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.

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