Set in the beautiful Gloucestershire countryside, Carl Hester’s dressage yard is quite something.
Turning on to a long, picturesque driveway that approaches an “olde worlde” stone cottage, we are greeted by a magnificent peacock standing proudly in the middle of the gravel car park – and believe me, you would be proud. Carl’s yard really is amazing.
As we get out of the car for the Saracen Horse Feeds summer 2016 trade conference, three dogs come bounding over, followed by a very friendly and welcoming Fiona Lawrence, Carl’s yard manager. Alan Davies, Carl’s international travelling groom, waves from Valegro’s stable as he receives his afternoon spa and you can spot Carl trotting round the outdoor arena in the afternoon sunshine.
The square yard is immaculate, yet it retains a degree of homeliness. It’s a welcoming place with a friendly atmosphere. When I visit it’s just a matter of days until Valegro and Nip Tuck, two of Team GB’s dressage horses, are flown out to Rio for the 2016 Olympic games, and you can taste the excitement buzzing around the yard.
But there is more to this yard than meets the eye – here I speak to Fiona to uncover 11 (rather unusual) things that might surprise you about Carl Hester’s yard:
1. There’s a talking cockatoo – yes, you read that right. He’s a very chatty one at that that too. If you say hello, he’ll always reply, and this can go on for hours… he won’t let you win!
2. There are 14 dogs on the yard – heaven for those dog lovers among us. These dogs are very friendly and playful and come in all shapes and sizes
3. It is somewhat superstitious – for example Charlotte Dujardin has a lucky pair of breeches that she will wear to every competition and you’ll often find her searching for a four-leaf clover before an event
4. There are five peacocks strutting around the yard, and they don’t seem at all fazed by the horses
5. Adding to this menagerie of animals are another 30 guinea fowl…
6. …not to mention 18 top-class horses, of course!
7. There are four full-time members of staff and one part-time – three live on-site, “but I manage to escape!” jokes Fiona
8. There’s an outdoor arena and a huge indoor arena, with the GB flag hanging proudly from the rafters. A model owl also sits in the corner, which Carl placed there to scare off the crows, however so far it only seems to have scared Barney (Nip Tuck)
9. There are 31 immaculate saddles and even more bridles in the tack room, which are cleaned every day. I decided not to tell Fiona how often (or rather infrequently) I clean my tack…
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10. The yard is set in 25 acres and all of the horses are turned out every day
11. Some of the horses, including Charlotte’s team GB reserve horse Barolo, are even schooled on grass as they enjoy being outside so much