Carl Hester: why riders aren’t best-placed to steer our sport through change


  • Legendary British dressage rider and trainer Carl Hester explains why he believes riders are not always best-placed to initiate changes in the sport they love

    AS FEI dressage committee chairman Frank Kemperman steps down after 12 years on the committee and a year on the dressage task force, it’s interesting to reflect on the contribution to the sport from a man who is not a rider, but has an event direction background, namely CHIO Aachen and the Dutch Masters in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

    While we can argue that four on a team is better than three for horse welfare across all disciplines, Frank’s right to say, as he does in his “end of term” report, that the Tokyo Olympics format worked well with some details to be ironed out.

    Looking at the recent changes within dressage, like shorter grand prix tests for the World Cup circuit, and new competition formats as at the Olympics, Frank has always tried to keep the principles of dressage in mind and managed a balancing act to make our sport more spectator-friendly and accessible.

    Many riders resist change, so it is worth questioning whether a rider could have steered the sport in the direction it has taken. Many ideas caused resistance in the beginning, so it needed a person who could hold fast and steer, which Frank did.

    Almost a veteran

    IN an Olympic year, it is easy to focus on only the top echelon and amazing competition, so it was lovely to read all about last month’s Elite Equine Associated Championship at Vale View.

    There were so many great stories across the board, from Retraining of Racehorses competitors and unraced thoroughbreds to coloured horses and also veteran horses and riders. I was delighted to see that, as of next June, I’ll be eligible for the veteran rider class!

    In addition to seeing so many riders across the board taking part in these championships, I do think it is worth remembering that dressage is actually done by most people who ride. Safety, and enjoying a lovely ride, all comes down to training, even if it isn’t done in an arena.

    Talking of amazing competition, how about last weekend’s Aintree High Profile show, sponsored by the Earl and Countess of Derby’s Knowsley Hall Private Stays.

    A keen dressage rider, heavily involved in racing, and the owner of Richard Davison’s London 2012 mount Hiscox Artemis, Cazzy Derby feels our owners deserve more recognition. As well as sponsoring incredible prize money, she commissioned trophies for the winning owners, for the best British-bred horse, and arranged superb
    sell-out hospitality.

    I’ll bet the Knowsley Walled Garden Gin prizes went down a treat, too.

    Stay warm and learn

    HAVING questioned the lack of live-stream at the National Dressage Championships in September, I was really pleased to see that this weekend’s British Dressage National Convention offers the opportunity to watch at home for those who cannot get to Hartpury.

    With two of the best clinicians in the world, Christoph Hess and five-star international judge Katrina Wuest, this is an opportunity to hear from two hugely eloquent speakers with a massive amount of knowledge between them.

    Katrina has judged all the way to the Olympics and Christoph’s knowledge of horsemanship as well as dressage is unparalleled.

    Christoph’s son, professional rider Philipp, has test ridden at numerous young horse championships including the Pavo Cup, Bundeschampionat and German stallion performance tests.

    Indoor schools can be cold in November, we know, so to be able to enjoy this feast of knowledge from home is a bonus.

    Looking to our horses, with a winter schooling programme for those coming back into work after their break, it’s important to remember to warm up and warm down thoroughly.

    Especially in colder weather, a correct warm-up gives a horse the chance to get its muscles in the best shape to work, and afterwards, a warm-down aids the process of dispersing lactic acid allowing muscles to recover. And do keep the horse’s back warm with a rug when needed.

    ● What are your thoughts on dressage format changes and owner recognition? Tell us at hhletters@futurenet.com

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in H&H magazine, on sale Thursday 4 November

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