Top British dressage rider and trainer Carl Hester reflects on the European Championships, the nationals, and his ones to watch
After two of the busiest, craziest weeks of the season it seemed really fitting that in the year of British Dressage (BD)’s 25th anniversary we were able to bring home team gold. The European Dressage Championships at Riesenbeck was one of the most exciting competitions I’ve ever been part of. Sunday’s freestyle was like a rock concert.
You could feel the tension through the air in the warm-up and riding up the chute to the arena felt intimidating. The lion’s den maybe, but this is what top sport should be about, and with sublime performances, exciting scores including several personal bests, Riesenbeck was the top of top sport.
Everyone knows the army of support and helpers behind our team, and with the pressure on to win gold, our grooms and everybody in the support team played a part. Quite simply, one of the best ways to produce our best performance is to have only that to focus on, and it’s down to our support teams that we were able to achieve it.
After a mad dash home on the Sunday night – arriving at 3am – it was then time to start preparing the seven horses going to the LeMieux National Dressage Championships from our yard. With three days to get ready, it was amazing that they all performed as well as they did. Thankfully, while we were in Germany, the team at home did an excellent job ticking them over with stretching, hacking, lungeing and turnout. Sometimes a horse learns more in a week off than when you’re schooling it.
Reason to celebrate
I really felt that the championship at Somerford Park had grown, not only in size, but in spectator numbers, which is a good sign.
With my thoughts very much on the 25 years since BD parted from the British Horse Society, it’s great that medals across all levels are becoming more regular – not only seniors but the youth teams, too, with young rider and junior medals, and some outstanding rides from our pony riders. British dressage is not only becoming more successful, but more united across the board.
Of course, some things could be better. Although it’s wonderful to have a medal parade, you had to feel for the rider trying to handle a four-year-old in the next arena. Let’s not forget that everyone has to pay really expensive entry fees. My thought for the future is that during prize-giving medal parades and suchlike, we need to abandon competition elsewhere to make it a level playing field.
I also know that some of the silver competitors felt they were almost at another competition as their arena was so far away. Surely a solution would be to have the competition arenas parallel, with two warm-ups at the back. Then hopefully everyone would feel more included.
On a personal level, it was En Vogue’s turn in the spotlight and I was delighted to take my 11th national title. Although Vogue had a “Vogue moment” in the music, I was thrilled it was still good enough for him to have his moment of glory as he’s been brilliant all year.
The National Dressage Championships still has that special feeling. For many, the start of Strictly Come Dancing heralds the route to Christmas. For me it’s the end of the nationals. I’ll enjoy the prospect of not competing again until spring, and a winter’s work of schooling some future stars.
A few exciting horses caught my eye at Somerford Park. In the young horse championships, seven-year-old winner St Giles Flamboyant showed a lot of talent under Nicola Buchanan. Ashley Jenkins’ four-year-old winner, Nicola Mahoney’s Game On I, was another, and what a marathon Becky Moody had. It looks as though she has the most exciting team of horses ever.
Meanwhile, Rupert Byam-Cook, aged 11, was surely the youngest competitor. I was delighted to meet him, and we had a good giggle about the fact that my middle name is Rupert. He was runner-up in the prelim silver, and I hope to see him representing the boys in the future.
● Did you go to the National Dressage Championships? Let us know what you thought of the set-up at email@example.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 28 September, 2023
You may also be interested in…
Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.