Carl Hester: Spanish Riding School is still the epitome [H&H VIP]

  • Once again, with the news Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill are nolonger a partnership, we have an illustration of how precarious a situation riders can be in with owners. I can’t stress enough the importance of having a watertight agreement from the beginning. Possibly a good arrangement is for riders to work towards a share in the horse, which not only gives a rider a leg to stand on if something goes wrong, but also illustrates the rider’s commitment to training the horse.

    That this top pair, so harmonious and lovely to watch, will no longer be seen together is really sad. They’ve given us so much excitement, especially over the past two years. I feel for Helen.

    Still the epitome

    Questions on the relevance to dressage of the Spanish Riding School are still making their way into print I notice. Maybe in terms of their performance compared to the power and impulsion of competitive dressage, we could say not as much as we would hope. However, as far as correct riding and presentation go, the Spanish Riding School is still the epitome. Granted, the Lipizzaner as a breed and type does not have the scope of its warmblood friends, but I still think we need to go back to the overall terms of good riding and good training, not labels like “classical” and “competitive”, as there are good and bad points on both sides.

    After six days of touring with the Spanish Riding School and plenty of talking in the evenings with these great guys, it became clear they have their hands tied in being wedded to tradition.

    Very proud of it they are too, but not too proud to discuss their fears for the future of the school and the huge economic strain they’re under now that they’re responsible for their own funding.

    The Spanish Riding School still produces a wonderful spectacle, and if you didn’t see them this time round, do try and get a seat for the next tour — which, bearing in mind the above, probably won’t be too far in the future.

    I really enjoyed watching the performances, although I admit the in-hand work is not really appealing to me. Not least when one handler was nearly flattened by his horse. As he rose to his feet in true stiff upper lip fashion as the spotlight was quickly trained off him, I could feel his pain. Anyone who has had a horse stand on your toes can still only imagine what it’s like to have a horse land on you from a courbette!

    Nicky needs bottling

    Nicky Chapman, who presented the Spanish Riding School tour, is a truly wonderful lady. Not only is she a huge TV and radio star in her own right — she was one of the first judges of Pop Idol — but she’s a keen amateur rider.

    You may remember poor Nicky getting trampled during the Only Fools on Horses series. And somehow we managed to flatten her here during a dressage lesson too, but apart from these minor accidents she remains as passionate as ever about her riding — and she has got bottle to get back up and back on!

    Her hosting of the Spanish Riding School shows is a fantastic way of helping the public understand what’s going on. Nicky was also an ambassador for dressage during London 2012.

    British Dressage should not miss a trick with this lady; she is willing and able to help promote equestrian sport at every opportunity. After our return from the Spanish Riding School tour, Nicky called and said she was in Gloucestershire filming Escape to the Country, and had just finished, so could the team pop round and film a five minute slot with us?

    She did, and it aired last week. She could make our sport more understandable to a non-equestrian audience at our national championships or another big show. Let’s not miss a chance to engage Nicky — she holds the key to a lot of TV!

    This column was originally published in H&H magazine on Thursday 27 November, 2014

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