‘The best bunch of horses we’ve ever had’: go behind the scenes at Carl and Charlotte’s yard

  • Ever wondered what life is like on the yard of Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin, Britain’s king and queen of dressage? We visit their Gloucestershire base to find out what a typical day looks like

    Don’t miss our dressage special of Horse & Hound magazine, with our exclusive interview with Carl and Charlotte, out tomorrow (22 March 2018)

    6.30am – ‘Super-groom’ Alan Davies arrives on the yard to give the horses their breakfast

    There are 17 horses currently in residence at Oaklebrook Mill, but one in particular that Alan makes a beeline for each morning.

    “I can’t really admit to having a favourite, but Blueberry [Valegro] is still the first one I go to in the morning,” he says with a smile.

    6.45am – the rest of the staff arrive, and the horses are given their morning hay, mucked out, checked over and have their rugs changed as necessary

    International travelling groom Alan is joined on the team by grooms and riders Sadie Smith, who successfully competes her own horse Keystone Dynamite to small tour, and also rides for Carl; Chloe Hunter, who rides and warms-up for Charlotte, and Lucy Scudamore, who rides for Charlotte and will also be learning the ropes of grooming on the road with Alan. There are also several part-time staff, and no fewer than 10 dogs.

    7.30am – Alan and the girls begin tacking up and warming up the first set of horses to be exercised

    The horses are schooled four days per week: Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. On Wednesdays and Saturdays they are hacked, and Sundays are days off.

    “Horses don’t reach grand prix because of pressure and endless riding. We work them four days a week and focus more on fitness and maintaining them,” says Carl.

    “That way the last the long-term too,” adds Charlotte. “We want to keep them fit, healthy and willing.”

    7.45am – Carl and Charlotte arrive on the yard to begin riding.

    Among Charlotte’s current top horses are Mount St John Freestyle, her World Equestrian Games hopeful, Mount St John VIP, En Vogue (below), Florentina and Gio. Carl has Hawtins Delicato (above), Ekitof and Nip Tuck, who will shortly be returning from a holiday.

    “This is the best bunch of horses we’ve ever had,” says Carl.

    Alan, Sadie, Chloe and Lucy have an efficient system, working like clockwork to get each horse groomed, tacked up and warmed up ready for Carl or Charlotte to get on.

    “Everyone here rides all of the horses,” says Carl. “Other young riders may be surprised to hear, ‘Oh I rode Blueberry this morning — Carl made me do a line of one-time changes’, but the girls are all great riders; I don’t want a yard where I don’t trust the staff. It gives them an ideal education — we’re producing people here too.”

    2pm – With most horses worked, Carl and Charlotte turn their attention to clients and teaching

    “Charlotte rides around nine horses per day — she’s incredibly fit,” says Carl, who admits he has lost count of the number of clients he teaches.

    All the horses come out for a second time during the afternoons, whether that’s being turned out, going on the horse walker or hand-grazed. A few times a week, Alan takes a couple down the road to Hartpury College to use the water treadmill.

    5.30pm – the horses receive their evening feeds and hay

    “My job is to keep everything as regular as possible and running like clockwork,” says Alan, who is the epitome of calm around the yard.

    “It’s exciting to be seeing the younger horses doing so well. But it’s also a slightly scary prospect, having the team pressures building up again. For the past seven years, everything revolved around each year’s championships. Since Blueberry’s retirement we’ve been focusing on the younger horses but now we’re back to thinking about teams, and things like flying the horses.”

    9pm – Alan and the girls take it in turns to do the night shift, doing a last check of the horses and topping up hay

    With so much responsibility for such high-profile equine athletes, it’s incredible how unshakeable Alan appears.

    “I don’t really get stressed — I only get upset if the horses aren’t happy and well,” he says.

    Don’t miss our exclusive behind-the-scenes interview with Carl and Charlotte in the dressage special issue of Horse & Hound magazine, out tomorrow (22 March 2018)


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