Carl Hester: Medal-hunting on familiar turf


  • British dressage legend and H&H columnist Carl Hester discusses the European Championships and our inspiring Paralympic team

    AS you read this, I’ll be in Hagen, Germany, having already competed for the team medals at the European Dressage Championships, alongside Charlotte Dujardin, Lottie Fry and Gareth Hughes. Hopefully, we’ll be preparing to ride the grand prix special though, regrettably, I am not in possession of a crystal ball.

    There cannot be enough emphasis placed on the importance of how the horses travelled back from Tokyo. No decisions on the team for the Europeans could be made until that assessment.

    Our four Tokyo Olympics horses were fit and raring to go after a week’s recovery, then a programme of stretching and gentle work before full preparation for competition. This is largely down to the amazing Isabell Werth, who obtained permission for the horse flights from Tokyo to fly over Russian airspace – shaving eight hours off their journey.

    For those who don’t know Isabell, let me tell you, no one says no to her!

    After Gareth’s patience and support as travelling reserve rider in Tokyo, we were delighted he has his chance to ride on the British team here at the Europeans.

    There has been a bit of a shift in some other nations’ team line-ups, such as Sweden’s Patrik Kittel being absent, having declared his intention to concentrate on the winter season and next year’s World Championships.

    The Netherlands’ Edward Gal is also resting Total US and his second horse, Toto Jr, was pronounced not fit enough. With some championship first-timers on teams, and other combinations who’ve had a long break from competition, it’s interesting to see how they cope.

    Hagen, of course, is familiar territory. The 2005 Europeans here were where I had my last ride on Escapado and the CDI in 2012 was where Charlotte set her first world record on Valegro.

    We were thrilled when we heard the Europeans would take place this year, and at such a magnificent venue. Thanks to Ulli Kasselmann and his team for pulling this off and putting it all together in record time.

    The under-25 European Championship, running alongside the seniors here, is a fantastic breeding ground for up-and-coming talent, as we’ve seen from Lottie Fry’s phenomenal rise. Best of luck to Lucy Amy, Lewis Carrier, Alex Harrison and Ellie McCarthy who start their team competition on Friday (10 September).

    Ability, not disability

    OUR glorious Paralympians came home from Tokyo bedecked with medals, including team gold. How we were carried by our para team when they started the dressage gold rush back in 1996.

    From their first two Olympics on borrowed horses to riding their own horses from Athens 2004 onwards, the story is one of ability, not disability. It was brilliant to see Sir Lee Pearson back on top with double individual gold, plus team gold, and on his home-bred Breezer, too.

    From Sophie Wells on her reserve ride, Don Cara M, to her protégée Georgia Wilson, who stepped up from the reserve slot after Sophie Christiansen’s horse had a minor veterinary issue, and Natasha Baker too, how fantastic they were.

    It’s worth noting as well that Georgia’s horse, Sakura, is only seven years old and, like the other British horse, was competing at her first championship.

    Thanks to Amy Woodhead for recommending Sophie to ride Don Cara M, and his owners Roland and Maria Kinch. The days of para riders finding it difficult to get owners are, hopefully, well and truly gone.

    These riders are inspiring, and when you look at the chain of inspiration from Lee learning to ride after watching Atlanta, here’s to many more riders being enabled to take up para dressage.

    • This exclusive column can also be read in H&H magazine, on sale Thursday 9 September

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