H&H dressage editor’s blog: Carl, Valegro and the curse of fame

  • The media can’t get enough of Carl Hester. During a recent trip to Florida — where he was helping his US pupil Katherine Bateson-Chandler and appearing in the medallists’ parade at the World Equestrian Festival — the media frenzy was no less clamorous than it is this side of the Atlantic.

    Meanwhile, a story on www.dressage-news.com announced that Valegro is set to retire after the Rio Olympics and Carl is thinking about hanging up his competitive boots then, too. No doubt that headline was cocaine for the dressage masses in terms of website hits.

    What’s tough on riders with such high profiles like Carl is that everything they say is spun into even the thinnest web of a story.

    Basically, nobody knows what the future holds for Valegro. Carl has owned enough horses to know that best laid plans often end in disaster. Who hasn’t had a horse go lame at a crucial moment? It’s part and parcel of the business.

    So Carl and Charlotte [Dujardin] don’t speculate too much and take things week by week, month by month with their superstar. They’re tangibly grateful to have a fit, sound, happy, popular athlete. Success on top of that is a bonus.

    Continued below…

    It’s no secret that Carl has considered his own retirement from the ring, wanting – as he does for Valegro – to bow out while still on a high.

    Requests must be flooding in for him to go abroad and coach teams; he is after all not only a supreme rider, but as he’s proved (with Charlotte and countless others) a particularly gifted trainer to the point of genius.

    He has a waiting list for pupils and frequently has to turn down training requests. Being trained by him is a badge of honor: A few years ago, we ran a feature in Horse & Hound magazine called ‘Carl Hester’s web of influence’. One grand prix rider was so upset at having been accidentally left out of the story that they were insistent we should clarify the situation in a future issue. It means that much just to be trained by him.

    And that kind of idolised position comes with its pitfalls. It’s hard living life in the public eye. One throw-away comment gets weaved into a story, and before you can blink, it’s all over the web and on every forum in the worldwide dressage domain.

    The fact is, the situation with Valegro is “all up in the air” (Carl’s words to me yesterday), and the situation painted by other media outlets isn’t entirely accurate.

    It all depends on how we feel after Rio — it’s all ifs — but he’s [the journalist concerned] turned it into definites and it’s not quite right,” Carl went on.

    The message he sent me yesterday was signed off with a little ‘smiley’ — only it wasn’t smiling. It was the little frustrated face with its row of bright white teeth bared.

    In person, Carl is open, chatty, funny and irreverent. He’s willing to give up his time — with good humour — for the never-ending queue of people who want a piece of him. He’s professional (and kind) enough to rise above it when those words are taken out of context or beefed up into a clickbait story.

    Inaccurate portrayals of things he’s said have happened before; it comes with the territory, and he’s been in the business a long time. He also understands the pressures on journalists to deliver the next big, exclusive scoop.

    For now, he’ll get on with his day-to-day job of training up the next stars in his stable.

    And maybe, just maybe, he’ll set the record straight in his next H&H comment (26 February issue).

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