“Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen and others make it happen.”
Carl Hester is someone who ‘made it happen.’ This is Carl Hester’s autobiography. In true Carl form it is amusing, entertaining, irreverent and brutally honest. When an athlete is universally famous and respected we tend to assume it has all happened seamlessly. They got there because they worked hard and had talent and were rewarded and their quest to represent their countries in big championships like the Olympics came about because of their talent and hard work. No. That is not how it happens. Not even for Carl Hester.
Carl came from a background that was not a privileged one. He grew up on the Isle of Sark where there are no motor cars and all transport is by horse drawn carriage and horses plough the fields. His first chance to ride was on a donkey called Jacko that he used to take to the local shops. This was the beginning of one of the most successful equestrian careers in modern times.
Carl had a number of very “character forming” experiences as he worked his way up. When he finally began to emerge as one of Britain’s leading riders it was still not a clear path to the top. In 2003 he was riding Escapado, known as Peanuts to his friends, and was aiming for the European Championships at Hickstead Initially the British team was to be Richard Davison, Emma Hindle and Nicola McGivern with the fourth place given to Emile Faure. The week before the Championships Carl took Escapado to Fry’s international and they won the Grand Prix. The selectors for the European Champs told Carl he was now on the team and Emile was off. But…when he arrived at Hickstead he was informed there would be a ride off. Here is how Carl describes it.
“It just couldn’t be done nowadays—and thank God for that; that sort of not-very-merry-go –round is unfair, it’s unsportsmanlike and totally ridiculous and utterly pointless pressure to put to the horses under.We didn’t exactly ‘ride off’—there were no lances and no jousting tilts involved—but we both had to ride through the grand prix, as I remember. We were told that the selectors were going away to discuss what they had seen, and then we would all gather in the lorry park for a meeting. Well to be fair to Emile, it was a pretty rough way of doing things; he’d been put on the team, he’d been taken off the team, I’d been put on, then we were told we would have to ride off. So at about six-thirty we all turned up. It was one of the most uncomfortable moments of my life. There we were, sitting in the lorry park with the three selected members, so it was fairly public and whoever failed to win a place would have to grin and bear it. They turned to me and said they were sorry but Emile was back on the team as the fourth member and I would be the reserve.”
As if that was not bad enough it got worse. There was a gala evening and a team parade had been scheduled. The team and Carl were seated together at a table at the gala. A carriage arrived to pick up the team and take them around the arena for all to see. This is how it played out.
“The five of us got up. ‘Not you, daawling, you’re the reserve,’ drawled Desi Dillingham (the chair of British Dressage at the time)to me as she swept the others off, leaving me sat at this table all on own while the team went off to parade in front of the crowds. Considering I had dressed up with the team, come in with the team, if I could have crawled under a stone I would have. “
It seems unbelievable now that Carl Hester would have been put through this. But he was. He was not defeated by it however and carried on and is now one of the best ambassadors for dressage in the world. But he always charted his own course when it came to the horses. Leading up to the Olympics in London 2012 Carl and his farrier were painstakingly looking after Uthopia’s feet as the balance was very sensitive. But Carl still turned Uthopia out every day in the paddock. Here is what Carl said about that time. “Some people may say I should have kept him in, should have wrapped him in cotton wool, but that has never been my way. Horses should be allowed to be horses. First of all that is what they are and their star status as competitors is what they give us when they are allowed to be themselves. That’s my view anyway ……..and I would take what was thrown at me for it. “
This autobiography is co-authored with writer and equestrian journalist Bernadette Hewitt. It is an easy and informative read that gives us an entertaining story of an unusual route to the top and a glimpse of what goes on backstage at the elite levels of equestrian sport. If you are a dressage rider amateur or professional and even if you are not a dressage rider, if you are any kind of rider, this book is worth reading.
Horse Addict Rating 5*