Retirement can wait as Hester sets sights on Rio

GOLDEN DAYS: Great Britain's Carl Hester, left, Laura Bechtolsheimer and Charlotte Dujardin celebrate winning gold at London 2012.
GOLDEN DAYS: Great Britain's Carl Hester, left, Laura Bechtolsheimer and Charlotte Dujardin celebrate winning gold at London 2012.
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HE masterminded the best dressage combination in the world and now has some of Yorkshire’s brightest talents among his pupils.

But Carl Hester is not quite ready to devote all his time to helping others.

Ahead of his 25th year as a GB international, the Gloucestershire rider is eyeing one last hurrah at next year’s Rio Olympics. Even then, though, he admits it could be hard to quit the saddle.

Hester, 47, rose to household fame at the London 2012 Olympics when helping GB to a dressage team gold alongside Laura Bechtolsheimer and Charlotte Dujardin.

Yet the Sark-born star’s World Championships debut came back in 1990, when Dujardin was just five-years-old. Some 17 years later it was the established Hester that gave 21-year-old Dujardin an opportunity working as his groom – before today’s golden girl of dressage was asked to develop Hester’s novice gelding Valegro in 2011.

Four years later, Dujardin and Valegro look immovable together at the top of the world rankings. Yet Dujardin’s former mentor remains among her competititors and Hester’s days as a top-class dressage rider are far from numbered.

In an exclusive interview with The Yorkshire Post, Hester said: “Right now I would like to think that the Rio Olympics would be a great way to end but if I feel really enthused again after the event then obviously I will keep going.

“I’m just going to see how I feel after it and, with Valegro, it’s the same with him really.

“More than likely we would like to retire him on a high so if he became Olympic champion for a second time then that would be the ideal time for him not to have so much pressure and to compete at that level either. But we’re just going to play along with it and like everything you might as well go and see how you come out of it first.

“What I’m worried about is saying I’m going to retire and then missing it terribly and then having to do one of these dreadful comebacks – I’ll just see how I feel.”

Hester’s diary is certainly full for 2015 – both in terms of mentoring and competing.

York’s Amy Woodhead and Sheffield’s Daryl Thickett are among those gaining regular experience at his Gloucestershire yard where Driffield star Lottie Fry was also training before being sent to van Olst horses in Holland.

Foreign shores await Hester, who recently returned from Florida and now has dates in Barcelona and Doha on the cards in a bid to gain qualification for this August’s European Championships in Germany.

April’s World Cup in Las Vegas is also firmly on the agenda and Hester enters 2015 in fine form – and on the back of a rare visit to Yorkshire as the Spanish Riding School of Vienna rolled into Sheffield last October.

“Things are going well and 2014 ended on a really good note with the World Cup at Olympia where Charlotte broke the world record on Valegro,” he added.

“That was really exciting and then my new horse, Nip Tuck – that I hope is going to be ready for Rio – was fantastic and I finished fourth.

“Obviously we are not definites for Rio – you have got to be picked and the horses have got be sound and all of the rest of it, but Valegro is obvious as long as he is sound and everything is working.”

As the world No 24 with Nip Tuck and the third-ranked Briton, expect Hester and Nip Tuck to be a definite combination on the GB team-sheet, with Hester still as determined to impress as when he first went international in 1990.

“Obviously a lot of people want to get on the team so you still have to go out and get some really big scores,” he said.

“I’ll just be going out to say ‘I am here, I’m getting big scores and I am here if you need me on the team.’”