Carl Hester

Carl Hester

The Olympic rider and winner of 44 national dressage titles encouarges everyone to get back on that horse.

Raise Your Game: How did you first get involved in dressage?

Carl Hester: I started out as an event rider. After a while I tried dressage and I just took to it. It was the job I wanted to do. Since then I've ridden at three Olympic Games, a couple of World Championships and three European Championships.

RYG: What skills do you need to reach the top as a dressage rider?

CH: It doesn't really matter whether it's dressage or eventing, you need dedication to the sport. You need to be able to get up every morning and go through the same routine when things go wrong, which can happen when you're working with horses. All the top riders are very talented, but it takes much more than that to get to the top.

RYG: Although you're alone on your horse, is there a team element to dressage?


Carl Hester

29 June 1967


Dressage rider and trainer


  • Carl has won 44 national dressage titles.
  • National Young Rider Champion (1985)
  • British Grand Prix Champion (1997-2004)
  • Competed in three Olympics (1992, 2000, 2004)
  • European Champion (1997-1999)
  • Reached the World Cup Dressage Final (2005)

CH: You need a good back up team and you need people around who will keep pushing you along. You also need a whole team of people dedicated to the welfare of the animals. It's not just about the riding.

RYG: How important is it for a horse and rider to work as a team?

CH: It's very important. A talented rider can get on most horses and quickly assess what the horse needs to feel in order to perform. In dressage and all riding events it's usually the partnerships that have been together the longest that will get the gold, silver and bronze medals. Some of the top partnerships have been together for 10 years or more.

It's not just a question of being able to get on and ride the movements. You need to have a relationship with the horse. That means being actively involved in caring for it. It also means being involved in all aspects of the horse's training.

The longer you're together as a partnership, the more aware you become of your weaknesses and your strengths. If your horse is weaker in some areas than others, you learn how to cover those up. That's why it's important that you work as a team.

RYG: How does a rider communicate with their horse?

CH: A good rider can give what we call aides in the stillness, or movement within the stillness. That way it looks like you're not doing anything, but in fact you're communicating with the horse all the time.

An experienced rider will communicate with the horse through their seat. That's an aide that you won't notice if you're watching. You give your instructions through the lower leg and the reins. A lot of that is developed from balance. You have to be a very balanced rider to be able to sit in a way which allows you to influence the horse without anyone seeing it. That's what makes a very successful combination.

RYG: What's the difference between a good and a great rider?

Carl HesterCH: A great rider comes back year after year. A good rider is a bit like your average pop star - they'll write a fantastic song that goes to number one, but you never see them again. It wasn't that they didn't have a good voice; they just couldn't produce another record. It's the same with riding. The great riders can be around for 30 or 40 years. You can still be an Olympic rider when you're 50 or 60 years-old.

RYG: How do you deal with the nerves before a big competition?

CH: When I was eventing I couldn't control my nerves. I was always sick beforehand, so it wasn't fun. With dressage I found I could actually enjoy riding at the Olympics rather than being fearful.

Controlling the nerves is all about controlling your mind. I learnt that very early on. I was given the opportunity of riding for some respected owners so I thought, 'I've got to do something about this.' I just switch off my mind until it's time to compete.

When most riders are on a horse they're fine, it's when you're waiting to go that you have time to think about things. I decided to just shut those thoughts out completely.

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