Young lovers turn rivals in Olympic horse ballet

British dressage rider Laura Bechtolsheimer will be fired by the ex-factor

Laura Bechtolsheimer's bid for Olympic glory could have been ripped from the steamy pages of Jilly Cooper's blockbuster novel Rivals: petite honey-blonde heiress from the English shires pitting her equestrian skills against her ex-lover, a dashingly handsome Teuton idol who will be astride the most expensive steed ever to compete in the esoteric world of dressage.

Bechtolsheimer, 27, herself German-born but with an accent more Roedean than Rhineland, rides a 17-year-old flaky bay gelding she calls Alf in the British team while her first boyfriend, Matthias Rath, 28, represents his homeland as their No 1 on Totilas, a £10m stallion purchased from Holland who is the Black Caviar of the dressage ring.

They have been rivals on horseback since their teenage romance broke up after she started university in Bristol. She says they are still "quite good friends, although I haven't spoken to him recently".

Their next encounter will be in Greenwich Park in August when, aboard her beloved Alf, she will attempt to out-manoeuvre her ex and his 12-year-old equine superstar in the bizarre event she calls "ballet on horseback".

"Of course I want to beat him, but I want to beat everybody," says Bechtolsheimer. "I always used to beat him but since he got this amazing new horse it's been pretty even. Naturally it will be rather competitive between us. But it's no big deal. I think we both see the funny side of it."

Despite her surname, Bechtolsheimer says she couldn't feel more British, having come here with her parents from Mainz as a one-year-old, to emerge as a prime hope for 2012 gold in an event in which Britain has never won an Olympic medal.

A granddaughter of the billionaire property magnate Karl-Heinz Kipp, who founded the Massa chain of department stores, her upbringing could not have been more Anglicised. Ponies, private school, a degree in politics and philosophy from Bristol and progression to the world's No 2 rider – and the best in Britain – on the idiosyncratic Alf, "a bit of a nutter".

The public conception may be that it is all jolly jodhpurs, Jilly Cooper and rolls in the hay in the back of horse boxes, but equestrianism is actually more blood, sweat and fears in a sport that demands the ultimate in discipline from animal and rider.

Particularly dressage, sandwiched between high-risk eventing and the more populist showjumping at Greenwich Park where, sitting straight-backed in top hat and tails, Bechtolscheimer will be putting Alf through his elegant paces in a sort of Dancing on Hooves, involving choreographed canters, quicksteps and pirouettes set to music.

It was a freestyle routine to the tune of 'Apache' by The Shadows which helped them to silver at the World Championships in Kentucky two years ago and a first-ever gold for a British team at the last year's Europeans. "He's a fussy one about about music," she says. "He doesn't like reggae and hates Elvis. A bit of a sensitive flower."

Alf, bred in Denmark, was purchased for her by her horse trainer father, Dr Wilfried, eight years ago. "He came with a lot of baggage, a wild one with a bad reputation. But as soon as I got hold of him I thought, 'I can work with you'. Now I love him to bits. We're chums. I know him inside out, every twinge he feels, I feel too."

Why Alf? "It's after that big ginger alien character that used to be on TV. My grandparents live in Switzerland where they show this American sci-fi programme a lot."

She has never been labelled a Plastic Brit, and is word-perfect on the National Anthem, which she has sung many times. "My surname is the only thing that's German about me. I have grown up in the English countryside in Gloucestershire and riding has been part of my daily life since I was young. But it was only when I was 15 or 16 that I got hooked on dressage. Some people might say it's boring, but it's not.

"It's like a mixture of gymnastics and ballet for horses, which need to be extremely refined in the way they move but must have enormous strength to be able to hold certain positions."

At the luxurious 28-stable family stud, she helps her father school a string of young horses. Not that it has always been a bed of English roses for the Bechtolsheimers.

One of Laura's three brothers, Felix, a rock group singer, has battled heroin addiction. "He had a really bad drug problem when I was in my teens," she says. "But he's been clean for over 10 years now and counsels others. It was a rough time for the family. We used to visit him in rehab in Florida and it gave me a new perspective on life. I got to see a lot of things that most people my age never would, especially a country girl like me."

She says the episode brought the family closer and believes their united support will help her through the pressures of an Olympics where her first love is now her main rival.

But when they start playing their tune, she will have eyes only for the new man in her life. A ginger nut named Alf.

Your guide to dressage

What is it?

Dressage, which comes from the French for "training", tries to show understanding between horse and rider through a series of movements at different speeds in a 60m x 20m arena. The final freestyle stage is set to music when horses perform intricate moves such as pirouettes.

How is it judged?

A panel of seven award marks out of 10 for each movement, deducting points for errors and poor style.

Who's in the team?

Laura Bechtolsheimer, 27, riding Mistral Hojris; Charlotte Dujardin, 25 (Valegro); Carl Hester, 44 (Uthopia); Richard Davison, 57 (Artemis).

What are Team GB's chances?

Excellent, despite never having won an Olympic medal. Bechtolsheimer is current World Championship silver medallist and the British team won gold and three individual medals at the last European Championships.

What happened in Beijing?

Holland's Anky van Grunsven won individual gold, the sixth woman in Olympic history to win three successive gold medals in an individual event. Germany won team gold.

When and where?

2–9 August, at Greenwich Park.

Alan Hubbard

Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Suite dreams: the JW Marriott in Venice
travelChic new hotels in 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect