Carl Hester: Let’s get this party swinging [H&H VIP]

  • The recent national championships came together in the very slick programme with which show organiser Kelvin Bywater’s name is now synonymous — competitions and prize-givings flowed like pouring cream. This year’s atmosphere was particularly good and a weekend of sunshine brought out the best in everyone.

    The demonstrations, which can often be samey, had a great twist with a western meets dressage display. Paul and Bobby Hayler, with reining experts David and Sarah Deptford, gave a great demo. It was fun, energetic and easy watching. We need more interaction between the disciplines, so let’s get showjumping in there next year.

    Radio Nationals brings a sense of humour as well as intelligent commentary and makes the public realise our riders and judges are real characters, not just dry old sticks.

    As much as I am a supporter of the nationals, I have to raise a few points so we can get this party swinging.

    For a start, the background music: several times it made me want to reach for the Prozac. Surely someone with a musical background can tweak this? We’re not all past a bit of pop!

    Secondly, the scoreboard at a championship should be a focal point, so let’s get it out of the back row of tents to the main food area. It’ll make for happy stallholders, as well as people spending more money.

    And surely we’re modern enough these days for a computerised screen? How much better it would be to see results come in as they happen. And no chalk required.

    While many grooms were thankful for the installation of a wash box, the consensus was that if there’s any chance of a tap and water next year, they’d be most grateful. Lights too, as with some classes starting before 8am, the sight of grooms wearing head torches to get their horses ready was reminiscent of the mining era.

    Rideability is key

    The grand prix and young horse championships to me were the two classes that created the big interest while the “in-between” classes show so much promise for the future as to be mouth-watering. But what came to the fore this year with the young horses was how much importance should be placed on rideability, and once again Daniel Sherriff was able to show that what you feel is not always necessarily what you see.

    To have the reserve horse step up to take the championship on rideability is absolutely right. Jenny Welham’s Exige M, ridden by Daniel Greenwood, was a worthy winner. Exige is not the most conventional-looking dressage type but Daniel Sherriff was absolutely right to focus on the energy that is really needed in a grand prix horse.

    It is therefore disappointing that only the top four are ridden. Not enough. At least eight should be pulled forward for the riding judge.

    A worthy champion

    It was a joy to see Michael Eilberg, now a consummate professional and producer of horses, as national champion. If I had won, my next statement would have been easier, but while the national championships undoubtedly needs the grand prix and kür, I still feel that with Michael’s team horse Half Moon Delphi, Valegro, Nadonna and Nip Tuck on holiday due to the proximity of the nationals to the World Equestrian Games, the national title lacks substance.

    There should either be a selection trial before the year’s international team championship to decide it, or, it should simply go to the highest-placed international combination. And by neither of those methods would it have been me, I should add!

    Yes, have the grand prix classes — and while I’m on the subject, why not make it a bit more friendly and let more go forward to the freestyle? There were 17 horses in the grand prix and 10 in the freestyle, so how about giving a bit more experience to some of the others?

    Year ends with a bang

    Our new CEO of British Dressage (BD) Jason Brautigam was visible throughout the championships with his young family. That was great to see, but it was his introduction at the BD welcome party which caused considerable waves of excitement. He was announced as Jason Donovan but not, sadly, by Kylie Minogue.

    Don’t imagine that the national championships marks the season’s end, as over the next seven weeks there is a feast of dressage on offer from the Global Dressage Forum in Denmark, the Spanish Riding School in England, the Dressage Convention hosted by Richard Davison and me at Bury Farm, and the British Dressage convention featuring Helen Langehanenberg, then Your Horse Live — so get your tickets booked!

    This column was originally published in Horse & Hound magazine on Thursday 2 October, 2014