Carl Hester: ‘There is no excuse not to ride straight lines and square halts’


  • One of Britain’s greatest dressage riders and trainers, Carl Hester shares his thoughts on winter training despite storms, and what all riders can aim for...

    THIS time of year is often challenging. After the storms passed through, leaving several trees down and the fields flooded, the horses were unable to have regular turnout for the first time in a long while. En Vogue and Imhotep, who both normally live out, have had to be stabled. A change of routine can bring a change in personality and the problem is, working horses harder is not always the best answer.

    After the European Championships last September, Vogue had six weeks completely off followed by six weeks of hacking before starting the next phase. What we need to bear in mind when working grand prix horses is that what you’d do every day while training towards grand prix isn’t necessarily going to be the best way to keep your established horses sound and sane once they reach the level. So when we start to introduce schooling and suppling again, it is all about looseness, straightness and stretching.

    Straightness is a lifetime’s work with all horses. If you sit on any centre line and watch several horses, particularly in canter, you’ll notice how common it is to see heads bending over the leading leg, even if the front and hind legs are straight. The horse’s head needs to be carried in front of the chest with an even balance in two reins.

    This period of training gives me time to work on straightness, and good halts. One of the first lessons I learnt going back some 35 years in my career was that no matter whether pony, cob or warmblood, there is no excuse not to ride straight lines and square halts.

    Another common problem is that most horses bend more to the left than to the right, and this is particularly noticeable in pirouettes. It could quite simply be that in doing everything on the left, from leading to getting on and off, we encourage this tendency. So, again, riders, be aware to favour work on the right as much as the left.

    Recently I have had to adapt to what suits the temperament of the horses who are used to being turned out, rather than just working them harder. This means a loose-lungeing session or an afternoon spell turned out in the lunge pen for a roll and a buck, which works on their mental relaxation rather than wearing them out physically.

    Producing horses for the future

    BRITISH DRESSAGE’S (BD) Young Horse Forum with five-star judge Isobel Wessels and rider Matt Hicks on 6 April at Hurstbourne Equestrian
    Centre is a great opportunity not only to go and find out what judges want to see in four-, five-, six-, and seven-year-olds in competition, but also to gain an insight into producing for the future.

    It’s worth remembering that some horses mature earlier with great temperament, paces, and balance, while others only achieve these in their later years. No success in age classes does not mean no success at grand prix, so this forum should encourage riders and help with producing for the long-term.

    Equally important is the Principles of Judging seminar, which takes place at Moulton College on 26 to 27 March. This is another event with Isobel, who will be joined by Judy Harvey and fellow five-star judge Clive Halsall. It looks set to be a fantastic learning opportunity for all from trainee judges upwards.

    Thank you, Winnie

    I’D just like to wish British Dressage’s fabulous comms supremo Winnie Murphy all the best for the future in her new role as head of communications at British Equestrian. She’s going to be missed for her understanding of riders, handling of the press and all-round extreme capability from which British Eventing benefited before BD. Thank God we’re not losing her entirely!

    • If you’ve been faced with reduced turnout this winter, how have you helped your horses to cope? Let us know at hhletters@futurenet.com

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 3 March

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