Carl Hester: an emotional send off to Tokyo


  • Carl Hester MBE, Olympic gold medallist and multi-medallist at European and World Championships, talks about waving off Olympic horses and Ireland’s missed opportunity

    ROYAL WINDSOR offered a great opportunity for a training showcase in front of a 1,000-strong audience the day before the show opened. It finally brought some real atmosphere to a show, and my Olympic ride En Vogue felt wonderful.

    Six event riders went first, followed by our group of five dressage riders (without Netherlands-based Lottie Fry), as Stephen Clarke commentated and judged. We saw a real mix of fun, different angles looking at tests, and it just goes to show what a key role commentary plays. Stephen, of course, is brilliant at it. As far as I could see, the experience benefited every horse and rider. What a great send-off for the Tokyo Olympic teams.

    As I write, our horses are on day two of the eight-day pre-Olympic quarantine before they head to Liege, Belgium, and then the 18-hour flight to Tokyo. It was a very emotional send-off from the yard. Seeing the horses’ faces as they were driven past us waving flags on the drive made me realise how far they must travel and the amazing things they do for us.

    Riders are allowed in and out of the quarantine facility at British Showjumping’s national training centre in Leicestershire, and we’re mindful to minimise any risk of contact with the virus. It’s an amazing facility of which I’m sure British Eventing and British Dressage are jealous: indoor and outdoor arenas, canter track and fabulous accommodation. Covid tests are ghastly but de rigueur.

    A lost opportunity

    IT was heart-warming to hear of the overwhelming support received by Dressage Ireland and the riders whose dream of representing their country as a team at the Games was cruelly thwarted. It is a disaster not only for those riders, but also for those coming up behind, the youngsters with ambitions, prospective owners and everyone in the horse country that is Ireland.

    There was such excitement in 2019 when they qualified for the Olympics, and all of us were thrilled to see new blood in the sport. The first team dematerialised, but the second team had qualifying scores in their own right.

    That the Irish dressage community, along with many around the world, stepped up to show such huge support in the face of Horse Sport Ireland’s decision not to allow a team to participate in Tokyo was truly staggering. This would have been the first ever Olympics for an Irish dressage team – what an opportunity lost.

    The appealing riders, Dane Rawlins and James Connor, had the support of Dressage Ireland, whose chair Marguerite Kavanagh and the board were shocked at the stance taken by Horse Sport Ireland, after 32 years of trying to get a team to the Olympics.

    It’s been a sorry saga, and it beggars belief. I remember my first Olympic Games T-shirt, from Barcelona 1992. The wording on the shirt said it was all about taking part that was most important, rather than winning. Hopefully, what will come out of this is a fairer process, with decisions made based on less arbitrary criteria.

    I and so many others wish we could have seen Dane Rawlins compete in Tokyo.

    He is a man who has done so much for the sport over decades and helped so many riders, me included. Before the nationals at Goodwood back in the day, Dane invited me to stay and train, free of charge.

    I did have to help him build a barn though.

    Well, out in Tokyo of course we’ll be riding for Team GB, but consider it done, Dane – I’ll be riding for you, too.


    This column can also be read in this Thursday’s Horse & Hound magazine, on sale 15 July

    • What do you think about Horse Sport Ireland’s decision not to send a dressage team to Tokyo? Let us know on hhletters@futurenet.com with your name, nearest town and county for the chance to win a bottle of Champagne Taittinger

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