British hotshot, Laura Collett is one of the nation’s most adroit young riders, however, it is the way in which she combines natural talent with sheer grit and determination, that makes her a force to be reckoned with on the International circuit.
Collett emerged on the British Eventing scene in 2004 and immediately impressed with Noble Springbok and Walnut. In seven BE runs, she had a 100% completion rate, with six top three finishes, including three victories and all seven runs saw her sail into the top ten standings.
As a rider, she progressed at a staggering rate, going from pre-novice in the 2005 season, to reigning victorious at the CCI** at Tweseldown in 2006 with Fernhill Sox. The pair continued to impress in 2007, as they stepped up to 3* level, the same year as Laura won Gatcombe 2* on Rayef.
Her consistency immediately attracted the attention of the British team selectors and she soon became an imperative member of the squad through the age groups. In 2005, she and Noble Springbok won individual bronze and team gold at the Pony European Championships. She then won individual gold at the next two Junior European Championships in 2006 and 2007, with Fernhill Sox and Rayef respectively, whilst also chipping in to clinch team silver and gold along the way. She was equally as successful at Young Rider level, as she became the European double gold medallist in 2009 with Rayef and won team gold again the following year with Fernhill Crystal.
“Having success at a young age is a huge help, but what I would say to any young rider is to really appreciate and enjoy those days because in the pony, junior and young rider years, because it is just a different world and everything changes when you hit senior level. It is so much harder to be successful. I was extremely fortunate with the horses and ponies that I had for the younger teams. Once you have tasted that success, it is all you want. Sometimes, I do just want to go back to those days, where it was easy and I went to a Championship, knowing that I had a horse that could do well and be competitive. I was always the worst at putting pressure on myself, but I was lucky to always be sat on horses who could come up with the goods. I’m hoping that one day, I can build a string of horses who can do that at Senior level.”
Her British Eventing record alone is impressive, but it is Laura’s talent as a producer of young horses that is really striking, as she looks to further her career in the coming years. To date, she has competed 109 horses at BE standard, of which, 46 she has produced herself. The likes of Mr Bass, Fernhill Sox, Noble Superman, Noble Springbok, Dumbleton, OBOS Cooley, Noble Skyboy and Cooley Lord Lux, have all been brought through the rankings by Laura herself, demonstrating immense talent at personally developing horses to a high standard. Rayef had only one BE intro run before Laura took over the ride on him, Noble Bestman had one pre-novice outing on his card and Allora 3 had only been out twice before she went to Laura’s yard.
“When I was a little kid, we never really had much money, so the only way to event was to buy cheap ponies and bring them on myself. It was the only way to make eventing possible for me, so we would get less experienced ponies and horses, because they were cheaper to buy, produce them and then sell them on. This was the only way to do what I wanted to do really and I truly enjoy it. It is all I have ever known and I love bringing them on from youngsters and building a real partnership with them.”
The success she has had with home-grown horses is phenomenal. Fernhill Sox brought her European success at Junior level, Noble Bestman and Rayef went on to complete Badminton, with the former also completing Burghley and Noble Springbok did not finish outside of the top three in his six BE runs with Laura.
Her current string of horses combines self-nurtured talents with vastly experienced mounts and thus far, it is proving a recipe for success. Dianne Chappell’s, Grand Manoeuvre joined Team Collett in the Summer of 2014, after being ridden by Nick Gauntlett and the pair are now one of Britain’s most experienced combinations, having completed Badminton and competed for the Senior Team at the European Championships at Blair Atholl Castle in 2015.
Unlike with her other horses, Laura had the luxury of taking him straight to the CIC3* at Hartpury, after just one competitive run together. The pair jumped double clear to only add time faults to their dressage score, showing immediate success as a partnership. In his time with Laura, the pair have never scored a dressage mark higher than 48.2, making them somewhat masters of the first phase.
Comparing the experience of producing a horse herself and taking on an accomplished ride, Laura said:
“It was an honour to be asked to ride an experienced horse like Grand Manoeuvre, he is amazing. However, it does take you a while to build up a partnership with them, because you don’t know them and they don’t really know you and obviously every rider is different. If you have had a horse from a youngster, they only know your aids and you feel like you have a proper partnership because they’re ‘yours’ in every single way. You know them inside-out and they trust you completely because you have grown together.
It’s very different taking on an experienced horse. With horses like Mr Bass and Cooley Again, who I’ve had from being four-year-olds, when I step them up a level, it doesn’t seem such a big deal or jump, because you know them so well and you know they’re capable of doing it because I wouldn’t be stepping them up if you thought otherwise. It takes a long time and you have to be patient to produce them up the levels, but the reward is even greater, because you know that they’re the product of your hard work and there is nobody else who can take the credit for it.”
