H&H dressage editor’s blog: pay attention at the convention

  • No matter how uncomfortable the seating, if a show’s good, it’s only when the curtain falls that you realise your lower half has gone to sleep. After two days at the British Dressage national convention (24-25 November) with Carl Hester, it was only when I finally unfurled myself and the Sunday evening pins and needles kicked in that I realised how totally mesmerised I’d been.

    Despite his public image of supreme confidence, Carl had admitted to dreading the convention. There was only one moment when he looked uncomfortable: he was introduced to the nearly 2000-strong audience, the clapping and cheering (and wolf whistling — well done Desi Dillingham) went on for so long that Carl twisted with embarrassment like a lone schoolboy on a spot-lit stage.

    But he quickly settled into his usual balance of insightful training techniques (check out H&H’s Twitter feed from the convention at www.twitter.com/horseandhound) and playful stories, including horses being accidentally sold thanks to his notoriously lax paperwork skills.

    The continual chatter of the pair of elderly dressage dears next to me was the only distraction. The quality of Hartpury’s sound system isn’t great so you have to pay close attention anyway; additional chit-chat makes it even worse. Why come to a sold-out, much-anticipated event to talk throughout and decline my (fairly) polite request to belt up?

    While Britain was battered by wind and rain (and the flooding round Hartpury was really bad — Frampton-on-Severn swiftly became Frampton-in-Severn) Carl cajoled, shouted, implored and guided his six female riders to improve themselves and their widely varying horses. He has such skill in pinpointing horses’ problems and devising exercises to fix them.

    His troubleshooting methods are so effective yet so simple; rich pickings for riders of all levels. I certainly had plenty of time to think about them in the 51-minute queue to get out of the car park.

    Among his training gems, he explained that riders whose horses lean on one rein should not correct the crookedness by pulling repeatedly on the heavy rein, but should use exercises — such as renvers (essentially shoulder-in with counter-flexion) for example — to encourage the horse to take weight in the light rein.

    I’m so pleased that Britain can now produce a convention to rival the ever-strong continental equivalents. Indeed, some Germans travelled over specifically for this event. I’ll wager this is just the early trickle of riders seeking help from our gold medal-winning nation that will soon turn into a torrent.

    Read our selection of Carl’s most useful training tips

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