An Exerpt from Stephen Clarke's Book Dressage Dreams - The Canter Pirouette - With Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris

Now Avaliable In Time for the Holidays on Amazon.com

Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris execute the canter pirouette explained in detail by Stephen Clarke Dressage Dreams
Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris execute the canter pirouette explained in detail by Stephen Clarke Dressage Dreams

The pirouette is a circle executed on two tracks, with a radius equal to the length of the horse. During the pirouette the forefeet and the outside hind foot move round the inside hind foot, which forms the very centre of the circle and in a perfect situation should spring from the ground and return, virtually to the same spot. The horse should adopt a soft, submissive bend into the direction in which he is turning, remaining ‘on the bit’ with a light contact, maintaining a good cadence and the appearance of a clear canter rhythm, although the feet of the diagonal are not touching the ground absolutely simultaneously. The poll stays the highest point during the entire movement. The horse maintains his impulsion and never moves backwards or deviates sideways with the hindquarters. There is a visible lowering of the haunches, with the horse carrying a greater proportion of his body weight on his hindquarters. The rider should maintain perfect lightness of the horse while accentuating the collection. Six to eight canter strides are desired to demonstrate that the rider is in control of the turn.

Laura Bechtolsheimer in Hong Kong
Laura Bechtolsheimer in Hong Kong

Laura and Mistral Hojris have recently made a huge impact on the world stage of International Dressage. This highly talented young lady has developed a partnership with the immensely powerful and athletic Mistral Hojris that have spectators and judges alike sitting on the edge of their seats. At ‘s Hertogenbosch this year, while I was awarding this combination 10s for some of the final Piaffe Passage tour of the Grand Prix Special, my writer asked if I wished to add a comment to go alongside the 10s. the only word that sprang to mind was ‘Wow!’ Here in this picture the pair are performing the Canter Pirouette - the ultimate in collection. This massively powerful horse is carrying virtually all of his body weight on his hindquarters during this phase of the canter stride without any apparent effort or stress, which is testament to the years of gymnastic training it has taken to develop the suppleness and muscle power which allows this most difficult of all canter exercises to be performed with such assured ease and fluency. The lowering of the hindquarters is clearly visible along with the lightness and mobility of the shoulders. His self carriage is evident with his neck in a natural position with poll being the highest part and the front line of his face just ahead of the vertical, whilst accepting an elastic contact with the bit. He is positively, but without exaggeration, positioned into the direction in which he is turning with a soft compliant contact on the inside (right) rein, allowing the rider to take his forehand easily around his hindquarters with the, still soft, but controlling outside(left) rein. The rider’s body position is perfectly balanced over the horse’s centre of gravity with her outside (left) leg drawn slightly back in order to ‘guard’ the hindquarters from deviating to the outside of the turn. Laura’s inside leg (not visible in this picture) will be quietly, but effectively, by the girth, maintaining the energy and activity of each canter stride.

Laura Bechtolsheimer - The Rider - My Most Memorable Test

Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris
Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris

The competition in Neumunster in 2006 where Mistral Hojris, or Alf as we call him at home, and I rode the Intermediary II is my most memorable test. It was our first time at that level together and we were in total harmony. He was listening so intently to everything I was asking him and he executed every movement so effortlessly and willingly. It was this test that told me beyond a shadow of a doubt that he could do the Grand Prix and do it well. The feeling I got from this test put to rest the doubts I may have had from listening to those who tried to convince me that Alf was a bad choice. I didn’t know before we had bought him that several professional riders had tried him but found him far too difficult. Alf had run off with big men through several arenas totally out of control. Many said to my father that Alf was dangerous and it was criminal for him to let me ride Alf. Perhaps if we had known these things about Alf before we bought him we may have thought otherwise. But we had time for Alf we didn’t need to rush him and this test was Alf paying me back for all the hard work we put into him. The arena at Neumunster was positioned close to the audience, he was very nervous. We entered and halted at X. Alf took a really deep breath. All the way through the test I kept saying to myself this is great. I had tears in my eyes at the end. This test gave me confidence to keep going with him. We won the class on 70.78%. The next week we scored only 50% but I knew we still had lots of training to do. Alf showed me the week before he had the talent and desire to do it, only his brain was stopping him and that was something I could work on.

My Daily Routine


When I am not away competing, I could have up to seven horses to ride at home in Cirencester. I ride them all in the morning because they all come out again to do exercises in the day. I divide my afternoons between the yard and working for the website, Horsehero.com. We not only train our own horses but we have a small breeding operation as well. It is a wonderful experience teaching the youngsters that you have known from birth and watching them develop into good riding horses. I also spend time on my own fitness which I feel is an essential part to being a good athlete – which a dressage rider must be. I have lots of friends who do not ride so when I am out with them I can switch off from the horse world as they have no idea what 73% means. When competing I wouldn’t say I was a superstitious person but I do find I wear the same set of small pearl earrings. Before a competition I like to visualise the tests in detail several times so there are no surprises on the day. I watch a few tests with my father and take in his comments. Sometimes if time permits I will have a nap just before I put on my top hat and tails. When riding the actual test I see nothing but the ‘dance floor’. I have complete tunnel vision, I am good at putting pressure on myself as I don’t like to let people down but I also keep this pressure in perspective so it is positive and creative.

