Carl Hester: ‘Top riders still need to qualify for the Olympics’ *H&H Plus*


  • Carl Hester shares his thoughts on the difficulties of competing abroad and team selection ahead of this year’s championships, as well as remembering a very special neighbour...

    THE devastating news of a virus threatening our horses could not have come at a worse time, as we are all looking forward to a gradual release from Covid lockdown.

    With all FEI shows, including the World Cup Final, cancelled until 11 April, the key thing we should all bear in mind with the equine herpes virus (EHV-1) is that, while member bodies can control competition riders, they cannot control travel for sales, training, stud work and so on, apart from urging everyone to follow the protocols.

    We all have a part to play in safeguarding the UK’s equine population, so please, if you must travel horses across our borders, ensure you employ the highest levels of biosecurity and good practice. We are lucky to have some of the leading vets in the world on the subject who are happy to lend support, but it boils down to everyone taking responsibility, as with Covid-19.

    National hope

    IT is great to see that British Dressage (BD) has managed to reschedule 60% of fixtures affected by lockdown. While we wait on confirmation of the date for the winter championships, as many opportunities as possible are on offer from grassroots to preparation for the Tokyo Games – if the Olympics run – and the Europeans.

    Frankly, competing abroad seems unlikely for Charlotte Dujardin and I, so we are hoping national preparations will do the job this year.

    Several top combinations, like Charlotte and Gio and myself with En Vogue, are not yet qualified for the Olympics and at present the FEI has not adjusted the qualification rules. This will have to be addressed as many international riders face the same challenge of being physically unable to get out and qualify. The first plan for Charlotte and me was to ride at Hagen in April, but with EHV-1 and the rising Covid cases in Germany, the prospect is daunting.

    It is great news that Wellington Riding has the go-ahead from the FEI to run a CDI3*, in place of the cancelled Keysoe CDI, in early May; a brilliant development at a great venue. It is disappointing, however, to learn that this show may not count towards the points needed for Olympic qualification.

    Team selection used to be via a selection trial where the best four would be picked. It might be time to return to this. Whatever we do, it would be advisable for us all to have a few dry runs before venturing out. A few important checks might include: do your competition boots zip up, do your tailcoat buttons do up and does the lorry start? Then remember to put both horse and tack on the lorry. Yes, both have been forgotten…

    I would also like to highlight two opportunities to get involved at the sharp end of BD. There are two board director vacancies: training and para. Nominations are to be in by 4 May for those with the vision, and experience to get involved.

    Goodnight to a great horseman

    I WAS saddened to hear of Robert Oliver’s death. I first met Robert in 2000 when H&H asked me to go and ride a lovely middleweight champion he produced, Irene Susca’s Jamaica Bay, for an article. Although initially unenthusiastic to ride a show horse, I had an amazing day, a fabulous gallop and lots of laughs with Robert.

    At our housewarming here years later, sitting in the garden with friends as midnight approached, what did we hear but a hunting horn, followed by the sound of hooves clattering up the drive and hounds in full cry. We all went to the front of the house and there, accompanied by two grooms, bareback in their pyjamas, was my new neighbour – Robert – sitting on a large cob.

    Robert and his crew stayed for a while laughing and chatting before he announced, “Hester, don’t ever have a party again without inviting me,” and blew for home.

    One of the greatest storytellers I’ve ever known, Robert was invited to every party thereafter, and will now always be there in spirit. My heartfelt condolences to his wife Claire and his family.


    This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, out Thursday 25 March

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