By Adam Fawcett
New Land Magazine went behind the scenes to meet Equestrian Olympic gold medalist Carl Hester MBE ahead of his spectacular Australian dressage masterclass event…
The holder of over 68 national dressage titles and an 8-time British Grand Prix Champion, the numbers simply don’t lie for arguably the world’s greatest dressage trainer, Carl Hester MBE.
Headlining the Saddleworld presents An Evening With Carl Hester dressage masterclass, Carl made a triumphant return to Australia to share his wisdom with over 2500 equestrian fans eager to soak up the knowledge from this 5-time Olympian.
Although he has been a frequent visitor of the land down under, it was Carl’s first time in Melbourne as he told New Land.
“My sister got married here in Sydney a few years ago. I rode in the Olympics here in 2000. It’s lovely to be back, Melbourne’s beautiful, gorgeous,” he said.
Carl is returning to Australia courtesy of Dressage Masterclass, a new company on the equestrian entertainment and education scene that aims to present events that showcase the best of equestrian sport to new markets. Eager to be part of such a positive movement, Carl told New Land he was excited to come on board, but acknowledged even he finds it hard to get the content right for such a major event.
“It can be very difficult when you’re just arriving in one day. You don’t want to leave people not knowing what to do or giving them things that they don’t normally do, that they’re going to suddenly find a problem with,” Carl said.
“The main problem that everybody has when they ride a horse, is how to balance it. You can teach people to ride Grand Prix. That’s not so difficult, but to teach them to do it in a harmonious way, a beautiful way, you have to have the horse balanced. My tips generally, whether they’re riding a five-year-old, or they’re riding a Grand Prix horse, is how to get it in a better balance, so it looks easy.”
Despite its elitist reputation, Carl has almost single-handedly broken the mould that says equestrian sport is only the domain of the wealthy, rising through the ranks without outside assistance or a family with a history of horse ownership, proving anyone with a passion and love for the equine can make their dreams a reality with hard work and determination.
“I come from a very small island with 600 people. It wasn’t my family’s wishes that I was going to be a rider,” Carl says. “I didn’t have my family’s backing, although they were always very happy for me. It’s a very unusual way, but it’s a good story because it also means that if anybody else happens to come from a non-horsy family, you don’t always have to think that you’re never going to make it because I made it from a non-horsy family. Getting jobs and working my way up like anybody would do in a normal job.”
Carl told New Land being a successful equestrian was no different to being successful in any other profession.
“It doesn’t change whatever job you do. It’s patience and dedication,” he said. “If you love the job, like I love my job, you don’t want days off. I don’t have to have days off. I just enjoy doing what I’m doing. That gives you the passion to do it every day. That is the key to it. I think if you want to be a horse person – because this isn’t just about being a competition rider. It’s being a horse person. If you want to be a horse person you have to learn how to train horses. Not just ride competitions. That is what makes it so exciting.”
Many readers will know Carl through the incredible story of his star pupil Charlotte Dujardin and “The Dancing Horse” Valegro. As trainer of Charlotte and owner of Valegro, Carl has been an integral part of the partnership that has broken world records, won three Olympic gold medals in London and Rio, and captivated audiences around the world with their freestyle performances to music.
“Obviously Charlotte is a very big part of my life. We train together four days a week, as well as doing all the extra jobs. I think what we still realize is it’s a passion and it’s a hobby,” Carl told New Land.
“We don’t make a living out of riding horses. You have to teach, you have to spread your knowledge, you have to give clinics. Our riding is actually a very small part of what we do. I think people think we just ride horses all day long and we just have horses that we are given to ride, but of course that’s not true.
We buy very young horses, so that we can train them and make them. That’s the best relationship – from the beginning. I’m very fortunate. I love doing my job. I love going to work every day. I’ve managed to get my own place, which was always my dream. I’ve had some great horses as well. The success is obviously important for your career, but it’s not what drives me. Training is my favorite thing.”
By buying his horses as youngsters rather than established competition mounts, Carl says he is able to enjoy a greater partnership built up over many years. This he says, combined with traditional methods of horse husbandry, are keys to his success.
“Because I have them when they’re very young generally, I literally know my horses inside out, and they know me. They cover up my faults and I cover up their faults, because that’s what happens when you get a good partnership,” he says.
“In New Zealand, Australia, and England it’s not unusual to keep horses in a natural state like we do. I think the rest of the world finds that a little bit odd sometimes because they live in a country where you don’t have fields and you can’t have horses out, or you can’t go and ride around the country. We’re very fortunate that our horses are kept in a really normal, natural way to the way that they were bred to be.
“I think their welfare is better like that. They’re stronger, sounder, and happier to work like that because they don’t just live in an arena. Competition has changed so much. I mean, who would have thought – in London, for instance – 25,000 people filling a stadium, which was great for the sport, but it’s also very unusual for the horses. You have to have a very well educated horse to compete in situations nowadays. I think it’s the way we keep them because we do lots of things, not just going in the arena. It all contributes to why they’re successful,” Carl said.
As predicted, the masterclass event by Carl was an absolute hit with equestrian fans, with Carl training nine combinations at every level from Novice to Grand Prix. His wit, humour, knowledge and capacity to empathise with the horse were all on display and the 2500 capacity crowd clearly loved every minute of it.
Included in the evening were “Carl’s moments”, a series of 5 short segments where Carl discussed some special horses in his life and what they meant to him, the evening concluding with a special Q&A where the audiences sent in their questions for Carl to answer live.
You can now experience the magic of Carl Hester’s masterclass for yourself with the release of the official DVD through Dressage Masterclass here: www.dressagemasterclass.com.au/shop/. Please note this is only available in English.
Carl has also released the first in a new children’s book series to celebrate the life of Valegro titled “Valegro: The Little Horse With The Big Dream” available directly from Carl’s own website: www.carlhester.co.uk/shop/
This article is also available in: Chinese traditional