A big crowd turned out for opening day of Bolesworth International CSI4* on Wednesday, June 14, 2017, flocking to these picturesque showgrounds in the countryside of Great Britain with the backdrop of Bolesworth Castle. It’s safe to say that on this particular day, in which dressage took center stage, they came to see one man. And as it turned out, one surprise horse.

Just minutes after winning the CDI Grand Prix, Olympic gold medalist Carl Hester held a demo session in the main arena at Bolesworth (the show features international dressage as well as four-star show jumping). After talking the audience through the gaits of a four-year-old ridden by a member of his staff, and a six-year-old ridden by none other than Charlotte Dujardin (“You probably won’t recognize this rider, she’s my up and coming rider,” joked Hester), a familiar black stallion was led into the arena. It was none other than Uthopia, Hester’s medal-winning London 2012 Olympics partner.

Following an ownership dispute that was happily resolved last year (Uthopia will spend his retirement and the rest of his life with Hester), Uthopia had not been seen in public since January 2016. As Hester narrated from the ground, Dujardin rode Uthopia through the advanced movements, showing that the vibrant stallion, now retired, is still in top form at age 16.

Read on for just a few of Hester’s pearls of wisdom dispensed for the lucky crowd at Bolesworth today:

On selecting a young horse:

  • “I don’t buy a horse because I’m thinking, will it win a young horse class? I’m buying a horse thinking, will it be an interesting Grand Prix horse?
  • The trot is the pace that can be improved the most – for that reason, it’s not really at this stage the most important pace. The first thing to look at is rhythm. You want a horse that starts out in a regular, steady and natural rhythm.”
  • “Buying off a video is stupidity. I bought this [four-year-old] horse off a video, quite stupidly. But I liked this horse’s canter. A grand prix sheet has so many points with the canter, so you want to have a horse that has a special canter. A canter is really important.

What do we expect from a six year old?

  •  “It doesn’t matter whether you do dressage, or you jump or event, your horse will be much easier to ride if you have it supple, and you have it in a nice self-carriage.
  • “It’s very important at this age that you don’t force the horse. You have to be able to do your walk-canter-walk before you do a flying change. When a horse is green and doesn’t quite understand, it tends to go forward. But the only way you can go forward is if you have it on the hind legs.”
  • “For a young horse, we do small angles. With a young horse in the half pass, we let her trail a little bit, and we do it in rising trot. It’s a very British thing, rising trot. If your horse is not strong enough or not swinging enough, use rising trot to help it.”

On Uthopia & the movement of a Grand Prix horse:

  • “He hasn’t been out for two years, he’s very excited to be out. We work him three days a week in the school, keeping him supple, and the rest of the week he hacks out. I’m so happy we could bring Uthopia to show to you.”
  • “He literally has done one extended trot in the last eight months and he’s done three across the diagonal for you today. That’s something that you save, those gaits that they can do so easily and naturally.”
  • “As a rider and a trainer, you have to remember, what’s good for where we are now. It takes five years to train a horse to Grand Prix. Then, after you’ve got to Grand Prix, you’ve got to make it better. You don’t start at the Grand Prix at 80 percent unless your’re Charlotte, but most of us mere mortals come in and get a 60 percent and then improve. It might take you two or three years, but you can always get better. A horse, even at 16 or 17, can get better.”

-Photos by Erin Gilmore for NF Style.