Carl Hester: ‘Young riders must dig deep and learn’ *H&H Plus*

  • Carl Hester shares his thoughts on why riders shouldn’t expect to be handed a career on a plate and how times have changed since he started out. He explains why hard work is still a necessity, as is poo-picking, no matter how many medals you might have to your name

    The National Grand Prix Championship later this month is taking shape very nicely. It’s great to learn that although it will be behind closed doors, the public will be able to watch a livestream for free.

    Indeed, one upside of this year is how people have embraced technology. I heard the digital British Dressage (BD) National Convention, held at the end of November, was a huge success, with people watching in their pyjamas, or being able to nip out and do their horses halfway through.

    I have also heard great reports about the judges’ day, where Peter Storr and Clive Halsall marked tests on a normal sheet then discussed their marks with the rider, while each movement was shown in slow motion. One rider to make the most of the opportunity was my former apprentice Katie Bailey; she recently took prix st georges honours at the Vale View High Profile Show, where another graduate of mine, Amy Woodhead, swept the board across the levels.

    I’m always thrilled when my pupils do well – it’s a sign of all the hard work and dedication they put in. The horse world is very different today from when I was starting out, and Katie and Amy are both successfully running their own yards now, as are other alumni, Lucy Cartwright and her husband Daniel Bremner.

    I was interested to read the recent column by Anna Ross (19 November) about the difficulties of “making it” in the horse world today, and I wanted to know what more riders thought.

    The common thread was that none of those I spoke to expected BD, a sporting governing body and membership organisation, to make anything happen for them. They may be fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend years at a top yard, but that wasn’t down to luck, it was because they applied themselves, worked hard, absorbed knowledge and continue to learn. By the way, Katie got the job with me through an advert in H&H.

    It makes me wonder, do too many young people these days want everything on a plate? Amy has had experiences of offering young people a chance at her yard, but then seeing parents arrive to pick them up four days later because they haven’t been allowed to ride her top horses.

    Amy herself is from a background where both parents worked hard and built their own places in the equestrian world, and Amy is grateful that they told her to go out and learn the industry. That was what she did, from field management to dealing with wounds, and from treating staff well to dealing with owners. The riding’s just a part of it.

    Managing owners’ expectations

    If owners are paying you to produce, ride or even look after their horse, of course they are going to have expectations. It’s all about managing those.

    As Lucy told me: “We have good owners and of course we want to win for them, but in my experience what’s more important to them is that their horse is loved and looked after as our own. It’s not just about riding, and maybe where people go wrong is in thinking they can just go and run a yard without the experience.” Katie agreed that communication with owners is key. It’s not about results, but the horse coming first.

    As a lawyer friend remarked, trainee lawyers can’t expect to appear in court in their first week in their first job; they’re more likely to be stuck at the photocopier. So while things have changed since I went out on my own, some things haven’t – hard work, dedication, people skills, attention to detail, business skills and, above all, horsemanship are what’s needed to back up your riding talent.

    I’m so proud of my graduates who’ve come through this yard. They pay their knowledge down to those who work for them, and never stop learning themselves.

    People I grew up with – John Bowen, Ian Woodhead, Tracy Woodhead, Paul Hayler, Nicky Pasco, Peter Storr (and more) – are all at the top of their game and important to BD today. The common theme is that we wanted it and we worked for it. BD does so much these days and it’s admirable, but to those who are struggling, my advice is to grow a thick skin, dig deep and learn, and when you get there, pay it back down.

    Remember, no job on the yard is beneath you. We all poo-pick here, including owners. No matter how many medals, we all still have to pick up sh*t.

    ● What do you think? What skills do young people need to succeed today? Let us know at hhletters@futurenet.com

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 3 December 2020

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