British Dressage Olympian Carl Hester Leads Master Class At AGDF

Chase Shipka and Ziggy canter in a square around Carl Hester.

Carl Hester, MBE, one of the most decorated dressage Olympians of all time, was in Wellington on Wednesday, Feb. 28 to lead a new master class at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival.

The world-renowned trainer coached six riders in a three-hour time frame. The packed stadium included the best dressage riders, judges and spectators, all there to learn Hester’s amazing insights into the horse’s mind and biomechanics.

Full of practical wisdom, he entertained the audience with funny quips and stories to reiterate his instruction points throughout the evening. The event was a great chance to see future talent learn valuable tools for their future.

Hester holds the coveted MBE title awarded by the Queen of England for outstanding service to the British Empire. A great in the dressage world, he was the youngest British rider to ride at the Olympics. He competed at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, as well as four other Olympics, earning the team gold medal at the 2012 Olympics in London and the team silver medal in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Hester shared tips about the hardships in training world record holders and gold medalists Valegro and Charlotte Dujardin, along with stories about the challenges each rider faces in the training of their horses. As a bonus, the audience received plenty of comic relief from the famously hilarious dressage master.

Hester’s appearance in the United States was a valuable experience for the equestrian community. The riders selected to participate in the master class were Søren Wind aboard Just Perfect, Jade Ellery aboard Porsche’s Eloy, Rakeya Moussa aboard Davidoff van het Trichelhof, Chase Shipka aboard Ziggy, Austin Weber aboard Abercrombie TF and Jan Ebeling aboard Indeed V.

During the 45-minute lesson with Shipka and Ziggy, Hester told a story about the challenge in turning a horse. Because a horse is not built like a car or boat, and it bends in many places through its body, it needs the rider to balance it. Because the dressage horse is trained to be like a body-builder with equal strength on both sides of its body, the horse is taught to turn from the outside.

“Getting a horse straight is a lifetime’s work,” he said. “You don’t suddenly get your horse straight, and he stays straight the rest of his life. You also have to learn to ride it straight.”

He shared a story about Sir Anthony “Tony” McCoy, one of the most successful jockeys of all time.

“When he retired, he wanted to do a dressage demonstration [on one of my horses] at the Cheltenham Festival,” Hester recalled. “Hundreds of thousands of people come out to watch that each year. He said to me, ‘Carl, can I have a Grand Prix horse to do a dressage demonstration?’ I asked him, ‘Are you going to come and have a practice before the demonstration?’ He said he would come for one lesson. When he came, I asked him what he would like to do in his demonstration.”

McCoy said that he’d like to do a flying change and some piaffe, where the horse trots in place.

“He spent his whole life with his legs over the top of the horse and never with his legs around the horse,” Hester explained. “He just stands up in the most amazing balance and gallops like mad and wins everything. Well, I put him on a very easy Grand Prix horse, and he went down the long-side on the left rein. I told him to get himself into a canter and to go all the way around the school. Then I told him to turn left at B [in the middle] and do a flying change, and then turn right.”

It did not go as planned.

“When someone doesn’t use their outside rein or outside leg to balance the horse when he went to turn left, he pulled on the left rein. Not only does the horse not turn, but the horse brings his head to the left and just keeps going,” Hester said. “He couldn’t even turn left, let alone do a flying change or piaffe.”

The point of the story is, you have to turn the horse from the outside, Hester said. “Because he was always above the horse, it was quite difficult for him, and he found riding a dressage horse extremely uncomfortable, to be sitting on a different part of his anatomy when he was used to standing up,” he said. “It was basic, but it made me realize how we need to make sure we turn the horse from the outside.”

In coaching Shipka, a 21-year-old from Middleburg, Va., in Wellington for the winter preparing for the Under 25 Grand Prix division, Hester taught several exercises to help the horse carry his frame straight and to shift his weight up over his right-hind.

Each horse has a hind leg they prefer to carry their weight over. Hester taught Shipka an exercise to canter in a square, as opposed to a circle, and each square turn to use the outside aids.

“You start breathing, and he will start relaxing. This is a horse that wants to get quicker, so we need to make him wait by bending him to take his weight,” he said. “When a horse is a bit nervous about making him take his weight, he will start to relax because he feels your legs.”

Hester went on to teach some amazing straightening exercises for the flying changes with a very balanced, relaxed horse.

It was an amazing experience for Shipka.

“I was a little bit nervous to ride in front of all of those people,” she said. “Though, the opportunity was hard to pass up. Carl is so meticulous.”

Thomas Baur, in his fifth year as director of sport for the Adequan Global Dressage Festival, organized the master class and shared the importance of the evening’s learning opportunity.

“We have discussed doing more educational events for two years now, and we had the chance to get Carl Hester,” Baur said. “He is one of the true heroes of our sport and one of the best horse trainers in the world.”

Baur encouraged the Wellington community to come out for the final two Friday Night Stars events at the dressage festival this season, set for March 16 and March 30.

“I would encourage the community to come and watch the dressage on Friday night because it’s our freestyle highlight,” he said. “We will continue to do these master classes in the future, and we are looking forward to bringing the top riders and trainers from all over the world.”

For more information, visit