At present, Laura’s Lambourn-based yard is full of shining, young talents. Mr Bass is a truly remarkable horse, who has achieved ample success in his short career. Prior to his last outing at Bramham, he had not had a jumping penalty across the country since June 2015 and he has only finished outside of the top twenty on four occasions in 35 BE runs, making him one of the most consistent young horses on the circuit. He was also victorious on French soil back in 2015, when Laura piloted him to the gold medal at the vastly competitive Young Horse Championships in Le Lion.
“Mr Bass owes me absolutely nothing as a horse. I totally adore him. I sold him to an owner as a five-year-old, but he failed the vet really badly, so we obviously didn’t end up selling him. From then on, he’s just been known as my fun horse, which is quite funny considering what he has achieved. I’ve never had any expectations with him, because he was just like a toy for me.”
“He has obviously now achieved a huge amount, but I never really like to look to the future with him too much, because I think that is when things go wrong. He could be anything, but I just enjoy riding him. He always puts a smile on my face; regardless of how bad things are, he’s always the one who makes me happy and that means an awful lot. I don’t expect anything with him, because he has already exceeded any expectations we could ever have had. He was my little hero when he won the seven-year-old class at Le Lion and if he never did anything after that, then he would already have done everything I could ever have dreamt of. I try to keep him as a fun horse and I always think of him like that, because I worry that if I start thinking of him as a serious horse, something will go wrong, because that’s just horses. He is my enjoyment and my absolute baby. I cannot thank him enough.”
Despite her vast success, Laura has also experienced the bitter lows of the sport, in particular, 2013 was a tough year, on a number of counts. Whilst competing at Tweseldown, she suffered a horrific fall, resulting in her being hospitalised in a coma for a week with serious injuries. Amazingly, Collett was back out again in late August and went on to compete at Boekelo, Waregem, and Gatcombe that year, in addition to winning at Wellington with Noble Bestman on her first run out succeeding the fall.
Speaking of Rayef, Laura said,
“You try and not have favourites, but you can’t help it. When you’ve been through things together like Rayef and I have, it’s hard not to idolise him. He means the world to me. When I had to sell Noble Springbok, Yogi Breisner said to me that I would be able to buy four horses, one of which will take you to Badminton and this pony will set you up for life. Yogi was so right, because Rayef was one of the horses that we bought with that money and he took me to my first Badminton and won me four gold medals. He is a horse of a life-time, but it wasn’t all rosey with him. He would let me down, as much as he did amazing things, so he taught me the whole range of highs and lows. You have to learn this at some stage, but I think learning it at such a young age probably helped me deal with the tough times which have followed.
“When I was in hospital, all I wanted to do was go and ride Rayef. He was my best friend and I absolutely loved him. You have to have something to look forward to and when things are going wrong, you have to have those pick-me-ups and as sad as it may sound, for me, the horses are my pick me up.
“I was hugely lucky to have the support team that I had behind me, because they were the ones that went through hell. I was in a coma for a week, so I didn’t have a clue what was going on and it was my friends and family that had the worst part of it. They had the not knowing and worrying how I was going to be. When I woke up, luckily, they had all my pain under control and I am quite stubborn, so I kept ignoring everything that the doctors were saying and refused to believe that there was anything wrong with me. I was signed off from eventing for six weeks, so I immediately booked in for an event as soon as I could, I think it was maybe six weeks and six days after the accident and I made sure that as soon as I was allowed to go and be signed back on, I was there. I booked an appointment for that very day, I think having a plan always helps.
“I was immensely lucky to be able to go to Oaksey House, the rehab facility in Lambourn. Without them, I would never have got back as quickly as I did, because they have the mentality of ‘you can do something and we will help you do it’, whereas normal doctors go more on the safe side. They pushed me to my limits, but they know what they are telling you is going to help you in the long term. So, I was really pushed to recover and I had a fantastic team behind me. My head girl at the time, Felicity Roberts had the horses tuned up. She was schooling them and had them gallop fit for when I was ready. I basically rocked up and bobbled around on top of some great horses, sleeping a lot in between. Noble Bestman carried me round and I was just very, very lucky. It’s not until a few weeks afterwards that I realised that I probably shouldn’t have been riding. I thought I was ok, I thought I was ready, but it wasn’t until I truly was ok afterwards that I looked back and realised that I was lucky to be sat on good horses because I wasn’t really ready. Yogi Breisner had said to me that I wasn’t allowed to ride the younger horses, that I must stick to the older, more experienced horses because they would look after me and he was so right.”
In the four seasons since her horrific accident, Collett has really pushed on and shown the kind of metal that will make her a champion. In 402 runs spanning from 2013-2017, she has only finished outside of the top 20 on 84 occasions. In this period, she has finished in the top ten 235 times and is on course to make this season her most successful in terms of top ten finishes, as she has already picked up 28 in 44 outings. With 2017 well-underway, she already has wins on Mr Bass, London 52, Calmaro and Constance O Cool and has finished in the top five 18 times, so there is plenty to look forward to for this season and beyond for Team Collett.