Princes, Prima Donnas, and Proving Carl Wrong

(L to R) Nip Tuck, groom Alan Davies, and Carl Hester. (FEI/Cara Grimshaw)

On his debut as a roving reporter, Shetland social media influencer Beachboy Jasper visits Carl Hester’s yard in Gloucestershire, England where he gets the lowdown on some of the inmates. His timing isn’t perfect because the big names have just gone hacking in the morning sunshine. But Bella the Broodmare is at home, and she’s more than pleased to show him around and spill the beans about some of the most popular personalities in the sport of Dressage….

“Don’t worry about the dogs,” says Bella, as I’m surrounded by at least a dozen of them jumping and barking with excitement. I’m not bothered because when you’re handsome, debonair, and sophisticated then being the centre of attention is all in a day’s work. But I get a bit of a fright when a flock of ferocious two-legged things come thundering towards me, led by a colossal beast with its tail-feathers fanned out and shrieking at the top of its head.

“Don’t worry about that lot either – it’s just peacocks and chickens and ducks and guinea fowl. There are so many attention-seekers around this place – it’s mad, to be honest!” Bella says with a giggle.

I compose myself as best I can while keeping a beady eye on the peacock that seems to be stalking me, and ask what life has been like over the last few months while most of us ponies and horses have had nowhere to go with competitions called off because of the people-virus? “Well Carlos Santana has been fussing about managing the finances and running the yard – all that ‘I’ve got staff and I’m responsible for so many people’ stuff y’know? But I reckon he’s enjoyed every minute of it. Anyway, he’s back teaching again this week so that’s keeping him quiet,” she explains.

It’s a lovely yard, and I peek over the door of the stable normally occupied by Valegro who, I’m told, is nearly as good a mover as myself. He’s won a few shiny things and people make a lot of fuss of him. At home he’s called Blueberry, so what is he like?

“A gentleman to his tippy-toes,” she says. “He never made a fuss about all the big wins he had, never bowed to the pressure or changed his personality; he’s always stayed humble, always helpful, and extremely happy to see everybody. He loves a good cuddle, especially from children. But boy [I knew there had to be a weak spot], does he like his grub!”

I’m admiring him even more now, sounds like my kind of chap. “Even the year he went to the Olympic Games in London (2012) and won double-gold, he couldn’t control his appetite.

“You’ve never seen anything like it; there’s nothing he doesn’t eat. He goes on and on about his diet and controlling his waistline, but he just can’t seem to stop himself!”

Bella can’t seem to stop herself either, now that she’s on a roll she wants to dish all the dirt. “Y’know, there are days when this nice lady called Tricia Gardiner comes to hack him out and the pair of them are gone for hours. Not because he’s doing any real work. No, it’s just that she’s not strong enough to hold him when he drags her into every hedgerow along the way so he can nibble the nice pickings. He comes back munching bits of twigs and sticks and branches and looking very pleased with himself every time – he’s unreal!”

Not what I was expecting to hear about the horse who has set more world records than most of us have had bran mashes, but you can tell that Bella really admires him. “Charlotte (Dujardin) rode him beautifully, and I think he was always grateful that Carl was there to help her handle the pressure at the big events. He achieved so much, and we’re all very proud of him here – Blueberry is a prince!” she insists.

However, she doesn’t feel quite the same about Mount St John Freestyle, the mare, also ridden by Charlotte, who brought home two medals from the FEI World Equestrian Games™ (WEG) 2018 in Tryon, USA and who won the FEI Dressage World Cup™ qualifier at London Olympia (GBR) last season.

“Now there’s a bossy one,” says Bella with a bit of a growl. “She’s a right prima donna; it’s all about her; she wants everything and she wants it ‘now!’ She wants to be fed before everyone else, she wants to come in from the field when she wants to come in – not two minutes later, she only wants to go out if it’s nice and sunny because she doesn’t want to get wet or have a hair out of place even if it’s only slightly windy or rainy. She’s a bit annoying, if you ask me.…

“At least now she’s learned that she does actually have to do a day’s work. And OK, she’s good at it, but she’s been building up a bit of a fan-club and that’s just making her fancy herself even more. She’s a right one, I’m telling you!”

So I move on to ask about Nip Tuck, who I’ve heard is a bit of a character. “We call him Barney and, to be honest, he’s a head-case but a very sweet one. He’s part of the gang that go out in the field at night-time. There are 18 horses here and only eight live out at night… the ‘normal’ ones go out during the day and the daft ones at night so they can run the Grand National if they like, but at least they have their brains in their heads when it comes to working the following morning.”

It seems Bella has a big soft spot for Barney. “He’s hysterical; he’s tipped Carl off a good few times because he’s scared of his own shadow. He’s a big fellow and should be brave as a lion but instead he’s really spooky and scared of a mouse! I remember him telling me how he fell on Carl when he got a huge fright because a waiter dropped a tray as he was passing by at a show (at Aachen, Germany European Championships in 2015), but sure he’s done that here at home too. They were going out the gate at the end of the avenue one day and something scared him, and he went into reverse and knocked down the gate-pillars – mad stuff! And Carl came home from the Olympics in Rio (2016) with whiplash because he spun around during a test for no real reason at all – Barney couldn’t even explain it himself afterwards!”

But he took team silver at those Europeans in Aachen, and again at the WEG in Caen in 2014 and in Rio in 2016, so how did Barney manage to do all that if he’s such a scaredy-cat? “I think it’s because there were no big expectations of him. Carl used to say, ‘Barney will never do this, he’ll never do that, he’ll never be a championship horse, he’ll never do a Grand Prix, he’ll never get around that ring in Olympia.’ But he did all of those things because he tried really hard. He even won at Olympia which he says is the scariest arena in the world because the spectators are almost sitting on top of you. And he did it not once, but twice. In the end I reckon he did it all because he really enjoyed proving Carl wrong!” Bella says.

All this talk about working so hard is a bit exhausting. I ask the mare if it’s been boring having to #stayhome and not do very much over the last few months. “No, quite the opposite; we all had a really nice time, lots of freedom, lovely grass, sunny weather, sunbathing all day – it’s been dreamy actually,” she explains. So how is everyone feeling about getting back to work now that things are slowly starting again?

“Well we’ve got two completely different attitudes here. Charlotte is preparing like the Olympic Games might suddenly and miraculously come back to life this year even though we know they won’t be happening until next summer. She’s off to Hickstead in a few weeks for something called the Rotterdam Hickstead online challenge and she can’t wait.

“But Carl? Well he has no intention of putting himself under pressure until he absolutely has to. Charlotte doesn’t call him ‘Grandad’ for nothing you know….”

By Louise Parkes

Media contact:

Shannon Gibbons
Media Relations and Communications Manager
shannon.gibbons@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 46

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