Carl Hester famously got his start in the equestrian world aboard a donkey on the tiny Channel Island of Sark, located 80 miles off the British coastline, where there are no cars. His big break came in 1989 when he began working for Dr. Wilfried Bechtolsheimer, who provided Hester with Grand Prix horses. In 1990, Hester went to the first World Equestrian Games on Rubelit von Unkenriff in Stockholm, Sweden. He rode in the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games on Georgioni at the age of 25, the youngest British rider to ever compete in the Olympics. Since then he’s competed in two additional Olympic Games in 2000 and 2004, as well as numerous WEGs, World Cup Finals and European Championships. He earned historic team gold at the 2011 FEI European Championships (the Netherlands) and two individual silver medals with Sasha Stewart’s Dutch Warmblood stallion Uthopia, who will be competing again in London. He also owns Valegro with Rowena Luard, and the 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding is scheduled to represent Great Britain at the London Games with Hester’s assistant trainer Charlotte Dujardin.
Name: Carl Hester
Home Base: Gloucestershire, England
Name the best thing about becoming an equestrian celebrity.
The number of people who want to talk to you.
The number of people who want to talk to you. There is nothing “worst” about being an equestrian celebrity. What you learn is that people are fascinated with what you do and where you come from. I think my own story or Charlotte’s story is a story anyone can aspire to. We both came from nothing, from non-horsey backgrounds. It’s helpful for people who think they’ll never make it because they don’t come from horsey families or have loads of money behind them.
What is your drink of choice?
A spritzer. I used to be far too big a wine drinker. I’m from the Channel Islands, tax-free, where booze is cheap, and they always describe the island I live in, which is 600 people, as 600 alcoholics clinging to a rock. It was going to happen at some point. The way that I’ve managed to temper that is to drink spritzers. I try never to drink straight wine anymore, just spritzer, half-half.
What characteristic do you value most in a horse?
Work ethic. I think the environments that we put them in are really exhausting for them. A great work ethic and a pair of good hind legs.
In a human?
It’s quite simple. Somebody who doesn’t encroach on my space and yet can be my best friend. That is a hard thing to be able to differentiate.
What do you find to be the most ridiculous aspect of the dressage world?
Being from England, it’s the amount of travel we put our horses through. That’s ridiculous. It’s a shame, and I hate having to do all the traveling.
Who or what is the greatest love of your life?
I don’t have a greatest love. I have several. All the animals that are around me that are alive now. I care about all of them.
Looking back on your career so far, what advice are you glad you never took?
Somebody will buy you a horse. I’m glad I never waited for that to happen. It doesn’t happen. You have to prove yourself. So that’s what I did. So that means the best bit of advice I ever got was train your own.
What three things are most likely to be found in your refrigerator at all times?
Blueberries, natural yogurt and cream. I love cream in everything.
Jack Russells. Yes or no?
Yes, I have two of them, tan colored, and they’re both called Lulu. I thought it was easier to give them one name. I just open the door and shout Lulu, and they both come running.
What horse, other than your own, would you like to take a turn on?
Paragon. That, to me, looks like the star of the future.
What changes would you like to see in the dressage industry?
I don’t think there’s much you can change. People are too individual. I think it would be nice if you could match up the right people with the right horses and not always have everybody thinking, “Buy that. It’s a winner.” It’s got to be a match.
What do you think is the biggest issue facing the world today?
In England it’s the euro versus the pound. That’s a huge issue because over the years we’ve gotten poorer and poorer and poorer. If you’re talking about a world crisis, I’m sure that famine is probably the most horrendous thing for anybody to have go through. Things like UNICEF, which we all know about through the dressage, are obviously fantastic.
What was the last book you read?
Hotel Babylon, which has been made into a series in England, which is just fantastic.
What one item from your wardrobe best personifies you?
My Hugo Boss suit. I love that. I cherish it. I’ve had it for years. It fits; it makes me feel smart. That suits me.
What is your biggest self-indulgence?
It was the wine, so staying off that has been really hard. I’ve done two years of spritzers now. I’m obviously going to be an addict at some point, so I try not to go too near anything for too long.
What do your musical freestyle choices say about you?
I think the Tom Jones one that I did was very me. I like to be a little bit different with the freestyle. I knew it wasn’t going to be a winner from an artistic point of view, but it does make the crowd happy. I actually plumped for a crowd pleaser rather than a winner.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I would work in the hotel trade because I love dealing with people. I worked tourism before I came to live in England and took on dressage. I would be in tourism.
What word or phrase do you overuse?
That’s it. When I teach, I say, “That’s it, that’s it, that’s it.”
What is the best feeling in the world?
The British team winning a gold medal last year. I never thought that was a possibility in my lifetime. The number of years I’ve waited to see that happen made it the best feeling ever.
Where do you hope to be in 10 years?
In 10 years I still hope to be competing, teaching. Certainly [the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro] is something I would be able for. I’ve got some nice new horses coming up, so I’ll be thinking about that. Then retiring back to the Channel Islands where I come from. Peace and quiet, no cars. Become an alcoholic clinging to a rock again, I suppose!
If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. The original version of "Free Rein With: Carl Hester" ran in the July 23 & 30, 2012, Olympic Preview issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.