Beauty and beast with ambition
Model Laura Toogood has set her sights on representing Ireland in the 2012 Olympic Games.
Laura has long harboured ambitions to represent the country at the highest level of equestrian sport -- but the deaths of a close friend and her trainer in separate horse riding accidents made her fearful of the sport.
Now the 24-year-old, who is currently doing a PHD in Informational Studies at UCD, has reignited her ambition.
She has given up the cross-country riding which claimed the lives of her friends and will now concentrate on the genteel but technically demanding dressage.
Speaking about the deaths of Simon Long, her childhood trainer, who was killed on the cross-country phase of the Burghley Three Day Eventing competition in 1999, and friend Eleanor Brennan, who was only 21 when she was killed in 2007 in a separate cross-country accident, Ms Toogood described how the trauma made her physically ill at the start of each race:
"I began to have a deep fear of having a similar accident to that of my trainer and I battled with my nerves for several years. I remember getting so nervous that I would be vomiting before getting on my horse."
She continued, "I would be in the box starting the cross-country and I'd suddenly start to think to myself that I could die in the next ten minutes because a one-off blunder could lead to the most terrible consequences."
However, after getting help from sports psychologists and learning how to manage her fears, the Bath-born beauty decided to change the focus of her passion to dressage.
Now, the stunning blonde, who has recently made her mark on the international catwalk scene for fashion powerhouse Armani, is determined to try and make the Olympic Games in London 2012.
"My ultimate ambition is to go to the Olympics but it takes a lot of hard work, dedication and a little bit of luck. London will be tough to make, and if not there will always be 2016.''
Speaking about her horse which she has just had flown over, she said: "My horse, Stuart Ruxton Silberstern, is very well bred; his sire was an Olympic Silver medalist in dressage and his dam a Grand Prix Dressage horse. I've already competed in several international competitions so hopefully these experiences will be helpful."
Asked why she has chosen to ride for Ireland rather than her English homeland, Toogood explained, "I have been given a lot of opportunities since I moved over here so it would be nice to give something back."