Carl Hester: Bad memories make a good story *H&H Plus*


  • While in Florida recently at the Adequan Global Dressage festival at Wellington, I was amused to turn the tables and interview war correspondent turned dressage journalist Kenneth J Braddick, who has often asked me for quotes.

    British Dressage provides media training for up-and-coming riders, but even after all these years, having that conversation gave me an insight into how we as riders can prepare to give a positive perception of our sport in the media whether it’s the “on side” specialist titles or mainstream.

    There’s a BBC guide that advises a reply of 30-40 seconds to a question. Basically, if you’re shy, you need to stretch, if you talk too much, you need to shrink. I’ve been lucky to have horses with their own stories — Legal Democrat whose career started through a magazine competition, and Nip Tuck who was, let’s say, inexpensive.

    Remember the small things — parts of your own, your horse’s and owners’ journeys. Some international riders might travel from Gothenburg at 1°C to Wellington at 37°C — the story is it wiped you out for a day, but you came back to win.

    It’s not necessarily the journalist’s job to ask us interesting questions. They may not know your back story or the sport. To answer directly, with a sense of humour, and play off each other with fellow riders helps makes for better quotes.

    A bit of confidence and a few trips round the block helped me, but for younger riders a few little special anecdotes will break the ice and nerves, even if they don’t make it to print.

    The best stories

    It was interesting to talk to a US-based journalist and hear that riders can be afraid to say too much, to be controversial, in case it affects their scores. Does that happen here when so many opinions are voiced in H&H? I don’t know, but I agree with Kenneth’s opinion that judges are purely interested in what they see in the arena and that riders are kind to their horses.

    Thirty-odd years ago when I started out, reports were opinion, almost always written by judges or riders and they could be harsh. That changed thanks to the legendary H&H editor Michael Clayton, who like my interviewee in Florida came from mainstream media and war reporting into equestrian reporting.

    Currently, people want instant information and results, and there’s the “real life” gossip angle, which can be unpleasant if not handled correctly.

    What I really took away, though, from interviewing a journalist was that he took on board that people in our “little” sport work hard to make ourselves and our horses as good as they can be.

    As exciting as covering wars? Kenneth answered maybe not, but it’s real people doing something incredibly difficult and in so many cases just giving their whole heart, soul and bank account to doing so. It was good to hear, but he is married to a dressage rider!

    It’s not always easy being interviewed, and probably the funniest stories don’t come from the winners on that day. But save those memories because one day the story of how Prince was a total toad and exited the arena on seeing a snake (a bit of hosepipe), which led to elimination, will be priceless when he wins his next championship. People will remember him, and you, when you get to on to the team.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 5 March 2020