Carl Hester: Don’t penalise Charlotte for her talent *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    I’m just back from five long days at the NAF Five Star Winter Dressage Championships, where around 200 officials, headed by Kelvin Bywater, ensure everything runs like clockwork. This super professional championship is surely the largest in Europe.

    There were 897 tests ridden and the scorers had 2,691 sheets to add up. The youngest rider was 10 years old; the youngest winner, Annabel Coller, was 12. The oldest horse was 23 and came third — congratulations on the stable management care there — while the smallest was 12.2hh, and the biggest 18.3hh — congratulations on mounting that one! The highest score was 78.89%, achieved by Sadie Smith on my horse Nutbush.

    This was an absolute feast of dressage and I love that it brings grassroots riders and Olympic champions together. As a lover of coloured horses, cobs and less conventional dressage horses, I was keen to watch the Petplan Equine Area Festival finals.

    The Sunday classes need discussion. The medium gold, for example, is one of the most interesting classes to spot talent for the future. The Saturday night gala, however, almost feels like the show finale, and by Sunday’s final prize-giving there was just a handful of people left. Could Sunday afternoon be a gala performance, too? It would be an educational day, and as Sunday is a day off for most we could expect good attendance.

    I’m very proud of Charlotte, but once again there is huge discussion about how she can compete at so many levels. Let’s remember that the gold division was created for the professionals, therefore it’s a level playing field, though not every competitor has the time, dedication, commitment and training Charlotte has at her disposal. I really hope people can see Charlotte as an inspiration — she shouldn’t penalised for being too talented. Let’s not forget she started out as my stable jockey, and I’m hoping Sadie Smith, our new yard jockey, will work her way along the same lines.

    Where was Hayley’s chef d’equipe?

    Congratulations to Hayley Watson-Greaves, the only British rider at the FEI World Cup final in Paris where the amazing duel between Isabell Werth and Laura Graves made for a nail-biting competition. Isn’t Isabell’s competitive attitude something to be in awe of? And look at how it has lifted Laura’s game.

    This was Hayley’s first final and I couldn’t believe she was the only rider there without a chef d’equipe. Team USA had trainer Robert Dover and a full crew with Will Connell in the background. Isabell had her support network and team trainer Monica Theodorescu, and so on. How good of Andy Thomas, our former team physio who’s now with the US, to step in and offer Hayley his help for free. At a championship you need someone to fight your corner for things like training times and to generally put your mind at rest, so it’s really disappointing that no one attended for Hayley. It’s as if her achievement went unnoticed.

    What is needed is someone with experience of all aspects of top-level dressage and the contacts to present a voice for Britain at these events. All the other national federation bigwigs are there, catching up in meetings, talking about the World Equestrian Games and collaborating on policy. The absence of British support was noted.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 19 April 2018