Carl Hester Masterclass: Day One

Anyone in the equestrian world, no matter what discipline, will have heard of Carl Hester. Decades ago the British referred to him as “The Master”. Now the whole world knows him as “The Master”.  In case you are not familiar with his accomplishments here are a few:

1992, Barcelona Olympics, at age 25 he was the youngest rider, ever, to represent Great Britain. He also rode on the GB team at Olympics in Atlanta, 1996, Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, and London 2012 when Team GB won the Gold Medal. He was awarded an MBE by the Queen in 2013. In Rio 2016 Team GB took the silver medal and Carl Hester had trained every rider on the team.

He is considered to be one of the top international riders in the world, as well as being the top trainer of horses and coach of riders. On Saturday October 21 he was in my part of the world to give a two-day Masterclass.. So, come on and join me for the ride!

By 9am the audience was in their seats and ready for a day of dressage. Over a hundred riders had applied to ride in the Masterclass and only 14 were chosen. The morning started with Carl giving us an introduction. He brought some of his wicked sense of humor and told us that before London 2012 a woman had commented to him after a clinic that his training was not right and the horses were not going in the right way. But once Team GB won team gold she then sent him an email to say: “your horses are so much better.”

The day was set up with the youngest horses going first starting with the four-year-old horses. I don’t see the point in my giving you my opinion on the riders or my interpretation of what Carl was telling us. I am going to go through the horses and the levels and just give you what I think are the gems from Carl. What follows are all quotes from the sessions .

  1. FOUR YEAR OLD HORSES   Andrea Bresee on  Ismeaux and Erin MacQuarrie on Iron Butterfly

We can all train a horse differently. The horse has an alphabet that it learns.

The young horse needs a rider who is confident and quiet. Be safe. Make sure you can start and stop.

You must have a plan when you ride. If you do something on the right then do it on the left. For the warm up I like to do a circle at C then at B and then at A.

The word I talk about more than anything is “straightness”.

If the young horse spooks then ride shoulder in.

STRETCHING THE YOUNG HORSE.  If the young horse is not strong enough to carry his neck it comes behind the vertical. Let the reins out and go longer and wait for him to carry his head and neck. If the horse takes the reins forward in the stretch you are on the right track.

FOUR YEAR OLD HORSES AT CARL’S YARD  : They all live out and come in at 7am for breakfast. They are ridden  for 25 minutes and then go out again 4 days a week.

2. THE FIVE YEAR OLD HORSE  Maya Markowski on Something Royal

With the five year old you can start to work on the more uphill canter and ask for more power from behind. Open the underside of the neck.

USE OF THE WHIP :  The whip needs to reach the inside hind leg. Use the whip to touch, get a reaction and the release the hand.  So give a click ( verbal), touch with the whip and then something happens. The horse should not be afraid of the whip but should be respectful. Use it and get a reaction. Ride with it and then put it down, don’t get used to riding with it.

I want to see a response from this horse. This horse needs to be sharper. You’re not supposed to be the one going back to the stable on a stretcher sweating and red.

Think about how you stand ( on the ground) when you are riding. Think about how you balance yourself.

Don’t forget to open your mouth and breathe. You’ve got to get the air in!

When you flex a horse you can’t do it like your hands are on handlebars. Hold the horse with the outside rein and curve with the inside rein.

Canter on a long rein and don’t hold her all together. Teach her to hold herself together.

3. THE SIX YEAR OLD HORSE. Cecile von Martels on Captain, My Captain.

The six year olds have to do very difficult things in the FEI Six Year old test.

To learn the flying change the canter must be small and light.

CANTER HALT EXERCISE:  Lift your middle( rider’s middle) and halt with no reins. Then in the halt he has to stand with no reins.  If you hold him he pulls. A stride before the halt, drop the reins. Take it, let go, take it, let go—–halt! This is training for when you canter down the centerline in a test  you collect, collect  and halt.

A small horse can be strong and a big horse can be light it is not about size.

If the horse breaks to trot that tells me you didn’t ride for a minute.

Do something easy to finish up. A little bit of trot at the end is good to cheer him up.

4. THIRD LEVEL/ADVANCED MEDIUM ( UK)  Kahla Ishoy on Sakima and Jacqueline  Brooks on Emmett

SHOULDER IN: Shoulder in on the quarter line. At the start pick your angle. Of course it is more difficult on the quarter line. That makes it much easier when you come to do it on the long side.  Think of turning like you were going to do a diagonal when  you ride out of the corner. If the angle is too big it becomes too difficult for the horse.

Is it a Canadian custom to ride with the whip held up in your hand like this? ( this was the second rider he had asked to change how they held the whip. He wanted it held so the end could touch the horse’s leg).

HALF PASS: Do travers down the long side and make sure the horse has level ears.   Go from half pass, to shoulder in ,to half pass .to shoulder in.  You have to see the letter you are heading toward between both of the horse’s hears.  Take a bit of the expression away until he gets lighter in the hand.

FLYING CHANGE: Look at the plait ( braid) behind the ears and get it higher, then motivate to the change.  The horse has to be taking you forward to the change.  After the change you don’t just let your horse fall apart. Forward , easy , light. Don’t focus down, look up. You have to be aware of where the horse’s hind legs are all the time.

Don’t let him think: “I’m going to have a journey to the earth’s core.” Go forward!

WHAT IS SWING? When the tail swings and lifts and the back goes up and down. The back is totally soft.

5. DEMONSTRATION RIDE FROM REBECCA EDWARDS ( British Young Rider on a horse she had not previously ridden).

(The horse balked)  That’s not an English movement that one!

If the horse goes forward half halt and if he goes slower then leg on. Forget about dressage and think you are trying to be selected for the Pony Club Games. Forward, release, forward, release, make the horse positive to your aids.

