Carl Hester: Stop picking holes in others *H&H Plus*


  • Last month’s show in Amsterdam ranked as one of the most exciting World Cup qualifiers. The quality of competition was top class, so Charlotte Dujardin and I were absolutely thrilled with Mount St John Freestyle finishing second with 89.5%.

    It has been an interesting learning curve. Most horses can’t produce at shows what they can at home, and this case is no different. Charlotte finds less is more to bring out the best in this mare, who can piaffe at home for a 10, but in the ring has to be carefully nurtured to offer her best in the areas where insecurities can show. Amsterdam was a wonderful indication of how Freestyle is responding and finding her feet.

    Putting my neck on the line

    One of the key features of the Amsterdam classes was the openness of horses’ necks, especially the higher scorers. Riders know very well that short necks don’t get top marks and the idea that they’d aim for that is ridiculous.

    It’s a fact that some horses will shorten their necks due to any number of triggers; there are so many tensions available to horses, especially in these atmospheres, and so many factors other than rein pressure can lead to a shorter neck.

    Do the judges not notice? Of course they do — such is the level of insight of top-level judges, it’s equally ridiculous to think they might give high marks when they see it.

    Sticking together

    As riders across all the equestrian disciplines, we should stick together in the face of backbiting when it occurs in the media or on social media. As equestrian sports come under increasing scrutiny, it is our job to bring positive images and highlight the improvement in training and riding techniques, not harp on about the past.

    There are always dedicated supporters and there are the opposers, hopefully in smaller numbers, but let’s not forget the undecided. It’s our job to shape opinion in those cases, and it’s about the big picture. This is an industry; the infrastructure we need to do our jobs comprises a small army of various people we work with to look after our horses’ welfare. Personal digs and personal gain are not important.

    We all want to hear great proposals for improvement; it’s what we do every day when we get on our horses, and we need criticism in training to improve, but it must be positive. We’re all striving for the same goals.

    It’s in no one’s interest to feed those who oppose equestrian sport — it’s not just riders who would lose out, but the entire equine industry.

    Over the years I have studied lots of riders at the top and those considered “classical”, but I have yet to come across one example where the entirety of the test is in complete self-carriage. Why? Simply because it is that difficult.

    Rather than making comparisons, picking holes in good rides and criticising rides that the rider, judge and probably horse knew weren’t the best effort — sometimes winners don’t look great but happen to be the best on the day — let’s please promote our sport by highlighting the positives.

    I love waking up in the morning and going up to the yard. In 2020, let’s wake up and look forward.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 6 February 2020