- Credit: PDS Saddles
British dressage rider and Olympic silver medal winner Carl Hester is a keen chicken keeper. He told us about his hobby… and his riding
Carl Hester is one of the leading lights of the British equestrian team, and secured a silver medal in the team dressage event at the Rio Olympics. As well as horses, Carl is pretty keen on chickens too…
What is your favourite aspect of hen-keeping?
Letting them out of their enclosures on a really quiet early morning just before we start work. They scurry off to find food – generally bits of horse feed that has dropped out of the horses’ mouths! You can always rely on a couple of them to be caught in the stables on the hunt for grains. The funny part is when the horses are led back into their stables to find an intruder scratching up their freshly made bed! All the horses are now fully chicken proof so they are used to sharing their beds with them.
Do you have a wooden coop or plastic coop?
Oh, huge solid Hilton-style luxury for the Supermodels! Our chicken coops were originally two small stables, so they are brick built with rafters and we replaced the doors with wire mesh fronts to prevent Mr Fox gaining access!
Carl, we must say a massive well done on your recent success at the Rio Olympics! What level of training do you have to do in the weeks leading up to the games?
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Training is consistent throughout the year – a Grand Prix horse is already trained in all the movements so our job is to keep them at a high level of fitness which enables them to keep at the peak of their game. If we have a new music routine, which Charlotte du Jardin did on Valegro, we run through it a few times to ensure the movements and music all fit together. But other than that we keep a steady programme of fitness ensuring that they are strong and ready for not just the competition but the travelling.
We saw that you were emotional watching Blueberry and Barney heading off on their way to Rio. What are the logistics of making sure they get there safely?
It’s always an emotional time when you wave goodbye to the horses as the lorry leaves the yard, safely driven by Alan my travelling groom. Valegro went to Las Vegas last year for the World Cup and Nip Tuck went to Doha, so they have clocked up a fair few airmiles – in first class obviously! To get to Rio, the horses were driven to Liege in Belgium where they joined the other GB and European horses and were put onto a plane specifically chartered for them. There were about 35 horses per plane and they each travelled in a big crate complete with hay, water and groom. A vet travels, too, in case of any emergencies and it’s all very organised and calm.
Tell us a bit about what Rio was like?
Rio was amazing – we got the opportunity to see some of the other sports and the Olympic village was great; it was an experience I will never forget, but London was my favourite Olympic games – home territory and a team gold medal! But getting silver in Rio was fantastic as so many other countries have really upped their game and have some great horses and riders – so we really felt the pressure at this one.
What was your favourite moment of the Games?
Barney’s spook at the Pokemon in the bushes! No, that wasn’t really my favourite moment – that was my least favourite moment! It had to be standing on the podium and getting that silver medal and watching Valegro and Charlotte retain their Olympic Gold – that horse is a superstar and deserves everything.
Now, let’s talk a little less about horses and more about hens! How many do you have and what are their names?
I have no idea how many feathered fowl I have these days – in fact a few were hatching while I was away in Rio so I now have even more. We have about 10 chickens – of all varieties plus a few guinea fowl, peacocks, doves – you name it, we have them. They have a collective name on the yard – they are known as the Supermodels!
We’re sure you’ve got enough on your hands with mucking out the horses. Who cleans the coop in your house?
We all take turns, although it’s not my favourite job! But we use Dengie Fresh Bed to keep them on, which I find helps mucking out rather less tedious and smelly! But some of the bigger birds – the peacocks are very messy which takes time to clear out – although good for the gardens!
Crème egg or fried egg?
Hmmm – hard choice as I love chocolate – but nothing like a fresh poached egg in the morning!
What’s your favourite dish containing eggs?
What do you think about the work the British Hen Welfare Trust does?
Amazing – so many of the battery hens now go to really good homes and can start another life so I always encourage my clients who are thinking of taking up keeping poultry to rescue some hens – I did it and it’s a great feeling.
And finally, British farmers – good eggs or bad?
Definitely good eggs.
Interview courtesy of the British Hen Welfare Trust. www.bhwt.org.uk