An Inside Look at Carl Hester’s Training System
Training tips, strategies and philosophies from this five-time Olympian and world-class horseman
Last October, the long-awaited New England Dressage Association’s Fall Symposium with Carl Hester began with a flurry of anticipation. It seemed that everyone from New England and beyond was there, and people were finding their seats at the Pineland Farms Equestrian Center in New Gloucester, Maine, two hours before the program was to begin. When the time finally came for his effusive introduction, Hester seemed humbled. “Thank you for this embarrassing welcome,” he said. “Who writes these things?” And, he added, “What you will see this weekend isn’t really my system anyway. Everyone’s system is somebody else’s system, and I’ve been fortunate to learn from so many great horsemen over many years. In time, you just learn to develop what works for you.” To that end, Hester offered the following advice.
1. Advice for Young Professionals
If you don’t have the ability to buy yourself a great horse or if you don’t have a sponsor to buy one, you have to buy what you can afford, even if it might be a 2-year-old. After I had achieved international success, I presumed I’d get other Grand Prix horses to ride. But no. So I bought what I could afford. That’s what you need to do. Then get a good trainer, which is a more important investment than what you put into a horse. Riders at the top always have several horses and they get inspiration and regular help every day. It can be a problem for those who who keep their horses at home and do not have access to regular help. You have to get someone to help you on a daily basis.
2. Emphasis on Horsemanship
After the Olympic Games in London, I was asked if I thought our success was due to the fact that we turn our horses out. No! It’s the riding and training, it’s the horsemanship. We do, however, make sure our horses keep moving. It’s one thing to be a good rider, but it’s far more interesting to see what else a rider knows. The more you read and the more you can put other people’s practices into action, the more interesting and fulfilling your horse experience becomes. It’s important to learn about horse care, conditioning, biomechanics and more. When you become a true horseman, that makes your commitment serious. If you don’t have that, then training horses to any level has less meaning.
3. Focus on Rider Position
Straightness. We will always have the situation of a crooked rider on a crooked horse, and our goal is to make both straight. To that end, don’t look down to the inside. You’ll only find X there. Look through the middle, down your horse’s neck and through his ears. Or look up and out. The judges sit on the outside.
Hands. Often the rider’s right hand doesn’t match his left hand. It helps to look at your hands and see what they do. People have habits that are so ingrained that they feel normal, but you don’t have to become stuck in your ways. I have students who ask me, “Are my hands improving?” Even Charlotte [Dujardin] knows she can be hand-dominant and she works to improve that. You can always get better over a long period of time, so don’t take it personally if your trainer says the same thing every day.
If your outside shoulder is low, your inside elbow will come up. Fix it one way or the other.
Rider self-carriage. It is not only the horse that needs to be in self-carriage— the rider needs it, too. Many riders have
Karin Persson rode her own 6-year-old Giuliano B, a Swedish Warmblood gelding. The pair made everything look rather easy.