Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Carl Hester video: Training young horses

Photo from  Hester Web siteCarl Hester is a British dressage rider who made his reputation on a hot thoroughbred cross named Escapado. In an interview published in New Zealand Horse and Pony, Hester speaks with candor about his unusual background and development as a professional. He started riding at the age of 19. After learning the ropes from top coaches in Germany, he began training horses and ultimately found his horse of a lifetime in Escapado, who he purchased as a foal and trained to international competition. After a particularly brilliant ride at the European Championships, Hester and his partners received an "outrageous" purchase offer. He could not refuse, and despite misgivings Escapado was sold to the Netherlands. While the parting was bittersweet, his sale allowed Hester to purchase his own farm. The sale of Escapado allowed him to expand his business and prosper as a trainer and coach. He has since published numerous books and has an active training schedule.

Hester's clinic/presentation on training young horses is available for our viewing. It's good to see the Brits at the forefront of dressae, and I like his presentation style and approach with horses. Here is the first in his series:

The rest of the series are at http://www.brightcove.tv/search.jsp?query=evening%20carl%20hester.


  1. Miss Stacy- an award awaits you at my blog! ;)

  2. wow, that horse does have an amazing natural walk!

    i worked at a large training centre in the UK, and carl hester would come periodically to do clinics there. he has a an easy teaching style, and it was always informative to hear his critiques and recommendations.

    but while i wholeheartedly agree with his assertion here that riders should incorporate stretching above and beyond what's demanded in a test into their training, i will just never be able to get behind this new idea that somehow there is value in working a horse overbent.

    it is more than adequate to stretch the horse in the usual long-and-low and long-and-'high' frames without having to resort to cranking it's head into it's chest at an unnatural angle, and i wish more trainers would stand up for classically correct methods rather than jumping on the latest bandwagon. there is plenty of sound scientific evidence that has shown this method to be detrimental to the horses, and yet these trainers continue to promote it - and less informed riders continue to emulate it. i can plainly see the drawbacks, but i have yet to hear a convincing argument in favor, or see clear evidence of the benefits.

  3. Hi JME, thanks for your observation -- do you see evidence of that in this video, or more in the philosophy of his training as you've observed it? I'm not "in the loop" about what trainers promote this method verbally or in practice, aside from the really obvious BNTs (tons of video footage out there). And while I think calling it cruelty is a stretch (so to speak), the benefits escape me too. The best remark I heard recently was someone whose trainer said to "get the horses ears as far away from you as possible." I liked that.

  4. Man, I'd love an evening with Carl with or without a horse ;-)

  5. Mrs. Mom -- thanks so much! This is becoming an addiction (secondary to horses of course).

    Denise, I feel the same way about Michael Barisone (except that he is married). And John Lyons. And.. Oh, don't get me started. Bob and I have having a bit of a tiff, I put his favorite shirt in the dryer and it's hitting him at the midriff now. I'm not yet forgiven. HOWEVER. Let the record reflect that he laundered my fleeceworks pad incorrectly last year!

  6. hi stacey - i like that bit about keeping the ears as far away from you as possible - i might use that! i heard a french trainer (wish i could remember his name) talk about 'good' stretching involving a long neck coming out from the wither and shoulder in both low and elevated frames, as opposed to this curling under, which only seems to stretch the neck itself, but stops at the withers... that made sense to me.

    as for the video, the amount of time the horse spends overbent is moderate, so i don't find it as offensive as some videos i've seen in which horses are literally held there, with their eyes bulging, nose in chest, for the whole ride. and while i fail to see the benefit, at least i doubt it's doing much damage in such small doses.

    i have seen him get on a horse to 'reschool' it and the first thing that generally happens is the horse is put into that frame and worked there until it gives up resisting. which i guess could be because it is a wonderful training technique. or maybe it's because it wears them out or just plain hurts...?

    it could just be that i've been conditioned to cringe when a horse breaks behind the poll like that... like i said, i'd be more open to it if someone could give me some definitive proof that it helps and doesn't hurt the horses.

    but carl hester is a decent trainer, even if i do think he sometimes rides his horses a little too deep, and there is still plenty of good information to take away from this. i'm looking forward to the next video :-)

  7. I like how he describes rollkur, and how the rider rides it (more of an invite to the horse, not a demand). But Rollkur is rollkur and behind the vertical is still behind the vertical no matter what fancy reasonings are behind it.
    He'll have a hard time of ever getting this horse 'classically' correct, because he'll always be broken at the third vertebrae. Oh well, that's what's winning nowadays.

  8. This horse is beautiful and has a wonderful walk. However, I agree with JME and Dressage in Jeans. Behind the vertical is the wrong way to ride or train a horse of any age. Teaching the horse the classically correct way of going from the beginning is the only way to train, it may take longer, but it is worth the wait. Any thing unnatural and forced can never be beautiful. So no matter what is being pinned these days, I think a horse who is trained correctly will still be the better happier horse in the long run.

  9. I have thought long and hard about "deep" vs. Rollkur. I cannot say how many of my horses (and clients' horses) have been saved by teaching them to flex/bend and stretch. Some sought to stretch their toplines so much that they ended up well behind the vertical. HOWEVER, they were never forced there. They should never be HELD THERE. The horses' hind legs always carried them there.

    Rollkur is a forced flexion. The horse is HELD in the flexion presumably UNTIL HE LOOSENS. Incorrect because no body can loosen while being held.

    I would never speak for Mr. Hester, but if you watch what he does carefully, he is NEVER holding the horse in a position. He is using bend and flexion to loosen the horse so it can find its own feet, its balance, and relaxation. He has the lightest touch and an incredibly secure but sympathetic seat. We all should aspire to such balance and athleticism.


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