certainly not one to rest on her laurels; fresh off an impressive top ten finish at her first Badminton, ( 8th – and the one pole down in the show-jumping still irks her!), she barely had time to celebrate before she packed her trunks again, and took Ginger May Killinghurst to the CCI 3* in Saumur, France, where they finished 12th.   Laura also finished 12th this weekend in the U25 CCI3* at Bramham with Noble Bestman.

Laura competed show ponies as a young girl, winning the Supreme Pony Championship at the Horse of the Year Show in 2003, then transitioned to pony eventing, where she won Team Gold and Individual Bronze at the European Pony Championships. Her record on horses is equally, if not even more impressive, and I asked her about moving up,
“I was quite lucky because I had horses coming up whilst I was still doing ponies, so I had a couple running alongside, and I had a really good horse called Walnut who was almost like an overgown pony, and who taught me an awful lot. It wasn’t too difficult because it happened gradually rather than finishing ponies and then suddenly having to get on to horses.”
Another horse who helped her transition was Fernhill Sox, who’s still part of her team,
“He’s with his owner, he’s absolutely fine but she just likes hacking him so he’s with her at the moment!” 
Laura is very unassuming and easy to talk to, it’s hard to believe she’s achieved everything she has because she’s incredibly down to earth, yet it’s easy to see why so many owners have backed her, even at such a young age, and enjoy being a part of her team. She rides for various people, and doesn’t have a particular “type” of horse,
“If they can do it, they can do it, whatever size of build or colour they are. I wouldn’t really have a specific stamp of horse that I look for. Their brain is probably the most important thing for me.”
If you believe in fate, then you’ll know that Rayef and Laura were meant to be together (!), but if not, the story of how she found him might persuade you,
“Somebody had brought round Horsedeals Magazine, which we’d never looked at before, or since really, but I was just flicking through it and there was a picture of him in there, and I thought he looked really pretty so we ‘phoned up about him. He was advertised as 16.1hh, otherwise we probably wouldn’t have gone to see him, and as we arrived, after five hours driving to see him, it was snowing, and he was 16.3, and Mum was having heart failure because I was just coming off ponies!  Luckily it was my money that had bought Spring (Noble Springbok) and I was allowed to spend it on whatever I wanted, and I decided in the car on the way home, well, I decided straight away really, that I wanted him, even though Mum kept saying he was far too big, and I’m quite glad I did now!”
In the same determined fashion, Laura knew from an early age that she wanted to make a career out of riding, and went about making it happen,
“I decided pretty early that that’s what I wanted to do. I think I’d decided I wanted to leave school and do horses before I’d really decided what I wanted to do, because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to event or show-jump, but I was pretty set on leaving school after my GCSE’s although it took a bit of persuading of Mum to let me!”
Touch wood, it seems that things are working out very nicely indeed so far for Laura. She’s based at The Membury Estate, a fabulous facility in Wiltshire,
“It belongs to Philip and Sarah Walker; they bought Noble Springbok from the Soleys three years ago and they said that they wanted to build a yard, and have somebody based at the yard to help their daughter, and luckily for me, the Soleys suggested that I’d be the best person because I knew Spring inside and out, so they phoned us up with this amazing deal and we haven’t looked back since. It’s an amazing set-up, we’ve got everything, its’ brilliant, and they’re lovely. They’ve supported me loads, they own Ginger May Killinghurst, Fernhill Cristal, Noble Bestman and also it’s not just providing a base to work from, they’re definitely behind me which is really lovely.”
The two 4* horses Rayef and Ginger May Killinghurst, and Noble Bestman who’s headed for Bramham, make up about a third of the dozen horses in Laura’s yard. The rest are, 
“Fernhill Cristal who’s sidelined at the moment, but was about to do a 2*, Stormhill Cossack who’s a new ride, and the rest are babies – five and six year olds that are just coming up through the levels.”
Laura has help from her mum, and from one other girl, Felicity; she trains with Yogi Breisner, and has done since she was riding ponies. She is sponsored by clothing line Holland Cooper, amongst others, but they provide her with trot-up outfits, sight unseen! 
“Literally, I get my outfits on the day! They have very small sizes too! They’re brilliant and they have loads of different stuff so it’s quite nice to have something different for each trot up.”
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Another of her sponsors is Barnsby Saddles, and in perhaps the only sign of nerves, they came out and did a custom fitting the week before Badminton, after Laura was worried about Rayef’s changing shape as he got fitter and leaner,
“They kit out my top three or four horses with their own saddles, and then I just have a couple of saddles that fit the young ones that they share. Rayef has his own dressage and jumping saddle though, and I think it was probably more me having a bit of a panic really, but he suddenly dropped off a bit, and I didn’t think it was fitting quite right, so they very kindly came out and fitted it at six o clock in the morning.”
