Carl Hester: less of the jargon, please [H&H VIP]

  • Every year, the Oxford English Dictionary admits some new words from common use. Surely the time has come for an English Dictionary of Dressage for the bundle of words and phrases that have emerged over the past few decades?

    Here are just a few: over the back, through the poll, connected to the bit (which bit?), lifting in the back (very difficult — especially a heavy load into a 4×4!), giving in the rib cage (is that even possible?) and dropping the withers (oh dear!).

    Yes, these are actually terms that are trotted out in dressage — but what is actually meant by them? They become colloquialisms but, without explanations and definitions, no one other than an inner circle of users has a clue what these phrases really refer to. Yet they’re used on dressage sheets, in lessons and demos.

    If you ask 5 different people what they mean, you’ll get 5 different answers. So is it about time for the hierarchy at British Dressage [BD] to produce a handbook of definitions? I have my own — a library of phrases I use to convey what I mean to those I’m teaching — and it doesn’t include complicated terms.

    I’m pretty sure a lot of sayings in common usage are repeated parrot fashion when what matters is that, particularly at grass roots level, people can understand what they are being told.

    It’s a dog’s life

    I don’t know what prompted me — though I think reading about World Horse Welfare’s concerns for the fly-grazed gypsy cobs [news, 3 January] must have struck a chord — but I had the most amazing experience at Battersea Dogs Home.

    I had been thinking of rehoming a dog for a while, but was put off when one enquiry to another organisation met with a negative response because I have horses on the property (!). I have since spoken to more people who have found it impossible.

    I do appreciate the need to know circumstances of the future home and I’m not advocating special treatment for people like me. But surely organisations could consider fasttrack adoption when there’s enough proof that the home is more than likely good for a dog?

    Battersea made the whole experience fabulous. It is, of course, terribly sad to walk round and see all the dogs that need homes, but the girls who work there are fun, engaging and delightful to chat to. I arrived at the decision to take Willow, a 3-year-old Italian Mastiff (Cane Corso). Imagine a cross between a chocolate Labrador and a Great Dane.

    Carl Hester's dogs

    The newest addition to Team Hester, Willow

    So having picked “Mrs Scooby Doo”, she was delivered by 3 girls who all love horses. After a tour of the yard, we watched what is the greatest moment of 2014 so far; the release of Willow into one of the fields with Maisie, [Carl’s groom] Fiona’s collie puppy. The sight of these 2 young dogs thundering round, smiling with glee, was heart-warming.

    On the plus side, Willow is extremely loving, but the down side is that her favourite dish is chicken. It’s led me to explain to my free-range girls to run like hell when they see her. Willow would also like to finish her meal with “kitty cat pud”, so it’s not all plain sailing, but every day is worth it.

    The plight of the gypsy cobs, very much in the news over Christmas and New Year — and the success of the lovely Tiger Tim at the nationals — got me thinking. I support World Horse Welfare’s plea to consider one of these versatile, fun horses. Just bear in mind before you go off to Germany or Holland for your next horse that a rescue centre might be worth a visit.

    Dressage on the Beeb

    BD couldn’t have a better ambassador than Nicki Chapman of Pop Idol and Escape to the Country fame. We mustn’t miss a trick with this fantastic personality.

    Nicki’s going to be on Radio 4 talking about “Passions you don’t know about” and she’s chosen dressage. It’s great for our sport and for everyone from bottom to top level.

    Dear Nicki’s plucky about her passion; when she came to ride Fernandez she ended up kissing the ground. It wasn’t in the way she had intended — she was hurled off!


    Carl’s column was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (23 January, 13)