Carl Hester: ‘Setting the gold standard for UK shows’


  • One of Britain’s greatest dressage riders and trainers, Carl Hester, explains why Hickstead Premier League has been such a boost for the sport

    TO hear riders, judges, spectators and just about everyone enthuse about the ICE Horseboxes All England Dressage Festival (the Hickstead Premier League) was amazing. The spacious site of the Hickstead showground in wonderful, rolling Sussex countryside provided the backdrop to an exciting four days of sport earlier this month. Hickstead has tended to attract either extreme heat or torrential rain, so it was great the weather gods were on our side.

    The event really did cater for everyone, with some top-level sport and very exciting combinations to keep an eye on in future. Inter II and under-25 grand prix wins for Annabella Pidgley and Gio were great to see, and Andrew Gould with a new ride, the stallion Indigro, showed some spectacular passage, which received a 10.

    The big classes throughout and 350 competitors overall were an indication of a quality show. There was space in the timetable for every level, from small tour to young horse classes, plus classes at novice, elementary and medium thanks to the addition of an extra day. There was so much to see and it was great to see spectators everywhere, this being an open show where people could watch the warm-up as well.

    The free entry for spectators was much appreciated and was a brilliant way to encourage people to come and watch with their families.

    Sound sense

    WE all appreciate everything Dane Rawlins did with Dressage at Hickstead, but having dressage at the heart of the Hickstead showground now makes sound, economic sense in these challenging times.

    Putting on a multi-day event, with things like tentage, all-weather parking, security, stabling and catering staff can cost tens of thousands of pounds. Hickstead has the existing infrastructure to make running such events viable and has recently invested more into the iconic showground. Some of the old team are still there – David Crockford, for example, doing a sterling job as show organiser.

    To Lizzie, Edward and Daisy Bunn and team – a huge thanks for welcoming dressage for the second year. It’s wonderful to hear you might be up for a CDI show. Hold that thought. As I explained in my previous column (28 April), I’d rather compete here in the UK this year than go abroad. And I still have the memories of Dane’s 2003 European Championships, so who knows what the future could hold?

    Speaking of Dane, it was great to see him able to enjoy just riding at Hickstead after all his years of hard work. I bet it used to be a bit like organising your own birthday party – you never enjoy it, even though everyone else seems to. Eleven Irish judges travelled over for training, so I hope you got a round in for them, Dane!

    I found it interesting that the show sponsors, ICE Horseboxes, has been supporting Hickstead showjumping for several years, yet dressage riders make up a significant portion of their customer demographic. So it is another plus that they had a productive show with a lot of potential customers. It’s always good when sponsors and shows hit the sweet spot where a sponsor’s product is a draw across the board to different markets, and this is where I award another 10. Thank you so much ICE and director Cathy Evans for your support.

    Talking of vehicles, the judges’ vantage points were from Aston Martins! This was another example of fabulousness thanks to the Harwoods Group, but judge Judy Harvey’s inability to make the horn work in time, with her pragmatic husband Malcolm’s mantra “read the manual” ringing in her head, made me roar with laughter.

    Meanwhile, Natasha Baker was doing the commentary for the Hickstead livestream. She is staying with me as I write this column and, as I need a glass of wine, I’ll let her add some thoughts to finish: “It’s fabulous for equestrianism that dressage has now joined the showjumping at Hickstead. It’s fantastic for competitors, spectators and sponsors alike and with such brilliant facilities, I think they’ve set the gold standard for competition in the UK.”

    It’s so important that the dressage community gets behind this fixture and all our quality UK venues to guarantee a long-term future.

    ● Did you go to Hickstead Premier League or watch from home? Let us know your thoughts on the show at hhletters@futurenet.com

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 26 May

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