Carl Hester’s Christmas Day: ‘I have been known to take Valegro for a Christmas hack’

  • Binge-watching horsey DVDs, hunting and overindulging on Christmas dinner – top riders are no different to the rest of us. Here, Carl Hester shares the details of his usual Christmas antics

    “Normally, Christmas is here at my place – I love being home and I’m always home on Christmas Day. This year has made me limpet on to my house even more than I do normally, and so this Christmas will be no different in that respect. We have plenty of space for friends and dogs, and people who might not have conventional family Christmases because of horses or other reasons. Of course this year it will have to be a smaller affair. But I can’t wait actually – I just love those sorts of days. This year, every Sunday has become a bit like Christmas Day: bumbling around the house, going on a walk with the dogs, heading up to the yard and feeding my birds. I love it, and that’s what I’ll be doing on Christmas Day.

    “Christmas is usually a three-day affair here – we celebrate Christmas Eve Danish style, with a fun supper of things like new potatoes cooked in brown sugar, duck and red cabbage. We play ‘pass the presents’, where you throw a dice and if you get a six you get a present from the centre of the table. It’s all on a timer, and you can take presents off other people… it’s lots of fun, but of course we share them out at the end.

    “I’m lucky enough to know a lovely local lady called Belinda Sparey, who is known around here for her fantastic cooking. Belinda and her husband have become part of the furniture on Christmas as they come to help cook and eat with us, before heading home to cook and eat with their own family. It reminds me of that classic episode of The Vicar of Dibley – eating sprouts at everyone’s houses.

    “I don’t always ride on Christmas Day, but I have been known to take Valegro for a Christmas hack, which I absolutely love! There’s no one about, and it always clears my head.”

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    “On Boxing Day, we go out to support our local hunt in either Newent or Ledbury. There’s always another big lunch, usually with international rider Jackie Beaven and her husband Keith. By the end of it all I don’t want to look at food or drink again for a while!

    “One year my friend Maggie Jackman, British Dressage’s sponsorship manager, came to stay for Christmas and brought her lovely coloured cob so we could hack together. She went to check Bob the cob on Christmas Day night, but unfortunately came back through a side gate – I had failed to tell her there had been a leak and there was a six foot hole there! How she survived the fall after a long lunch and lots of booze is a mystery to this day…”

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