Carl Hester: ‘A man who did so much for horse sport’ *H&H Plus*


  • Carl Hester on the Duke of Edinburgh, and preparing for the Olympics

    BEFORE the glory of the 2009 European Championships and the floodlit evening performances we’ve since enjoyed in the amazing atmosphere of the Royal Windsor Horse Show, the dressage world was delighted to be invited to take part, on grass, at national level, back in the 1990s.

    It was a rather splendid affair sponsored by Hermès, with a big lunch tent and all that, but positioned away from the main showground.

    My memory of those amazing times is knowing that if a horse could cope with the distractions at Royal Windsor, it could cope with any other international show.

    There’s probably some old footage somewhere of us warming up around the carriage-driving hazards, with the four-in-hand drivers warming up for their dressage in close proximity.

    The memory that first sprung to mind when I heard about the death of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was of him driving his team as I was working in one year, and The Queen drawing up in her Range Rover, parking and winding down her window to watch and support. I just got on with it.

    It was a small thing but he was a man who did so much for equestrianism and equestrian sport. I’m glad of that memory. My deepest condolences to the Royal Family.

    A real bonus

    IT’S very interesting that the older I get, while I’m still a very competitive person, competition somehow seems less central to my life. Lockdowns and Covid have probably contributed to that; my focus has been more towards training and producing horses.

    Having presumed, in my own head, that the Olympics couldn’t possibly happen this year, now it seems that they really might. It’s just 12 weeks before the team will go into quarantine.

    One thing I’ve learnt over my competition career is that preparation is all about fitness, not endless schooling. Let’s remember these horses in contention for the Olympics are at the top of their game – they’re not learning grand prix movements – and we improve them by having them mentally up to the job and at peak fitness through varied work including hill work and water treadmill workouts.

    Working backwards to achieve the right fitness without peaking too early is key, and the horses’ show schedules need to run according to that.

    We need to get out to shows before the end of May. Sadly, Le Mans in France is no longer an option, as the organisers have had to request a reschedule to June due to Covid and equine herpes virus (EHV) restrictions.

    With so many cancellations, the fact that Wellington CDI in Hampshire in May is now a qualifier for the Olympics is great news, and a real bonus.

    It makes total sense, and I’m delighted that the FEI granted the status to this exciting new international.

    Aside from the Games, with so many cancellations and rescheduled events, the Nations Cup series is looking a little, shall we say, condensed. But, on the plus side, it’s running. Let’s be grateful.

    The Olympics is a very big deal if one’s lucky enough to be selected. It’s a privilege, one that never loses its status as the ultimate occasion, even if you’ve done it before.

    Obviously at any Games you must find that competitive streak, but with only three in a team this time it is vitally important that those selected are not only mentally strong in the competitive sense, but are also team players. It will be about three good scores, not one, and that mindset of support when riding together as a team will be essential.

    Finally, thanks to all those travelling horses during the EHV scare who, by complying with protocols, have averted what might quite possibly have turned out to be an utter disaster. What a great example of the disciplines working so well together. Let’s keep up the good work.

    This exclusive column is also available to read in this Thursday’s H&H magazine (22 April, 2021)

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