Carl Hester: We need investment in venues *H&H Plus*


  • H&H’s dressage columnist on great memories at Hickstead, and change needed in the sport

    I knew prior to the Rotterdam Hickstead Grand Prix Challenge that this online event was likely to be the swansong for Dressage at Hickstead.

    I’ve known Dane Rawlins since I was in young riders, and he’s a hands-on person. As an example, I once stayed with him before the national championships at Goodwood and he very kindly gave me some training – the payback was helping him build a barn.

    So it was no surprise that he was available to chat while in the process of removing a septic tank. What did surprise me was that, rather than being left with a nasty smell, his attitude to dismantling his and his team’s work, dreams and achievements at Hickstead, and what it brought to our sport, was more philosophical.

    Looking back over Hickstead highlights, we see the start of what has been achieved in our sport today: the young rider and junior Europeans in 1998 where Britain won bronze, then the almighty 2003 European Championships (which was a stinger for me being team reserve) where Britain won the first team medal, bronze. How far we have come since then.

    I can still recall my first experience in England of standing ovations and the crowd raising the roof, had there been one. The first ever grooms’ prize was the start of their recognition. Then Totilas’ first appearance in this country at the 2009 World Dressage Masters, where he produced a record-breaking freestyle.

    Dressage at Hickstead produced opportunities across the dressage spectrum, and was inclusive. Many of the stalwarts in the organising team had been with Dane since young riders: riders, parents, and supporters we all knew by name were in the office, or raking the arenas, scoring, and doing all the jobs needed to run a show. The names would run like film credits.

    Dane recalls one little girl on sheet-collecting duty remarking to the Swedish chef d’equipe at the briefing meeting that “it was all up to us to make it work”. It did work, but it came at a price and, after topping up the funds out of his own pocket for years, Dane had to call a halt.

    Dane stresses that he’s not complaining, it’s frustration he feels at the lack of support from our sport’s and equestrian sport’s infrastructure. He’s not talking about money, but commitment, and this was glaringly obvious in the British response to the Rotterdam Hickstead Challenge.

    Whereas Rotterdam bought into the concept over the phone and had it all organised in four days, over here the response was “less than enthusiastic”. Yet look what a success it was.

    We both agree with Nick Skelton (opinion, 14 May issue) on the benefits for the whole sport greater investment in show venues would bring.

    It may be too late for Dressage at Hickstead as we know it, but Dane’s work in promoting inclusivity in our sport should not be allowed to lie dormant.

    Support from the late Dr Wilfried Bechtolsheimer and his wife Ursula made a huge difference over the years, which Dane is particularly keen to recognise, as am I for all their support. What memories were made at Hickstead. Thank you Dane and team.

    And, Dane, good luck with the new chapter, as there will be one, and not just sorting septic tanks!

    Well done Corona

    Sadly, I couldn’t go to the Winter Dressage Championships at Hartpury due to Covid-19 restrictions on numbers, so well done British Dressage for organising a livestream.

    Jayne Turney’s victory in the prix st georges was memorable, not only as a first title for Jayne, but because it was the first time a pony had won a championship at this level – and of course for Jayne’s flood of tears while being interviewed.

    She was worried that her friend and trainer Charlotte Dujardin would laugh at her for the waterworks. But Charlotte, just remember London 2012 before you do.

    Of course, the most aptly named winner of the week made everyone smile. Well done to the medium freestyle gold winner, Claire Knowles and her mare Corona S.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 3 September 2020