Carl Hester Equestrian Escape to the Country
Escape to the Country
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Escape to the Country

Learn About Dressage From An Equestrian Who Won Gold At The Olympics

Get to know Olympian Dressage Rider, Sir Carl Hester, and his champion horses! Then, learn about the other equestrian disciplines we’ll be seeing at the Summer Olympics!

When it’s time for the Olympic Games, we are always reminded of the immense respect and awe we feel toward the athletes who have mastered their sports so well. Equestrian athletes are particularly impressive because their performance at the games relies on creating a healthy and harmonious partnership with their horses. Someone who was truly born to ride horses and has become an equestrian master is Sir Carl Hester, who was featured on this episode of “Escape to the Country” after he won the gold medal for competing in Dressage at the 2012 Olympics in London. Since the episode aired, Hester went on to win the silver medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, and is scheduled to compete on the British Equestrian team at the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo. 

On his episode of “Escape to the Country,” the British Dressage legend invited Host Nicki Chapman to his state-of-the art training grounds located in the breathtakingly beautiful Gloucestershire countryside. Carl introduces Nicki to his champion horses, including Uthopia, who competed with Carl at the 2012 Olympics. He also gives Nicki a lesson in how to succeed as a top dressage rider, and explains the partnership that makes it appear as if the rider is effortlessly making his horse dance. The word “Dressage” comes from a French term that means training, and as you’ll see in the below clip, Dressage is truly the highest level of training and horsemanship an equestrian can hope to achieve. 

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Starting this weekend, you’ll be able to watch Carl Hester and equestrians from all over the world compete in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. You can check out the schedule here. Carl will be competing in Dressage for Britain, but athletes can actually compete across a series of 3 disciplines: Dressage, Eventing and Show Jumping. Even if top equestrians aren’t competing in Dressage, they will still practice dressage elements in training as a way of forming strong relationships and practicing clear communication with their horses that ultimately benefit them in competition. Here is what you can expect in each discipline if you’ll be watching the equestrian portion of the Olympics! 


As you’ve already learned from Carl Hester, Dressage is the art of training a horse to effortlessly carry the rider with ease and grace. During competition, the horse and rider must demonstrate the success of their training by performing pre-determined patterns and movements that exhibit the horse’s suppleness, flexibility, obedience, athleticism, and overall pleasantness to ride. To the untrained eye, many of the movements and fancy footwork makes it look like the horses are dancing. At the Olympics, the athletes will even be required to complete a Dressage test set to music, furthering the illusion of dancing. 

Dressage riders at the Olympics will compete at the highest level, which is called grand prix, in team events and individual events. Including the United States and Britain, 15 teams from various countries will be competing this year for the Dressage team event, as well as 15 additional riders who will qualify to compete in the individual event. The riders will be scored on a scale of 1 to 7 by multiple judges who are all seated at different spots around the arena, analyzing the horse and rider’s every movement. 

Show Jumping

With show jumping, the name of the game is speed. Throughout team and individual events, riders and their horses will be trying to complete a course of jumps inside the arena with the fastest time. The jumps range from being wide to narrow, and are usually 1.6 meters or 5.2 feet tall. The horse and rider must navigate the course as quickly as possible without touching any of the jumps. 

At the Olympics, riders compete in at least 5 rounds of jumping to determine the show jumping champion. Riders may lose points during their jumping rounds if they have faults, which occur when the horse misbehaves, or when the horse hits the jump or knocks over part of the jump. Riders may also be disqualified from winning a medal if they complete the course too slowly or not in the allotted time. On the other hand, if there is a tie for any medal, there will be a jump off to determine the true winner. While the jump-off course normally has less obstacles, they will usually be higher or more difficult for the horse and rider. The winner of the jump-off and the competition will have the fastest course completion time and the least amount of faults or penalties. 


Eventing is arguably the most daring and dangerous of the equestrian disciplines that compete at the Olympics, and combines elements of show jumping and Dressage. Over a course of 3 days, equestrians will be tested to see their true abilities, versatility, courage, and endurance. Each day, riders will compete in teams and individual events on cross country courses, stadium jumping courses, and through Dressage tests. The cross country portion requires the horse and rider to jump up to 40 man-made and natural obstacles, usually on an outdoor course in a field. Stadium jumping takes place in a formal arena and will include a variety of jumps that the horse must leap over without touching or knocking anything over. The riders are judged on horse refusals, equitation, the time it takes them to complete each course, and any falls of the rider to determine who is truly the best of the best. 

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