Bequestrian’s day with Carl Hester
Full of excitement I woke on Tuesday 28th April at 6am, as I am sure the many others did that were booked on Bequestrian’s trip to Carl Hester’s yard for a demonstration and tour. We met at Stirrups restaurant at 7.45 for morning coffee and to collect our delightful goody bags (which may I add were superb with useful information and brochures and lots of lovely samples in them).
Then it was all aboard the coach, which was buzzing with anticipation on the way down to glorious Gloucester. The journey didn’t seem to take that long and the coach driver navigated the narrow lanes perfectly. We arrived at the yard around 10am and well what can I say…….it was stunning: what better surroundings could anyone have?! It was an idyllic training ground for the Olympians , relaxing friendly, calming ,scenic, clean and built to extremely high standards – it was horse paradise and riders come to that! There was a quick pit stop for the toilets then we all settled into the indoor for the demonstration.
The one thing I really picked up on was the way the horses were kept and trained and as an event rider myself I took great interest in what horses Carl purchased and the reasons why (this was clearly to see if i could improve my dressage marks !). Each horse is hacked out for 15 minutes before and after each schooling session and they are rode by all the grooms. We first saw two very beautiful 5yo so that we could learn what was expected and how they are worked. Carl at this point stated that he selects his horses to buy when they are two and a half years old as he can see what is starting to happen with their shape and movement, he finds it best to look at them in a natural state and not a ‘man made’ one he likes to watch them move on both reins then after this the next priority would be to look at its breeding. It was stated that the one thing that can not be seen at this stage of the horses life is what temperament the horse may have. Those successfully purchased are broken in at three and a half years old and turned away till they are four and a half. All the 5yo live out and are brought in at 7am then turned out in the afternoon after they have been worked, the maximum time they are worked for is 30min.
All Carl’s horses are picked as they have a natural good walk and canter these are the most important two paces to look for as it is harder to train them, they must have a good moment of suspension in the canter as this is extremely important for when they come to learn the more complex grand prix movements. On the other hand a horse with a short walk will be easier to train Piaffe and the horses with longer walks will find this more difficult as they will find it harder to do the collection work.
There really are not expectations of the 5yo horses as Carl stated that it depends on the horse being ridden and the person riding it hence the horse and rider will move at a pace which is suited to them. Next in was the 6yo to which we were reminded to remember the horses age in relation to the amount of collection requested. They worked the horses as coaches would work gymnasts (as a national gymnast previously this is the easiest way for me to explain it): the work involved flexing , stretching and collecting, muscle building whilst keeping the muscles soft and relaxed. The horse even when stretching was in self carriage and not curled up. Carl looks at the biomechanics of the horses movement, it’s suppleness and it’s straightness. Most work was done in rising as the back must be strong enough before sitting work commences. He trains his horses without a whip if possible as when they get up to the higher level the riders are not allowed to carry whips, one very poignant tip was made here was that “the horse must be in front of the leg , not in front of the whip”.
We were also lucky enough to see a 7yo and of course some Grand Prix horses. However all these horses only do 4 days a week in the school part of their training also involves hill work and water treadmill work. In Carl’s words ” A good dressage horse must have the ability to push and to sit”. The riders must also be able to sit still and he will take the time with the riders to work with no stirrups if necessary!! although I am not personally convinced i would like to do that with my event horse as he would probably buck me straight off!!. I think the point that was trying to be made is that the basics must be in place I guess like cake making really : if the basic ingredients are missed out you can try and cover with icing but it will fall apart or could at any given time.
Carl touched on the competition issues of horses not being relaxed enough and that riders should experiment with warm-ups. For instance one horse may just need 40 min warm-up then be able to go into the test whereas another may need bringing out for three 20 min sessions during the course of the day. Nip Tuck ( Carl’s top horse) being a ‘hot’ horse requires a similar warm-up to the latter and he finds the shows hard work as the horse lives out and is usually worked from the field this of course is not possible at a show. It seems to be all about finding out what is best for each individual horse and there is no set guidelines.
One statement that did tickle me somewhat and perhaps some riders need to remember this…. (when carl was picking droppings up from the arena) “see even when you are winning you still have to pick up the s**t”. Carl was a pleasure to talk to and appeared very grounded, he has worked hard to get to this point but there was no superiority feeling on the yard he was just part of the team.
After the demo there was the chance (for which we had all been waiting for!!) to have pictures taken with Valegro, Nip Tuck, Utopia and other horses on Carl’s yard. We also got the chance to have Carl’ new book (Making it Happen) signed. Carl was also on hand to answer questions and generally just chat with everybody which was incredible for a busy man to find time to do.
As the day came to a close the raffle was drawn to win some fabulous prizes which included Bequestrian Merchandise and half a pallet of bedding from Green Mile Equine and Animal Bedding, then it was back on to the coach and back to the restaurant for some coffee. I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did and if anyone ever gives you the opportunity to go on one of these days or you see one of these days advertised then take it with both hands, there is something to be learnt from every rider in every discipline as no two horses are the same and someone might just have the answers you are looking for.
A big thank you to Carl Hester and his Team for allowing us to visit, to Bequestrian for organising the trip and the goody bags and making it such a lovely day out. Also to all the sponsors of the goody bags and the donations that were made as prizes in the raffle.
Some other little points you may find useful which I picked up and /or became aware of:
- Trained rider = Trained horse
- 150 transitions should be done per schooling session easily!
- you will require patience and a sense of humour
- Carl used to be an event rider! (new one on me)
- Double bridles should only be used when horses are good in the mouth and the contact is established
- Remember to give and re-take the reins
- difference between horses at home and how it is in the ring is relaxation
Pictures are courtesy of Sarah Jones Creative and Lisa Smith of Stable Equestrian.
Article owned and written by Stable Equestrian.
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