What are Carl Hester’s training secrets?

  • The linchpin of our British dressage team in Rio, Carl Hester shares his fitness and training secrets — from avoiding tack room snacks to making the most out of corners

    Eating healthily

    “I start my day healthily, though it sometimes slides by the evening,” Carl admits.

    “I’m allowed one coffee in the morning, though I’ve replaced the 20 cups of tea a day I used to drink with hot water and lemon.”

    Lunch is salad or scrambled eggs, but Carl’s downfall is his treat-filled tack room. Friends and clients visit constantly, bringing cake and biscuits.

    “I don’t go in the tack room any more,” he says. “I’m trying to encourage them to bring me healthy snacks.”

    Hitting the treadmill

    Carl’s improved diet — combined with giving up smoking 18 months ago and thrice-weekly treadmill sessions — has made a radical difference.

    “My posture’s improved now I’m healthier. I spent so many years riding on painkillers. Exercise has made a huge difference to my hollow back.”

    Mental preparation

    There are myriad ways to prepare for a big occasion. Carl likes to have friends around him.

    “I surround myself with people so I don’t think about what I’m doing until I get on board, where I’m comfortable and confident.

    “It’s different for everyone — if I had to psych myself up with mental pictures or other methods, I couldn’t enjoy my job.

    “To succeed, riding under pressure has to be something you relish — not something that makes you crumble.”

    Riding corners

    “Everything in tests happens from a corner, so take control — don’t let the horse turn on its own,” he says.

    “To stop this, ride on a fairly loose rein towards the corner, then stop riding just before it — the horse will just go round himself.

    “Approach the corner again down the long side on the left rein, but halt in the corner. Turn around the forehand and ride back up the long side on the right rein.

    “Repeat this until the horse waits for an aid.”

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    When things go wrong

    “Don’t take your horse back into the warm-up and bully him. Good dressage comes from relaxation, so finish on a long rein and positively.

    “Also, ask the organiser nicely if you can pay to go back into the arena at the end. There’s no shame in that.”

    Overly harsh trainers concern Carl.

    “They need to remember riders are doing their best. Nobody goes in to upset you, the judge or anyone else. The things I used to say to people I was close to when things went wrong were unspeakable.”

    Don’t miss our 24-page pull-out form guide for Rio 2016 in this week’s issue of Horse & Hound magazine (4 August 2016)

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