What an honour to be part of the silver medal winning team in Rio. We could not achieve this without the amazing support of the grooms, owners and World Class management, they all play a huge part in our success.
The thrill of seeing Valegro and Charlotte retain their Olympic gold individual medal brought a tear to everyone's eyes. What a wonderful performance to end an amazing experience in Rio.
Last but not least, the support shown by fans across the world is overwhelming and is hugely appreciated, thank you for being with us every step of the way.
British Dressage’s (BD) latest push to increase membership is already reaping rewards, with more than 1,500 new members this year. It’s due to a diverse raft of associate championships, from retrained racehorses to native ponies — even draught horses. This really is dressage for all.
Martin Clunes brought his Clydesdale Bruce to Keysoe to contest the draught horse championship, a new addition this year. (Fact for the day, which I didn’t know: Clydesdales could be pitted against Fjord horses — both are draught horses as the Fjord have been used for hundreds of years by Norwegian farmers.)
The native classes have been a massive success with more than 600 forward for the championship and with Lusitano, Spanish, veteran and Forces Equine for our forces and emergency services, there really is something for everyone. Pure and part-bred Arabs will join in next year.
There has already been some negativity — including the “what next, one-legged horse classes?” — but I wholeheartedly applaud BD’s initiative. Dressage should be inclusive not exclusive — it is after all the basis of all training, and this fantastic addition to BD’s growing membership means anyone who rides will feel they have something to aim for.
Last year BD reviewed the competition structure and there was confusion (mine included). BD has responded to queries and criticisms to create hopefully a more suitable structure and level playing field.
If you’re still confused at all BD are happy to talk you through any issues. So rather than gripe on social media and end up a frustrated keyboard puncher, do go straight to the horse’s mouth.
I was lucky enough to be invited to host a masterclass at Melbourne’s Werribee Park this month for more than 2,500 spectators and a handful of guinea pigs. Even with the number of years I’ve been doing these demos it was nerve-racking. But thanks to the Aussie mentality, which is down-to-earth and with a thirst for knowledge, I felt appreciated and I sure appreciated them.
Before the masterclass, in a session on dressage through the ages, I immersed myself in trivia, books and films. How far dressage has come! It has changed hugely over the years and it struck me it depends on what era you were born in as to how you perceive it.
My first memory is from the 1988 Seoul Olympics when Rembrandt won gold; the era of horses like Corlandus and Gigolo, and of course Reiner Klimke. Not only does it seem this was the first time horses went “on the bit”, but when terms like “through” and “over the back” were introduced.
I leafed through a book from the 1970s called Dressage Around the World, and to my eyes we’d now consider these horses hollow and above the bit. It was the US riders who were riding in a more modern-day style, on the bit, but at that time were perceived as demons and derided in the book.
I wonder what George Morris, one of the most famous horsemen ever, would say about that! Compared to modern-day horses these were not moving with expression. There is a certain beauty in lightness, but without expression it can surely be explained as lack of impulsion?
The truth is, many people find it difficult to achieve both lightness and power. Of the thousands who do dressage, only a tiny minority can ride power in lightness. The key to all this, surely, is balance.
Ref Horse & Hound; 24 November 2016
Shows like the Great British Bake Off and Strictly Come Dancing are based on personalities and characters. However, as the shows continue into their umpteenth series, this has led to comments about the participants now being “Z-listers”. But even so-called Z-listers have personalities — as they’re showing — and are why the viewing figures are still as high as they are.
There’s ongoing concern about the popularity of dressage, so any opportunity to identify and capitalise on personalities to increase exposure is vital. It’s very good that awards to recognise owners and grooms and the achievements of all those involved other than riders have been instigated over the past few years, and wonderful to see this being opened up even further with the introduction of the H&H Awards and the Haddon Training British Grooms Awards — nominations for the latter are open until 18 November (see www.britishdressage.co.uk).
For so many years grooms had been overlooked and I can recall some horror stories from 25-odd years ago of grooms not only being undervalued, but much worse. What has changed beyond all recognition is we now know about grooms as personalities.
Our Alan Davies seems to be in so much demand for talks and appearances he’s giving Clare Balding a run for her money! It’s these personalities that dressage needs to capitalise on to sell our sport, and open up our world.
Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to sample quite a few different training methods and learn from top trainers, either at conventions or by having placed myself in different countries to learn.
It would be easy to consider we all deserve a trainer’s full attention, but with the busy schedules most of them lead, how big a piece of your trainer should you expect or need?
I have found that training as a profession involves not only training people, but media work, horses to feed and staff to look after, plus my own horses to ride. It is a huge role.
Let’s be clear: if you’re paying for time you deserve to get it, but I’ve read in amazement comments on forums which imply that some people seem to expect not only training, but a full psychological assessment, marriage counselling or mortgage advice when they’re having a lesson, plus a bake-off in the tack room afterwards.
When I look back at my time with some great trainers, from some I can only remember one certain point. From Harry Boldt it was the half-halt and from Bert Rutten the importance of “on and back”.
These simple points are the staple diet of my training. To take something from each lesson is a nugget of gold. If it’s the same point it doesn’t mean the lesson is boring; it means you haven’t achieved that goal quite yet.
Don’t overlook trainers who aren’t so well known. They can make very valuable points and could perhaps be more interested in just “you”, if that’s what you want out of a lesson.
Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) continues to grow in attendance and popularity and it was wonderful to see our future elite horses showcased there (report, 13 October). It’s great exposure for these younger horses before they start their international careers.
The show’s a favourite with showjumpers and showing people, so how great to see a packed arena for these eight- to 10-year-olds doing their freestyles and showing off our sport. I recall riding there — when HOYS was at Wembley — in what I believe was the only small tour invitational class held there before this latest flurry. It was my first freestyle on my lovely old campaigner Legal Democrat.
