Carl Hester: ‘The devil is increasingly in the details when training for the top’


  • Carl Hester on the importance of training and accepting criticism

    We know many, if not most, competitors have regular training, but for those trying to compete at the top level, the devil is increasingly in the details. Lessons from a trainer you trust and put your faith in have to be the most important thing to prioritise if you want to progress. Finding a trainer who can give you the tools and knowledge to progress is of the utmost importance.

    Of course, with the effects of the cost-of-living crisis, or for people who work long hours every week, or for those who can’t afford regular lessons, it’s not always possible to get consistent help from a trainer. But did you realise you can download useful documents to help you with your training?

    The FEI Dressage Judging Manual, for example, is free to access online and gives clear definitions of the general principles of dressage and how fundamental mistakes are marked. Sometimes it can be helpful to read the requirements for the movements you’re doing. Reading about the movements and the reasons for doing them can be a lesson in itself.

    Years ago, when I was asked to judge a young instructor of the year competition it was amazing how many instructors threw out the phrase “half-halt”. I wondered how many of those being taught knew what a half halt was and how to apply it. I’d hazard a guess that if I’d asked 10 people I’d have received 10 different answers.

    Well, if you’re looking for clarity, you can read up on it on page nine of the manual. It’s a fact – the half-halt is “an almost simultaneous, coordinated action of the seat, the legs and the hands” that is key to the overall balance of your horse and setting up each movement.

    Grooving at Hickstead

    The I.C.E Horseboxes All England Dressage Festival at Hickstead is really finding its groove. It’s slickly run with super surfaces. After a deluge on the Tuesday, you wouldn’t have even known there was a showground underneath the water. By Thursday, however, it had warmed up to a super competition.

    From a future team point of view, for Charlotte Dujardin and I, it gave us a sense check on how to improve our scores. After a winter’s work on the basics, we’d hoped to come out and smash our marks from last year, but that’s not always the case.

    All four of our grand prix horses were excited and rusty in Hagen – and so were the riders – so at every show between now and selection it’s crucial to up our game for those higher scores we need.

    There is a trend for scores to be lower this year and I appreciate the reasons why. The sport has been under such scrutiny that the judges need to be stricter. That they seem to be stricter on the basic way of going can only be a good thing.

    The positive side of criticism

    It’s still hard for some to accept that social media can be cruel and damning but look at it this way, as bestselling author Deepak Chopra says: “What other people think of you is not your business.”

    Some will always find the positives in criticism, and some struggle to do so. This story the legendary Jennie Loriston-Clarke told me from more than 40 years ago made me giggle.

    The well-known dressage critic of the day and former H&H dressage correspondent Anthony Crossley wrote a piece after one of Jennie’s many wins. In it, he said that although the masterful Jennie Loriston-Clarke won her class she does carry her hands somewhere between her tits and her teeth. Jennie told me she never carried her hands up there again. The message is: there is something positive to be had from accepting criticism!

    ● Has the current cost-of-living crisis affected how you approach training? Let us know at hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and country, for the chance for your letter to appear in a forthcoming issue of the magazine

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 6 June

    You might 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.

    You may like...