Behind dressage star Laura Bechtolsheimer’s tally of international honours lies years of patient training. She and her father, Dr Wilfried Bechtolsheimer, have a golden rule — never put too much pressure on a horse, whatever level it’s working at. That applies to both physical and mental pressure and extends to the tack they use. Lungeing is an important part of their regime and is often used to relax a horse, get him to stretch and work in rhythm. They’ll also use it to settle a youngster before riding, not only for the rider’s safety, but also to avoid putting unwanted pressure on the horse’s mouth.
For this reason, Laura always lunges her horses in a leather cavesson rather than attaching the lunge line to the bit rings. To encourage a horse to stretch, she uses a rope training aid developed from an idea introduced by her equine osteopath; it’s now made for her by Albion Saddlemakers and sold through www.horsehero.com
It is placed over the horse’s back to rest behind the withers, then passes between the front legs and clips to the bit rings. Laura says that though it’s simple, it doesn’t restrict the horse, but encourages him to work in a frame. “I don’t like side reins because they’re too fixed and restrictive,” she says. “And I’d never use draw reins. But this gives a way to encourage the horse to stretch and lengthen its frame and at the same time offers plenty of freedom.”
Albion KB Bridle
When Laura asks a horse to work, she doesn’t want any discomfort to detract from their lines of communication. That’s the reasoning behind her choice of bridle and saddle, both made by Albion. Her Albion KB bridle was developed by Albion Saddlemakers’ founder Paul Belton with German trainer and Olympic champion Klaus Balkenhol. It has padding on the poll and a cutaway headpiece. A longer than usual browband eliminates the risk of the horse’s ears being pinched or unwanted pressure on the poll. “If you’re focussing on a task, the smallest irritation or discomfort is magnified,” believes Laura. “I’m sure the same applies to horses. The more comfortable my horse is, the easier he’ll find it to focus on me.”
One of the most frequently used bits in her tackroom is Sprenger’s Ultra KK snaffle. This is made from Aurigan, a material that encourages the horse to salivate and relax his jaw, and has a small central lozenge set at an angle to rest comfortably on the tongue. “Even when working the advanced horses at home, I’ll be concentrating on the basics of suppleness and responsiveness, so I’ll use the bit then as well as on the younger ones,” says Laura.
The Bechtolsheimers have used Albion saddles for many years and when the Platinum Royale was launched, Laura found it suited her and her horses. “The horse has to be comfortable, but there isn’t so much padding that I don’t feel close to him,” she says. “And while I don’t want a seat that restricts my movement, I do like something I can get my knee behind if necessary.”