How My Riding Career Began
I started riding when I was three on my parent’s farm in Gloucestershire, England. Whenever they took the dog for a walk I would tack up my pony and go along with them. Initially I evented, jumped, hunted and did anything that required nerves and speed but when I was thirteen I discovered dressage with all of its perfection, skill, and concentration - I was hooked. It was a big help when starting out that my father was a Grand Prix rider. His advice was then and still is now vital to my success. Ian Woodhead, British pony squad trainer, taught me the basics. Markus Gribbe was with me during the big step up to Grand Prix. Klaus Balkenhol helps me now and it was with him and my father that my scores really started to rise. It doesn’t always go right in dressage but I have a very supportive family who are the machinery behind what makes all of this possible.

Dr Wilfried Bechtolsheimer The Trainer - Training Laura and Mistral Hojris

Dr Wilfried Bechtolsheimer The Trainer
Dr Wilfried Bechtolsheimer The Trainer

I recognised not only talent in my daughter, Laura, when she was very young but also star quality. Laura has had set backs in her career like any rider has but it is her ability to bounce back that makes the difference. When her horse Placido, for instance, developed a tumour on his leg and she thought she would not be able to qualify for the GB Young Rider Squad, I offered Laura my mare Winniza to ride and she clicked instantly with her. However shortly after this mare also ran into difficulties with a virus so Laura was again without a horse and now running out of time to qualify. I then offered Laura my Grand Prix horse Douglas Dorsey who can be strong and wilful. Laura was not keen on the idea initially but after only a few days training with him, she said to me ‘I had lost my horse’ as she wasn’t giving him back. This is why I find teaching my own daughter at this supreme level of dressage a joy - she never gives up, she looks at setbacks not as disappointments but as opportunities to try something else – something different. I think this is also what they call ‘star quality’ and she has it - it goes beyond talent and she has that too. During our training sessions at home we work on every aspect of the horse and rider, Laura’s position, Alf ’s way of going and the execution of the movements.


Laura likes horses which are very big and have lots of motivation, and Alf is all of this. He may not always be the safest of rides for her but he is the sort of horse she has always clicked with so a lot of our time is spent learning to control Alf while not interfering with his big extravagant movement. At a show we have a full training session two hours before Laura’s test time and then twenty minutes before she and Alf are to enter the arena we come out to the practice arena just to relax Alf and loosen him up. At this point Alf needs very little motivation, he knows what is coming and our job is not to over excite him. Laura is my only student as I am not a professional trainer. In the past I have trained Carl Hester and a few others but now all my attention is on Laura. My knowledge of riding stems primarily from the training I received from Harry Boldt, Herbert Rehbein and Sheila Wilcox, although an eventer Sheila greatly influenced my dressage. I believe strongly in the classical’ approach to riding and being kind to the horse always comes first. It has been rewarding to train our horses ourselves in a kind way and to see them win because of how they have been trained. Judges can only see what is in the arena not the training at home -perhaps they need to be more aware of competitor’s training practices. I have noticed at a number of competitions that there are many young A squad riders coming up through the ranks from Holland, Germany and Great Britian who have a solid grounding in the ‘classical’ way of training and this is good.

Mistral Hojris The Horse - A Day In The Life

Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris
Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris

Mistral Hojris or ‘Alf ’ as he is known at home is a big gentle giant. He was given the name Alf after a cartoon character who was a big orange fluffy alien. Alf is a very cuddly horse who likes nothing more than to have someone around to talk to him and pat him all day. At home Alf has a pretty consistent routine. He is fed in the morning and then is ridden or trained by me. He is then washed down and dried by his groom Carole who looks after him at home and when we are away competing so she knows every hair on Alf ’s body. The washing is followed by an extensive grooming session which we believe is a reward for the horse and something they can look forward to. During this grooming we use a traditional technique called ‘banging’ or ‘strapping’. This is where the groom takes a dry clean cloth and slaps it against the horses body at certain points (of which there are three)and then slides the cloth off. This is repeated about twenty times at each of the three points. My father was taught this method by Sheila Wilcox the famous British event rider. We are probably one of the very few stables left who still use this system of grooming but it has done Alf ’s sensitive physique a world of good keeping him toned and sound as the muscles tighten and relax throughout theslapping process.

Despite Alf ’s enormous size he is such a big baby and relies on me for confidence and security especially in the show ring. However, once he has completed his test and is feeling much more familiar with his environment his confidence bubbles over and he can become the world’s biggest show-off and very difficult to handle. Most times at prize givings I have to ride his stable mate the reliable Douglas Dorsey who remains calm throughout all the applause, ribbons and loud music. Alf is very big and very strong so having lots of time to work with him keeps him relaxed and amenable. He is a lovable giant and I knew he was the one for me the instant my father showed him to me on a video. He hasn’t disappointed and we have only just begun.

Now Avaliable In Time for the Holidays on Amazon.com




GET THE LATEST NEWS DELIVERED TO YOUR MAILBOX