Carl Hester: ‘The most exciting British championship team since Valegro’


  • Top British dressage rider and trainer Carl Hester on why this year’s Europeans are so exciting for British dressage

    What a bumper year of medals for our junior and young rider teams, and what talent we have showing in the pony division, too. I was able to watch all of the junior and young rider European Championship tests and what a good impression the Brits’ riding made on me. They’ve come such a long way.

    It was not only good riding but also lovely horses that caught my eye. With all our riders scoring around the magic 70% mark, and some above, everyone contributed to the success and it can’t be said it was down to one rider.

    One tends to forget how difficult these levels are, requiring skills, technique and – another magic word – self-carriage. And in these age groups riders are not only coping with training and competition pressures, but also schoolwork and exams too.

    Although the pony riders narrowly missed out on a medal there were some strong performances. Abigail Gray and George Clooney, in their first year together, stood out as a partnership with real talent and promise. They could claim an individual medal next year.

    Making it happen

    Looking ahead to the senior and para European Dressage Championships, Riesenbeck in Germany is a new venue for me – that doesn’t happen often! It’s a favourite with the driving world and has hosted five World Championships since the 1980s.

    In 2015 Ludger Beerbaum and Baron Constantin Heereman started developing the venue, which now has top-class showjumping and dressage facilities. It’s a huge educational site as well, the base for the Longines World Equestrian Academy and the local riding club, which makes for a lovely synergy between amateur and professional sport. It looks to be a very exciting venue.

    This year’s team of Charlotte Dujardin, Lottie Fry, Gareth Hughes and myself gel very well as we’ve been in this situation together before. If we’re all on form, I predict this could be one of the most exciting teams since the Valegro days.

    Gareth’s record is full of top-10 placings and he’s a cool rider with great technique, Charlotte was second in Aachen recently with Imhotep, Lottie of course is the reigning world champion and Fame and I haven’t scored under 75%. Of course things can go wrong, but we’re heading to Riesenbeck to make it happen. As always, thanks to our grooms, owners, supporters and the team at British Dressage.

    Humbling examples

    Our para dressage teams always show great strength as well. Talking of para dressage, I recently accepted Henrietta Cheetham’s invitation to become president of the Lady Joseph Trust, which was formed in 2009, with funds from Henrietta’s grandmother’s estate, with the aim of providing horses to ensure our para riders continue to win medals. My role is to help raise funds for the equine stars of the future.

    The quality of horses needed for international para dressage these days is pretty eye-watering. To have the right temperament with top paces to match is as rare as hen’s teeth, and certainly not cheap. It is always humbling to see how our para horses and riders perform together, and the bonds that bind these partnerships.

    Earlier this month, Henrietta organised a summer fundraising party where it was amazing to see so many people generously donating prizes and time. It was a truly awe-inspiring evening and has raised tens of thousands of pounds; the counting is still going on.

    This time next year the Paris Olympics will be over, which is a scary thought. Let’s hope by the end of 2023 our Olympic teams will be taking shape. Success this year for all our teams will indicate we’re heading the right way. Wish us luck!

    ● How do you rate Britain’s chances at the European Dressage and Para Dressage Championships? Let us know at hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and county, for the chance to have your views published in a future edition of Horse & Hound magazine

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 24 August, 2023

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