May 2017 - Carl Hester Clinic

Dressage fundamentals and fun dominate a VIP experience with five-time British dressage Olympian.

article & photos by Kim F. Miller

Carl Hester’s April 8-9 clinic at the Del Mar Fairgrounds was truly delightful.  The five-time British dressage Olympian is a master horseman himself and the guy credited with bringing Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro along to their recent domination of international dressage.

Tiffany Mahony was the lone amateur to ride in the clinic and she did a great job with Rey Del Mundo.

Rebecca Rigdon & La Fariah were one of 13 fabulous pairs in the clinic.

As those who’ve read his books know, Carl is also witty, warm and a clear communicator of his methods for getting the best from horse and rider. Those are all rooted in down-to-earth basics and dressage fundamentals and that was the focus with each of the 13 horse/rider pairs selected to ride with Carl during the weekend.

Nearly 1,400 spectators attended each day. They occupied VIP tables lining the court in the Del Mar Arena, VIP boxes in the grandstand and general admission seating. They came from literally everywhere: all parts of California, most of Canada, Washington, Idaho, Oregon and further flung parts of the States. The atmosphere was festive and the vendor area was bustling during all breaks.

The clinic was staged by Vancouver-based event organizer Scott Hayes Productions, whose goal was an educational and fun get-away weekend. Californians got a taste of Scott’s approach last October when he brought Charlotte Dujardin to El Campeon Farms in Hidden Valley for a weekend session. Carl’s clinic built on that in size of the audience, while keeping the same intimate feel.

After just a few minutes watching and chatting with the clinic riders on Friday afternoon, Carl did a masterful job of indentifying one main training issue to focus on during the 45-minute session with each pair. “He had an incredible talent for that,” noted Sarah Lockman who was trilled to be invited to ride with Carl aboard her 6-year-old star, Dehavilland. “He really does have an incredible eye.”

Carl Hester, left, and clinic organizer Scott Hayes announce the winner in a fundraising raffle benefitting Brooke USA, a charity that supports working equines throughout the world.

Anna Buffini helps with a raffle to raise funds for Brooke USA.

In their case, Carl identified the main issue was maintaining appropriate contact, something Sarah concurred has been a priority through her time training “Deno” these last three years. He tends to carry any tension in his back and that comes out in his contact with the bit. At the end of their session, Carl asked Sarah to encourage Deno to relax at the walk by letting her reins out to the buckle. “It was good for me to be asked to do that in that setting. We do that a lot in the warm-up and cool down, but not in the biggest show ring we’ve ever been exposed to.”

The range of horses selected enabled Carl to address training topics through the German training scale. For two very different 4-year-olds, Amelie Kovac’s Ivar and Joseph Newcomb’s For Finland, it was the first rung: rhythm and relaxation. At the other end of the spectrum, Carl and his longtime friend and fellow Olympian Charlotte Bredahl worked on higher rungs of the scale: suppleness, contact, impulsion, straightness and collection as they collectively played their part in producing nice pirouettes with Hamilton, whom Charlotte is preparing for Grand Prix.

Friendly banter and teasing peaked between Charlotte and Carl as they had known each other since competing together at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Yet with every rider, Carl found fun ways to convey his ideas, defray nerves and keep the audience engaged.

USEF Young Horse Coach Christine Traurig joined Carl to work with young horses in a special Saturday demonstration.

Steffen Peters’ assistant trainer Joseph Newcomb and For Finland, a 4-year-old who epitomized relaxation in his Sunday morning lesson.

With the exception of sound system problems that were fixed by Sunday morning, attendees were very pleased with everything about the weekend. Scott Hayes was thrilled with the turn-out and ready to build more similarly-staged events in California.

He has volunteered to help stage Young Horse symposiums across the country. His willingness to lend his talents to the good cause of young horse development was nicely in evidence during the Carl Hester weekend. USEF Young Horse coach Christine Traurig gave a lunch-time demonstration with local youngsters on Saturday. She also joined Carl in working with David Blake’s spectacular 7-year-old Heide Spirit, partly to discuss the new and very challenging 7-year-old tests that are now part of the World Breeding Championships this year.

Very excited to have this event in California and looking forward to more fun and educational opportunities from Scott Hayes and his team.

Carl spent oodles of time at the end of each day to pose for pictures and sign autographs for long lines of fans.

The look on Niki Clarke and Quincy’s faces captures how most everybody felt about the chance to learn from Carl.

Mary’s Tack & Feed booth was a big draw in the busy vendor area.