‘Just being at Carl Hester’s made him a much better horse’

  • British grand prix dressage rider Sadie Smith has recently started working at Anne and Gertjan van Olst’s base in the Netherlands. This is where British Olympic team medallist Lottie Fry, who rode the van Olsts’s stallion Everdale to glory in Tokyo, is also based. Before crossing the Channel, Sadie rode for Carl Hester for five years and trained a somewhat untrainable little horse, Keystone Dynamite, to grand prix, finishing fourth at the nationals with 71%, her career highlight. Carl once said of Sadie “She’s just like Charlotte”, and it was Charlotte Dujardin who suggested Sadie come to work at Carl’s.

    Speaking to us for an interview in Horse & Hound’s 30 December 2021 issue, Sadie explained how taking Keystone Dynamite – Mambo to his friends – to be based at Carl’s in her role as a rider there was the turning point in their somewhat challenging training journey together. Prior to that, on just taking Mambo for lessons with Carl, Sadie might spend the whole time trying to get him round the edge of the arena.

    “I remember one time he just kept rearing and I cried and said, ‘I can’t do this anymore; I’m going to have to sell him’. And Carl said, ‘I’m not being funny, but who’s going to want that?’” she laughs.

    All the horses have to hack

    Before basing herself with Carl, it felt like every time Sadie rode Mambo on her own he’d bronc her off, but she says: “At Carl’s he had to cope with everything – we all rode together so he had to get used to horses coming towards him, which he never liked. And I had never hacked him before because he was so sharp, but they all have to hack at Carl’s so I had to take him and it helped him to see traffic. Carl has loads of birds, too, so if one shot out the bush he had to cope. Being there made him a much better horse.”

    Carl would get on Mambo occasionally, too, to help Sadie teach him the one-time changes as he was so sensitive.

    “We did lots in-hand, with me riding him and Carl on the ground, and Mambo learned the submission in a nice way,” says Sadie.

    It was a dream to produce the horse to grand prix, and with Carl and Charlotte’s help Sadie did it, achieving that fantastic fourth place at the nationals on top.

    “The day after our first grand prix I took him for a hack and he dumped me,” she laughs – and the horse continued to challenge. “I had a lesson with Charlotte before Addington High Profile show and he bronced me off. Charlotte said: ‘That’ll teach you for putting your leg too far back’; laughing as I’m eating sand! But he’s so sweet and affectionate, he looks at you with those big eyes, you can’t not love him.”

    Sadie has quite some CV, having ridden for Carl and Charlotte and now being based with the van Olsts, and she appreciates how fortunate she has been to learn from the best.

    “Both Carl and Charlotte are really kind people and helped me so much; it was an incredible place to learn. You don’t go there to get an ego; everyone is on the same level and mucks in. I warmed up Carl’s horses and rode them when he was away, and rode the younger ones, and they let me learn one-times on their horses. I got to have lessons on Valegro and Uthopia. Every day – and it will never change – it’s just amazing watching them – you aspire to be like them.”

    You can make any horse into a special horse

    Sadie wants to keep producing horses to grand prix, with the ultimate aim to ride on a team, and she’s filling her training “toolbox” with every bit of learning she can absorb on the way.

    “My horses are so important to me. I never thought I’d own three. What I’ve learned from Carl is you can make a normal horse into a special horse. My six-year-old [Swanmore Dantina] just had three nice paces and good conformation, but she’ll turn out to be one of the best I’ve ever had. Carl says you don’t have to go and buy horses that move with their legs around their ears. You can train them.”

    She also learned from Carl, and groom Alan Davies, how she wants her horses to be treated and managed – how to feel their legs for any changes, to ensure the horses go in the field every day and hack out.

    “They do all that and then they go and win medals,” Sadie points out. “And they get the best of everything. That is how horses should be kept.”

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