Carl Hester on Tokyo 2020 dressage: ‘Riders, let the judges do their job’


  • Carl Hester MBE, an Olympic gold medallist and multi-medallist at European and World Championships, reflects on the judging in Tokyo and thanks those who have been instrumental in helping British riders win medals...

    THE new format for the dressage event at the Tokyo Olympics meant that the grand prix test, instead of contributing to the team medals, determined the starting order for the grand prix special and qualification for the individual final. Combined with there being only three riders and no drop score, the competition was “game on” from the get-go.

    The excitement of the build-up for the special was palpable, you could feel it in the air. My only problem with it was, had there been a stadium full of spectators, would they have been able to sit there in the heat and humidity for an hour while the intermediate team placings and the starting order for the final group were worked out? A loo-break is fine but…

    The pressure on riders was immense in the special, and it was good for viewers. That is sport. It was amazing to see a couple of top combinations bubbling over past boiling point, which affected Cathrine Dufour and Bohemian.

    The US riders, however, rose to the challenge after a shaky grand prix. Shooting star Sabine Schut-Kery gave a classical display of horsemanship appreciated by all.

    The British team’s performance was superb. We gelled as a team, supported each other and to be so close to silver really lifted our spirits. I’d like to give a special mention to reserve rider Gareth Hughes, who supported and encouraged us even though it would be only human for him to be wishing it was him riding.

    All the riders I spoke to felt that this was the best-judged championship yet. Judge-bashing is quite simply uncalled for.

    I had a conversation with a member of the judges’ supervisory panel (JSP) after the show was finished. It brought home to me again, as someone who has competed and been judged for years on my efforts and training, how much effort and training go into becoming a top judge.

    So, my advice to riders who point the finger at judges is, go and focus on your job, which is to produce harmonious, fault-free performances, and let the judges do theirs. With the JSP there is nowhere to hide. I feel more JSPs, at smaller internationals, so no stone is left unturned if mistakes are made, would be a way forward.

    A massive team effort

    THE organisation to get this Olympics on the road has been phenomenal. I, for one, eight weeks ago, didn’t think it could go ahead.

    I want to thank each and every one of the volunteers who made it happen. To the owners who couldn’t be there to watch their horses, a huge thank you for your understanding. To the British Equestrian staff, often working 18 to 20-hour days ferrying riders, organising paperwork and infrastructure, you all deserve a medal.

    To chef d’equipe Caroline Griffith for managing with a smile every day. To the lovely physio Ashleigh Wallace who kept us riders in great shape, to our vet Andre Buthe, farrier Andrew Bowyer and horse physio Rachel Greetham – you were not only doing the best job for us but with wonderful, supportive personalities.

    Our hardworking, dedicated and committed grooms Lucy Scudamore, Steven Caley, Steph Sharples and of course Alan Davies, who was charged with flying the horses, our success is yours, too.

    The whole group was brought together by Dickie Waygood and his team. I can’t imagine being on a team without him, and I don’t know where we’d be without him at the helm. If that sounds like an Oscars speech, I make no apology. What the Army equivalent to taking the helm is, please let me know – but they bring ’em up well.

    As I write this in between a full day of teaching, Vogue and Pumpkin (Gio) are enjoying getting muddy in the field telling their friends about their adventures in the land of the rising sun.

    I’ve just seen the fabulous British eventing team, whom we spent a few days with on the way over, bring home the first gold in 49 years. A superb effort – and Tom McEwen nailing individual silver – we are so proud of you. Here’s hoping our showjumpers have the greatest of rides!

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in H&H magazine, on sale Thursday 12 August

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