Q&A: Laura Tomlinson MBE
Lucinda Reid talks to Laura Tomlinson MBE about how education played an important part in her career as an Olympic dressage rider
How would you describe your school life at St Mary’s Calne?
St Mary’s is a very academic school but it certainly nurtures the fun in sport and we definitely enjoyed playing sport together. Back then, I was very much into my hockey and I ended up playing for West England when I was 16. If you were above what the school could offer then they were very supportive and allowed us to play top level sports elsewhere. I was quite demanding as I was playing top level hockey and trying to ride on British teams for my age group, but I was definitely supported by the school. That support was essential and I wasn’t held back at all.
With your success in hockey and riding, how did you decide between the two sports?
I really, really enjoyed playing hockey as a hobby but riding was my life, so it was not a difficult decision. For me, I could never have chosen anything else over riding and I knew there was never going to be a time in my life when I wasn’t riding. Therefore, I made the decision after university to pursue riding and gave myself one year to see if riding could become my career. However, I still felt it was important that I finished my education and got a degree as a good education will stand you in good stead for later.
How did your education help you to develop as a professional sportswoman?
I think it gave me a really good grounding as I had different groups of friends who were very supportive of my riding but didn’t think differently about me.
When I was competing, my friends kept me grounded and showed me that there as a life outside of what I was doing.
What has been the highlight of your sporting career so far?
I would have to say, winning team gold in London 2012. It is a hard moment to describe, but London 2012 was so special as to be able to compete at your home games and then win a gold medal was an amazing experience. After the Olympics, I also had so many opportunities and got to meet people from different sports and different walks of life. It was a very special time.
What challenges have you had in your career?
Like any athlete, I’ve had lots of challenges. In my young rider’s career I had a few injured horses in one season and it was completely out of my control, so my under 21s career was very up and down. My Olympic horse was also quite a handful so I had to work very hard to get him to where he needed to be. However, I think it is healthy to have some real lows as it makes you realise how much you want it.
What advice would you give to the next generation of riders?
Learn as much as you can from all your experiences, good or bad. We learn more from the shows that go badly than the ones that go well. Plus, never sacrifice your education and still take part in school sports as it will all help. I’m sure that having played so much team sport in school has made me a more valuable team member now. Therefore, embrace as much of school life as you can and keep training hard.