Carl Hester As Trainer, Rider, Owner, Chief Cheerleader for Britain
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Aug. 12, 2014
By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
Carl Hester has learned to love being perhaps the single most involved individual at the World Equestrian Games in a couple of weeks where he could be weighed down by the identification cards he’s required to wear–trainer, rider and owner, as well as the shoulder to cry on and cheerleader-in-chief for Great Britain.
That wasn’t the case just two years ago at London’s Olympic Games that for Carl “were the pressure years” in a nation that in a century of the global event had never won a dressage medal of any color and were favorites to win gold at home. Anything less would be seen by some as letting down the country.
The pressure began at the 2011 European Championships in Rotterdam where photos showed him crying after Charlotte’s ride on Valegro that won Great Britain gold.
“I wondered what I was doing,” he told dressage-news.com, “having an emotional meltdown? I didn’t think about it when she went into arena. I suddenly realized what I was feeling.
“Then came London. That changed everything. That was something different.
“I never wish to experience that again.”
He understood London, he told dressage-news.com, when he “read a preview that asked the question ‘If Carl’s heart can stand it’ that I began to think, ‘Can my heart stand it?’
“There was a crippling feeling coming over me. I thought of the Olympics and it’s going to be immense when I get there.”
Carl, did in fact, survive 2012.
His student Charlotte Dujardin on Valegro, of which he is an owner, led the squad to the team gold and individual gold, while team mate Laura Tomlinson on Mistral Hojris won individual bronze.
Carl, 47 years old, has a resume that includes four Olympics, Normandy in two weeks will be his third World Equestrian Games, and seven European Championships. Until the Europeans in Windsor, England in 2009 most were spent in the wilderness of also-rans, a nation of world stature in eventing and jumping but no match in dressage for powerful Germany and Holland with the United States, Sweden or Denmark typically capturing the up-for-grabs bronze medal at Olympics and WEG.
The 2014 WEG will actually be more Carl than the 2012 Olympics.
Charlotte Dujardin, 29, is still trained by Carl on Valegro, the 12-year-old KWPN gelding he owns with Roly Luard and Carl Hester.
He will ride Nip Tuck, a 10-year-old KWPN gelding he owns with Jane De La Mare, and not Uthopia that he owns with Sasha Stewart and rode at the 2012 Games. The horse is now ridden by Charlotte but has been embroiled in a long running legal issue as an asset owned by Sasha.
Gareth Hughes, 43, on DV Stenkjers Nadonna, a 16-year-old Danish Warmblood mare owned by Jane Brewin, is trained by Carl.
Michael Eilberg, 28, is the other member of the team on Half Moon Delphi, a 12-year-old British-bred mare owned by Jon and Julie Deverill, who is trained by his father and is a proven championship combination.
Carl is not just all things in so many aspects of the sport, he is a media favorite, approachable and with a much appreciated sense of humor that he speaks in sound bites vital to the needs of television and Internet news sites. Plus, his many current and former students speak highly of him.
That a kid from Sark Isle in the Channel Islands where the annual sport was a sheep race could become a leading rider, trainer and owner for a nation at the pinnacle of the sport is remarkable.
So when preparations came along for the London Games and he found himself in what was an unusual situation with multiple demands, he kept the pressure away from Charlotte.
“She didn’t know what I was going through,” he said. “After the ‘can my heart stand it’ I realized it was going to be immense. Everyone expected Charlotte to get the gold medal.
“So there was that huge piece of my life I had to give to Charlotte.
“My own scores on Uthopia went down to 75 per cent in a short space of time. I needed to fix myself up as well.”
He went to what to him is a local show, at Hartpury near his farm in Gloucestershire, to ride through the Grand Prix and the Special without any pressure.
“I don’t know what makes you keep going in those situatons,” he said, ” choice–or lack of it.
“After London, anything was going to be a breeze.”
To be where is, he said, “was going to be a natural progression.
“I didn’t pick it for myself as a career
“Two of the best horses in the world came into my life at the same time along with a talented rider.”
The London Olympics, he knew could be historic, “something will be talked about in 100 years’ time. I knew it was an important moment.
“Those were the pressure years. After London, anything was going to be a breeze.
“It has gotten easier.
“I love riding and competing and suddenly not finding that to be the case was unbearable. I want to ride in competitions, that is my passion.
“If you’re a rider with a long career you need to be progressing toward being a trainer and a coach, to pass on what you’ve learned.
“I spend my days teaching and passing on information.”
While being in his position of wearing so many hats, “damned well isn’t easy,” he recalls that he went 20 years without winning any medals of championships.
“The thought of going back to that is unbearable,” he said. “The riders now don’t know what it’s like.
“There are a lot of expectations. The new members of the team cannot think it’s not normal to win a medal.”
Correction: An earlier version incorrectly stated that Carl is from the Ilse of Man. He is from Sark in the Channel Islands.