‘I can’t believe he was that good’: Carl Hester’s first freestyle on Fame earns career-high score at Europeans

  • Carl Hester may not have finished on the podium in today’s European Dressage Championships freestyle – he and Fame ended up seventh – but for Carl, this entire week has been a triumph.

    Arriving at a championship with a horse he has only ridden for eight months brought a level of unpredictability for Carl, but Fame has more than exceeded his expectations throughout all three tests. First, he became the overnight leader after day one of the grand prix, helping secure team gold for Britain. Next he upped his game to finish fifth in the special. And today, the two of them rounded off the European Dressage Championships by achieving the highest score of Carl’s entire career to date, with 85.46% in the freestyle – their first ever freestyle together.

    Carl Hester on his European Dressage Championships freestyle: ‘I had nothing to lose’

    Carl has to ride Fame very carefully in the ring, to help the big, sensitive horse handle his nerves. But the 13-year-old stallion’s confidence has grown over the course of his Europeans experience, and, buoyed by Fame’s increased relaxation in Friday’s special, Carl was able to ask him for a little more as they performed the complicated routine Carl has previously ridden with En Vogue.

    “I can feel the trust I have in Fame and he has in me. I went in there not knowing what he was going to do but I felt I could push a bit more out there; I knew there was more in there during the special but I didn’t want to disturb it, but today there was nothing to lose so I thought I could get stuck in,” said Carl.

    “All year I’ve just been thinking about the grand prix and the special. I’ve never done a freestyle with him, so I needed music that I really knew. I can’t believe he was that good!”

    And it was very, very good. The opening centre line to this programme is always impressive, with a piaffe pirouette, tempi changes and a canter pirouette all before Carl reaches C. Fame looked to be enjoying himself, and as Carl broke into a wide grin as they finished, it was clear he had too.

    Only a break in their final extended trot marred their scoresheet – “it was me being greedy because he felt so lovely and I paid the price,” said Carl.

    But in the grand scheme of things it hardly matters. Even with a mistake, their very first freestyle together was enough to surpass Carl’s previous career-high score of 85.02%, achieved with Nip Tuck back in 2016. And Carl admitted he wasn’t even feeling his best today.

    “I’ve felt groggy all day and didn’t know whether I would be able to ride as well as I needed to ride. but once you get on a horse like Fame, you just forget about everything else and get on with it.”

    Next year, he’ll make Fame his own, even more complex freestyle routine, Carl promises, and then he’ll be right up there in the mix for individual medals. But for now, he is just overjoyed with how well this horse has performed for him, and for Britain, this week.

    “That was the perfect way for the week to finish,” smiled Carl.

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