Leg yield is something we use with a horse that needs to get in front of the leg. Leg yield across the diagonal.

As well as being elegant you have to be effective. If you want to be an elegant rider the horse has to do the work.  Let the horse do the work and release.

6. PRIX ST. GEORGE  Vanessa Creech-Terauds on Fleur de Lis

This is a hot horse and hotter horses need support. We have to be able to put the leg on. Ride with not too much curb keep the neck long and hands forward. The horse balances itself with the  neck. In the canter your hips have to come forward through your hands. Close your ankles and bring her to the point ( of collection) where I could walk beside her.

PIROUETTES: 10 meter circle and let  her canter and relax, give the reins. Is that you giving the reins? That’s a little bit Scottish. ( not enough) Bring the  hind legs toward me, keep the flexion, soften the hand, use inside leg and make canter higher with more suspension.

The Golden Rule of Pirouettes:  Start small and get bigger. The basis of the pirouette is to start in shoulder in not quarters in. Make  a half pirouette around me , NOT over me, and turn the front end around me, ride forward.

TO IMPROVE THE FLYING CHANGE:  On the  long  side ride medium canter 3-4 strides then collect on the spot, then medium canter,  then collect, then forward and tick with heel for the change. Come back to collection after the change. Ride  forward and release, forward hand and loose in the change.

Vanessa takes brilliant instruction. It’s one thing to say it but another to do it. Very well ridden, you ride quietly and you sit in the middle. I wish I’d ridden like her when I was 17years old.

7. INTERMEDIARE II ( BABY GRAND PRIX). Karis van Essen on Camistry J

Corners are your “wall of death” You ride a 60 by 18 meter arena not 60 by 20.

CORNER EXERCISE.  Before the corner, halt, and to a turn on the forehand. Ride to the next corner and repeat. Then halt before corner and then ride on round the corner. Horse has to stop himself in the corner. Repeat exercise in canter with very collected canter in corner.

If I was you I would just focus on the Grand Prix and not get stuck in the Inter II. So we’re going to pretend it’s the GP and the most important thing is your preparation.

CENTERLINE PIROUETTE EXERCISE:Rider shoulder in, straighten, change, shoulder in , straighten. Going up and  down the centerline doing pirouettes is not the answer.

CANTER EXERCISE: Try to put more brilliance into your canter.Do 10 meter circles in the corners. Now it’s more of a tranter. Touch him with the whip. I don’t want to see canter that turns into tranter.Jump the hind leg. Keep the balance in your seat and it helps the canter when you have him higher in front. The canter needs to be quicker not more forward and flatter. Quicker!

8. GRAND PRIX. Jaimey Irwin on Donegal V.

It is great when you are the last horse of the day cause you’ve seen everyone else and you know all the exercises and you can be the teacher’s pet.

For the half pass use the inside leg to get lift in the shoulder.

Keep him more on the snaffle, on the  curb he gets too strong.

PASSAGE AND PIAFFE:  Do less with your legs, let him do passage on his own.Gradually go forward to trot and use leg without his running. Leg means longer steps not running. To find the passage use just your seat not too much leg. When the  horse becomes regular behind we can collect more. Get a slow front leg and the hind legs will come by themselves.

For piaffe from walk make the walk slower and smaller. ( Horse then executes a very nice piaffe) . That’s a lot of talent in this horse.  Walk, piaffe, walk shows horse has positive tension in his body but mentally is relaxed.  For piaffe the seat is light and then sit down for passage. The exercises are teaching him to get stronger behind and the transitions are what will make the whole thing lovely.

With a hot horse you have to be careful as you can work them for a long time and they may be tired but they do not switch off between the ears.

CANTER HALF PASS:  Let him come from your leg and release the hand.  Circle 10 meters in shoulder-in to engage him. Canter needs to be loose.

TO FINISH: Trot and canter on a long rein on a circle.


This  wonderful session with a very talented nine year old horse and his rider brought the Masterclass Day One to an end.

Then there was a Press Conference.

My question to Carl Hester was: How do you find the inner resources and energy to be ‘on stage’ for seven hours of teaching in front of 1,200 people? His reply:

“I like people and I enjoy teaching. I hope that I can make a difference and give the riders and the audience something to take away with them to work on. I have become more confident about this over the years of teaching and giving clinics and masterclasses.”


That was the end of Day One. I know I learned a great deal and have some exercises for Biasini and me to work on. I will be back, with more gems ,from Day Two, tomorrow.







10 responses to “Carl Hester Masterclass: Day One”

  1. Alli Farkas Avatar

    Wow! Super job of note-taking! Thanks so much!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen Avatar

      You are most welcome. It was an inspirational weekend


  2. (HorseLover4Ever) Elizabeth Avatar
    (HorseLover4Ever) Elizabeth

    Thanks for breaking it down for us and telling us all about his points–he sounds like a wonderful teacher!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen Avatar

      You are welcome. I ‘ve. Just had another wonderful day at the final day. He is a very good teacher and has such a good way with the horses and riders.


  3. Sandy Macfarlane Avatar
    Sandy Macfarlane

    Thank you so much for sharing Day One overview – very thorough! it is great for those of us who could not attend to see Carl Hester to have you there for us!! Look forward to day two summary.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen Avatar

      Thank you. I’m so glad you enjoyed it.


  4. dprastka Avatar

    Wow, what an opportunity and I love how you broke it down and I felt like I was there listening to his instructions! Thank you for sharing, exciting! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen Avatar

      Glad you found it interesting! Thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Judy Avatar

    Wow! What an incredible opportunity, and thank you so much for sharing.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. anne leueen Avatar

      You are most welcome.

      Liked by 2 people

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