Carl Hester: Our A-list grooms can sell our sport *H&H VIP*

  • Shows like the Great British Bake Off and Strictly Come Dancing are based on personalities and characters. However, as the shows continue into their umpteenth series, this has led to comments about the participants now being “Z-listers”. But even so-called Z-listers have personalities — as they’re showing — and are why the viewing figures are still as high as they are.

    There’s ongoing concern about the popularity of dressage, so any opportunity to identify and capitalise on personalities to increase exposure is vital. It’s very good that awards to recognise owners and grooms and the achievements of all those involved other than riders have been instigated over the past few years, and wonderful to see this being opened up even further with the introduction of the H&H Awards and the Haddon Training British Grooms Awards — nominations for the latter are open until 18 November (see www.britishdressage.co.uk).

    For so many years grooms had been overlooked and I can recall some horror stories from 25-odd years ago of grooms not only being undervalued, but much worse. What has changed beyond all recognition is we now know about grooms as personalities.

    Our Alan Davies seems to be in so much demand for talks and appearances he’s giving Clare Balding a run for her money! It’s these personalities that dressage needs to capitalise on to sell our sport, and open up our world.

    Trainers: a pound of flesh?

    Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to sample quite a few different training methods and learn from top trainers, either at conventions or by having placed myself in different countries to learn.

    It would be easy to consider we all deserve a trainer’s full attention, but with the busy schedules most of them lead, how big a piece of your trainer should you expect or need?

    I have found that training as a profession involves not only training people, but media work, horses to feed and staff to look after, plus my own horses to ride. It is a huge role.

    Let’s be clear: if you’re paying for time you deserve to get it, but I’ve read in amazement comments on forums which imply that some people seem to expect not only training, but a full psychological assessment, marriage counselling or mortgage advice when they’re having a lesson, plus a bake-off in the tack room afterwards.

    When I look back at my time with some great trainers, from some I can only remember one certain point. From Harry Boldt it was the half-halt and from Bert Rutten the importance of “on and back”.

    These simple points are the staple diet of my training. To take something from each lesson is a nugget of gold. If it’s the same point it doesn’t mean the lesson is boring; it means you haven’t achieved that goal quite yet.

    Don’t overlook trainers who aren’t so well known. They can make very valuable points and could perhaps be more interested in just “you”, if that’s what you want out of a lesson.

    Exposure for young talent

    Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) continues to grow in attendance and popularity and it was wonderful to see our future elite horses showcased there (report, 13 October). It’s great exposure for these younger horses before they start their international careers.

    The show’s a favourite with showjumpers and showing people, so how great to see a packed arena for these eight- to 10-year-olds doing their freestyles and showing off our sport. I recall riding there — when HOYS was at Wembley — in what I believe  was the only small tour invitational class held there before this latest flurry. It was my first freestyle on my lovely old campaigner Legal Democrat.

    Not having expected to qualify I’d raced home to get some music, and not for the first time did five judges catnap while I spent a minute and a half on the intro. The full story’s in the book!

    Ref Horse & Hound; 20 October 2016