Not having expected to qualify I’d raced home to get some music, and not for the first time did five judges catnap while I spent a minute and a half on the intro. The full story’s in the book!
Ref Horse & Hound; 20 October 2016
We’re well in the swing of things here at Oakelbrook Mill after Christmas and New Year. I headed to Scotland to see my family over Christmas, which was lovely but as ever with horses, life goes on pretty much as normal. Admittedly there has been a bit more cake, several boxes of mince pies and a whole load of chocolate going about due to our super owners who are adamant in their opinion that we need feeding up; who are we to argue I say!
Alan is a certified and well documented chocoholic and he won’t mind me saying that his ability to consume a variety of cocoa-related foodstuffs is quite remarkable. The rest of us are not shy either however, and I am firm in my belief that if you eat while moving then the calories are cancelled out automatically!
Normal life follows a fairly regular routine here with all the horses being worked before we stop for lunch. Charlotte and Carl start riding somewhere between 7.30 and 8am and basically we keep going until we’re finished! Carl strongly believes that the horses’ stables should be their place to relax and so everything we do to them in terms of preparation for exercise, doing up afterwards and general grooming is done in the cross tie area of our indoor school. This means that the yard itself is actually very quiet, whereas the indoor complex is a hive of activity.
Most of the time there will be at least four horses being ridden at once between the two schools and out in the fields that form part of Oakelbrook. I do love the fact that all of the horses go for a hack out in the field or a down the drive before and after exercise in the school. Of course it gives them a good warm up and cool down but it also means they get to see the big wide world on a daily basis. Day to day encounters can include anything from negotiating a flock of animated guinea fowl to crossing water obstacles in the field when it’s rained a lot here!
We have proper old turf and a nice little pull up the hill in the top field and so we often canter the horses up there which they love. I like to jack my stirrups up as far as possible which means that they barely come off the end of the flaps — still being in a dressage saddle after all — but I hate not being able to get up off their backs to let them move a bit. Must be my racing roots!
Like this? You might also enjoy reading these:
We turn the horses out as much as possible (although the weather is not helpful at this time of year!) and horses also hack twice per week on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The hacking days are an integral part of the horses’ routine and we’re quite a well known sight to the locals heading out with a team of horses along the roads around here.
Just like a professional human athlete, our horses do train hard for their careers, but I like to think they have a nice time doing it. We always look to make it all work as slickly as possible of course, but when we’re in full swing it does feel like a well oiled machine. It’s safe to say that Carl’s methods are pretty tried and tested, and the successes of the set up and routine speak for themselves. On that note, on we go to do it all over again tomorrow.
I think the only place to start this week is at the end. The close of Blueberry’s (Valegro) competitive career is certainly not the culmination of his ridden one, but it does mark the close of an incredible chapter in dressage.
The story of he and Charlotte’s meteoric rise to global superstardom has been illustrated by an array of mesmerising performances over the years, to the point where he has become so much more than just a horse. He is a phenomenon. I was holding the fort at home throughout Olympia week and so we thought it only right that you should hear about his farewell in words of his bestie, Alan (Davies, Carl and Charlotte’s travelling groom)…
So Olympia turned out to be a more momentous occasion than I could have ever imagined. Blueberry was overjoyed about the whole thing from the moment he got to leap into the truck with his mate Barney (Nip Tuck). He was very grumpy with me when I got back from our trip to compete in Lyon with Barney most recently, Blueberry was not impressed that he had been left at home!
We travelled down on the Sunday and got settled in early, which proved to be a good idea as the media attention was continuous all through Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Carl and Charlotte started each day with radio interviews while Blueberry and I had to keep popping out from the stables to do appearances and photo shoots throughout the week. It felt like there was a reporter there from every conceivable TV station on the planet, it was unbelievable.
Amidst all hype over Blueberry, Barney had the serious business of competing to be getting on with, and tried very hard to behave in the electric atmosphere. He was a star and went beautifully to win both classes. We are all so proud of him and so happy for Jane (de la Mare — Barney’s owner), whose faith in him has never wavered.
Blueberry took the whole whirlwind of media following him like a true professional; he never turned a hair. He graced everyone with his gorgeous smile every time he was asked and then went onto do one of the best tests of his life on the Wednesday night, just to make sure that everyone will remember him as the utter superstar that he is.
My abiding memory will be waiting with him in the collecting ring before his final retirement appearance, late on the Wednesday evening. Blueberry and I were instructed to stay in the collecting ring until we were called in to join everyone in the main arena. We were out there for about five minutes and then they opened the curtains: the noise that hit me of cheering and clapping was like nothing I have ever heard. It took me a few moments to compose myself and I must admit to shedding a few tears as I walked in with Blueberry. I had to tell myself to get a grip as I had to do an interview in the arena almost straight away!
Like this? You might also enjoy reading these:
I drove the two boys home that night and had time to reflect on the last few days. There are no words to describe the incredible love that the fans have shown for Blueberry. I’m lucky enough to still have him in my life every day, but it is obviously quite sad that he won’t be seen competing any more. Thankfully he is feeling so fit and well he will be able to do some appearances in his retirement which I am sure he will enjoy as much as his fans, so he will see you all soon!
Let the festivities begin
We’re all feeling pretty Christmassy at Oakelbrook. Alan is working over Christmas and will be putting Carl to work with the mucking out while the rest of us are away! I then take over the mantel for New Year to give Alan a break, with Sadie and Chloe back too. So from all of us here at Team Hester, we hope you have a very happy Christmas and our very best wish for the coming year.
Fizz & Alan