Carl Hester – The Relaxed, Supple, Positive Horse

It seems like a good time to talk about one of Great Britain’s best in the world of Dressage.  Why?  In my series; The OTTB – The Horse I See, The Horse Some Don’t, I wanted to bring up some of the mis-guided, mis-conceptions people have regarding the unique experience, which is owning and retraining an off track Thoroughbred.  Carl Hester, is one of my most favorite in the world of Dressage.  Anywhere you read, it is clear how down to earth and positive he is as a person and as a rider and trainer of Dressage.  This is personally, very respectful, to me.  But not only that, I feel that his approach to training, could very well be a place in which off track Thoroughbreds could flourish.  On the second part of my OTTB series, I’ll chime you in on why I think Mr. Hester’s approach works and why.  But for now, lets take a look at this exceptional horsemen!

If you’ve been reading here for a while or are on my Facebook friends list, you will probably note that on the occasion that I mention a Dressage trainer or rider, it’s usually none other than Carl Hester.  But, why do I like him so much?  What is all the fuss about?

I watched Carl Hester demonstrate his training style and way of bringing along the young horse through this exact video (shown below, at Your Horse Live, 2007) on the TV three years ago.  At that time, I was only into owning Ink for a year and this man really inspired me.  One of the other things I quite liked was his start in the world of horses.  His website reads;

The first equine to be subjected to Carl’s skill was a donkey that Carl would ride to the village shop. Always eager on the way there for the chance of a carrot he stubbornly refused to leave for the journey home. Carl would get on board, then be handed the shopping and with a flap of the carrier bags that frightened the donkey they set off home at a spanking gallop. – Carl Hester Website

One of my other “likes” towards Mr. Hester was with this interview (fast forward to 4:30ish);

Why do I like Carl Hester?  Lets observe…

Check out this video.

“What we’re trying to achieve is an athletic horse.  What we’re trying to train is something to be an athlete and to be supple.”

“If you find Dressage boring how do you think they find it?”

“I want him [Bling, 5y/o stallion] to be playful about it [moving forward].  I don’t want him to feel like Dressage is so hard work and a real grind for him.  She [Charlotte his assistant] really has to let him go forward and not pull on the reins at all, so he feels totally free.”

“We’ve shown you his [Bling] stretching.  10, 15 minutes of stretching, now we do work up on the bit.”

“We do walk, trot transitions to test his [Bling] sensitivity and just make sure he’s on her leg.”

“It must be light.  I mean she [Charlotte] has to have like feather light legs with him.  Because if you think about it, it’s not squeezing.  If you squeeze, you will literally end up with no energy left.  You don’t squeeze the horse, you touch the horse.”

“You have to remember that the trot, because if you look at this horse you think, “what a beautiful trot he’s got,” but remember the most important pace is the walk and the canter because they’re the most difficult paces to change.”

“We changed his [trot] by, A) getting him in front of the leg, so he really started to go and B) just make some shorter steps by just teaching him that when he comes back to her, he has to collect a little bit.”

“Her [Charlotte] outside leg comes off, comes on, canter.  That’s it, quite simple.”

In a 2006 Horse & Pony Magazine (NZ) interview, Carl Hester has a few things to say that I particularly liked..

Carl warns that it’s easy to be tricked when looking at young horses – if they’re brought out of the stable and the buyer is flashing them about, waving whips or plastic bags, they’re bound to look much more amazing than they actually are. Instead, it’s important to assess the young horse’s nat-ural movement, and to see how they move when they get tired.
The best dressage horses tend to be hotter types: “If you’re thinking about a horse to take to Grand Prix, then you want a horse with a big engine – not one that’s a very good mover with no heart,” explains Carl. He always tries to assess the sensitivity, simply by touching the horses with the whip and observing their reaction. Putting the hind legs underneath more or bucking and running away are all signs to be rewarded, whereas the horse who barely flicks an ear when slapped with the whip is not one Carl would choose for himself.

Each time I watch Carl work or watch the horses he’s trained, I am always thinking a couple key things; relaxed, soft, physically attentive, mentally attentive, positive and expressive.  There is always a clear, welcome, joining between the horses’ mental state and physical response.  The horses are expressive and appear to be happily taking direction from the rider.  There is no resistance and a clear mutual respect happening.  I love this combination.

In learning about Reason, it became clear to me that there was one big factor that jumped out at me.  He’s a sensitive horse, but I am always thinking, freedom, expression, space when I approach his training.  I’m always looking for his ideas and learning or re-learning ways to approach him without compromising his sensitivity.  Reason is clearly a sensitive horse and I want it to stay that way.  If he wants to buck, play, hop about, I want him too.  I’m learning how to encourage this behavior, at the same time directing times of stress or angst on his part with moments where he can feel free in his reaction and find leadership in me to have “fun” with the idea of scary things and situations.  I like this learning process.

It’s the idea of expression that brings me to my next big thought about off track Thoroughbreds and a misconception people have..

Stay tuned.

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2 thoughts on “Carl Hester – The Relaxed, Supple, Positive Horse

  1. I think that energy is indeed why people are so afraid of them. It is big sometimes, and they don't always control it well.

    On the track, it is the handlers job to get out of the way, not necessarily the horse's job to watch out for the humans.

    Bar, on the other hand, has learned that movement is okay, provided it's not over the top of me. In fact, figuring out ways to direct that movement, that energy, has lead to a lot of our personal breakthroughs in communication.

    Carl Hester is a very interesting trainer. I'll have to look into him some more. Thanks!

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