Carl Hester: Charlotte is only human [H&H VIP]

  • After the thunderbolt that struck at Aachen [Valegro finishing sixth in the grand prix] we came home with a few questions to answer. When me, Charlotte and the team were in Germany, it was really interesting, surprising even, that people thought I would be upset with Charlotte. It is at times like that when you need support.

    Although I wouldn’t wish a fall from the top in such spectacular style on anyone, the relief in the situation was finding that Charlotte was human and Valegro was a real horse. We might have been disappointed with how the test went, but I can never be disappointed in Charlotte or Valegro.

    Valegro bounced back on the Sunday to win the freestyle, from which Totilas had tactfully — or tactically? — withdrawn, but anyway the shake-up and different placings just serve to make the prospect of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) all the more exciting.

    With Bella Rose looking utter quality — Isabell Werth has proclaimed her to be the best horse she has ever had — the tussle for medals is on!

    Of course there are questions you ask yourself at home. Was the horse fit enough? The weather was hot, was the working-in too long? These sorts of situations help you become more prepared for future tests.

    For our team-mate Michael Eilberg, it was great to see Half Moon Delphi back on top form as he scored 80% in the music — what a confidence booster.

    Daniel Watson and Nikki Crisp again gained valuable experience of being on the British squad.

    Spectators at Aachen got the chance to use a phone app that allowed them to judge for themselves, live. Given the knowledge of the Aachen audience, I suspect most of them were using it in “expert” mode, which lets them mark every movement. This is an interesting innovation and I can quite see how Aachen placings in the future will end up depending on a 50:50 public/judges result.

    Putting in the groundwork

    Once home, we got cracking towards Hickstead and the Nations Cup. A lot of people think the Nations Cup is a waste of time — I’ve heard it — but I have to applaud Dane Rawlins for holding this competition at Hickstead for several reasons.

    First, having been a leading nation in dressage for the past few years, Team GBR is not just about medal teams: we need to show that we have quality venues with great footing.

    Addington, Hartpury, Hickstead and Royal Windsor have some of the best dressage footing you will ever see. We need to attract competitors to our shores to make good competition for up-and-coming young riders to see. If they have easy access to top competition, it’s easier for them to watch and learn.

    Second, when you look back over the past 40 years of senior British teams, you’ll notice how many team members stay at the top for lengthy periods of time, taking those team slots. Therefore, if there were no Nations Cup series, where else would we get the chance to put up-and-coming riders in team situations to test their horses and how they perform under pressure?

    Spoilt for choice

    It was great to start at Hickstead on Jenny Green’s Fine Time, who I’ve enjoyed riding. With Aram Gregory’s Dances With Wolves at Hickstead as well, and these two horses winning the grand prix, special and freestyle between them, it was a good weekend away from the office.

    I am confident I’ve made the right decision to ride Nip Tuck at WEG. On one hand, I am one of the luckiest riders to have a full team of grand prix horses, but on the other, you can imagine how stressful it has been deciding which one should go to WEG. In two weeks I’ll know if I made the right decision; I am pretty sure I have.

    Our last few weeks of preparation have included extra fitness work, converging on Hartpury, Glos, where Philip Cheetham let us have access to the arena so Charlotte and I could shout each other through the test.

    If you’re going out to support the team, we look forward to seeing you and hope we can do you proud.

    Carl’s column was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (14 August, 2014)