Laura turned 21 the week of Burghley last year, and fittingly rode clear cross country at her first 4* on the mare, Ginger May Killinghurst, a former Andrew Nicholson ride. I asked her what she’s like to compete, and how she ended up in her barn,
“It happened sort of randomly. The breeders wanted to sell out, I think they only had five Killinghurst horses left. He was into racing, and it was the wife who was interested in the eventing, and she sadly died, so we heard about her by word of mouth, and we just thought it was a rare opportunity to get a 4* horse with so much experience so after discussing it, the Walkers decided it would be a good idea. She does things her own way, she’s quite tricky show-jumping and she’s very, very strong cross-country but I’ve realised how to handle her now I’ve got to know her a bit better and she’s been brilliant for the experience. I’ve always really produced my horses myself, where I’ve known them from youngsters and they go in ‘my way’, and also I found it quite difficult to follow someone like Andrew Nicholson, but he was great, he’s been really helpful. At Burghley, he told me that the more I pull, the more she pulls, because he knows I find her quite strong, and he said I have to be brave and just drop the reins! I did manage to trust him and do that and she gave me a brilliant round, and I did the same at Saumur, and it taught me a lot to be brave enough to do things like that.”
The plan is to aim Ginger May Killinghurst back at Burghley this autumn.  However, Laura told me despite that great Burghley experience last year, nothing quite prepares you for Badminton,
“Everyone says Badminton’s completely different to any other event, and it is, there’s just something about it. It just seems to be bigger than the rest, and more pressure. I think because I went there knowing that there was a chance I could do quite well increased the pressure, whereas last year at Burghley I just wanted to get my first 4* under my belt, I didn’t really have any pressure on there. I put quite a lot of pressure on myself because Rayef is so talented, and I think a lot of people had expectations as well, so that piled the pressure on.  Everyone says that I ride better under pressure, which is quite handy! I think I’ve just learnt to deal with it really.”
At Badminton Laura won the Worshipful Co. of Saddlers’ Saddle for the best rider under 25, and much was made of her youth. I asked her if this made her feel like she had more to prove,
“Not really. I didn’t even realise until they said that I was the youngest there. I think because we’re so used to competing against Mark Todd and Andrew Nicholson etc week in, week out you don’t really see it as that much of a big difference. It only really hit home when I was sat next to Toddy and he said he did his first Badminton ten years before I was even born, so I was like well, if I make a mistake on Rayef I’ve got quite a few years to put it right!”
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 (Laura and Rayef also won the Frank Weldon Memorial Trophy for the youngest British owned and ridden horse in the top 12, as well as the Laurence Rook Trophy for the best British rider not previously completed Badminton and the Cotswold Life Trophy, )
In case you’re reading this and turning green with envy, then yes, it would seem that Laura has it all – she’s lovely, witty, uber-talented obviously, stunning and thrives on nerves, but she does admit to show-jumping being her least favourite phase, (sort of!)
“More than anything it’s because you can drop so far down, for instance the fence I had down at Badminton cost me twenty-five grand, so I think just that you have to be so precise…but also I suppose it depends on what horse you’re sitting on because actually on Noble Bestman, the show-jumping would be my favourite phase because he’s such a good jumper, he’s had one rail down since he started eventing, so it just depends.”
Laura has been eventing professionally for six years now, and with her vast experience on the show pony circuit as a young girl, and then eventing ponies before that, horse show life for her is the norm,
“I’ve got great friends in eventing and I don’t really know any different now, to be honest. In the winter I’ll have a holiday, I’m very lucky the Walkers take me on their family holiday to Barbados. I haven’t skied in probably ten years, but not because I’d be too worried about breaking anything, if you start thinking like that you’d never go out and do anything. If I had the chance to go ski-ing then yes I would, but I quite like my hot holidays lying in the sun doing nothing!”
Before Laura can look forward to her holidays though, she has a busy season still ahead, with her goal being the European Championships in Luhmuhlen in August,
“There are so many good combinations out there, I’ve just got to keep producing my best, and prove that it (Badminton) wasn’t a fluke run really. Rayef will go to Barbury to do the CIC 3*; hopefully he’ll perform well there and then we’ll see what happens. If he’s not selected he’ll go to Burghley and hopefully show them they made a mistake not taking him if that’s what happens!”
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I’d like to thank you for reading, and Laura for her time, and wish her a successful campaign; go eventing!

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