Nip Tuck, Valegro & Uthopia
On my visit to Carl Hester’s yard I was joined by Paul Ruffle, whose photo it was that I used as reference for my Nip Tuck piece.
As we drove along the private lane towards Carl’s yard I thought of all the monumental trips that had come and gone down this little non-descript lane before. This lane had seen Valegro leave to break every dressage record ever set and still continues to see many champions come and go, among them of course ‘Nip Tuck’ who recently won at Olympia, and took 2nd & 3rd at a CDI show last month in Amsterdam.
Nip Tuck’s owner Jane greeted us with a lovely welcoming smile as we drove in, I was very aware that it was a Sunday and thanked her for seeing us. As we walked through the yard it was surreal, it was the horse’s day off and they were all there relaxing in their stables. As we walked over to ‘Medal corner’ as it had been dubbed by Carl, there looking out over their doors in anticipation of attention/food were Valegro, Nip Tuck & Uthopia, or Blueberry, Barney and Uti as they are known to many!
As Jane opened Barney’s door I realised that there wasn’t a step up into his stable – he really was ‘that big’ 18hh to be exact! Straight away I got a welcoming vibe from him, he truly was a gentle giant! Jane and I stood for a good half an hour chatting about Barney while I spent the whole time itching him (which is my thing), I can’t stand near a horse without itching it – so Barney got the full ‘Kate itching treatment’. Barney loved his itch and despite his size was ever so gentle in reciprocating the itch and kept pointing out where he wanted to be itched next!
Meeting these amazing horses was so strange, I had seen them so many times in the media and on TV it felt like I already knew them. As I cuddled Blueberry I had to keep reminding myself of all the places he had been, all the things he had seen and just how much of an idol he was to many all around the world – and rightly so! But, I got the impression that if Blueberry was a human he would be very modest and wouldn’t really want to keep being reminded of his achievements - unless it made someone else happy talking about them. He was more than content to just have a cuddle and keep an eye on whether the carrot that Jane was holding might be coming his way!
Talking to Jane it was clear how much Barney meant to her and that she was very much a ‘hands on’ owner. She told me all about his quirks and recalled lots of stories about him with so much joy. Jane hacks Barney most weekends and travels to all his competitions.
Jane has known Carl for years and told me that when Carl bought Barney as a yearling it was based mainly on his movement rather than bloodlines, little did they both know that out of the 5 horses that Carl bought on that trip that Jane’s ‘horse that needed to grow into his ears’ would become an Olympic medallist!
Jane told me that she dreaded to think where Barney may have ended up had Carl not decided to buy him due to his sensitive nature. She said that Barney has a lot of love for Carl and puts a lot of trust in him, Carl has a great understanding of Barney and knows how to get the best from him. He does a lot of repetition work with Barney so there are no surprises or questions that will knock his confidence.
Jane doting on her beloved Barney
I could have cuddled and itched Barney all day
Valegro aka 'Blueberry' looking for a carrot
Paul Ruffle, Carl Hester MBE & 'Nip Tuck'
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As we carried on talking and I carried on itching Barney I could hear Carl’s voice entering the yard. Again like Jane, Carl was so welcoming, we stood casually chatting and I felt totally at ease, like with Blueberry I had to keep reminding myself who I was talking to in regard to everything that Carl had achieved throughout his career! Carl pointed out all the horses that were in the yard, it was just overwhelming how many talented horses were in the stables surrounding us ‘catching zz’s’, literally all the names that are always in the press were there even little Pumpkin Charlotte’s new horse!
'Chatting' in 'Medal Corner'
Just as we headed to get the artworks from the car Jane suggested that it would be nice to have Barney standing with his, Carl doubted that we would get Barney anywhere near the artwork but agreed to give it a go!
Once Carl and I had prised the ‘Nip Tuck’ artwork from the car I turned to see Jane & Barney walking towards us. It might have been something to do with my itching session with him, as Barney looked very chilled out as he approach the artwork unfazed, however, I think it was more to do with the fact that he could see Carl, his confidence giver stood there looking relaxed, smiling at him. Carl laughed saying that Barney would always prove him wrong on his spooking predictions!
Quite a surreal moment which shows in my expression !
Barney was in fact so unfazed by the artwork that he thought he might see what it tasted like and tried to give the frame a sly nibble!
Again still aware that it was a Sunday and we had now been at the yard for well over an hour, I asked Carl if he minded the ‘interest’ and ‘interruptions’ which he and his yard were getting more and more of, to which he sincerely replied no, not at all. He was so relaxed and friendly, just like the whole vibe of the yard. It was clear that his character had a lot to do with the relaxed mood of the yard.
It is hard to think what dressage would be like today if Carl hadn't taken the path he chose in life and where 'Vainqueurfleur', which was Blueberry's birth name would be right now!
Jane gave us a tour of the yard showing us all the areas that I have seen picture of so many times before. She showed us the prep area by the indoor school and explained that any grooming, bathing, tacking up etc was all done here and that when the horses were in their stables that was their time for relaxing, which I really liked.
Barolo enjoing the solarium
The iconic outdoor arena that many will recognise
As we stood by the outdoor arena which I had seen in the media so many times before, the realisation dawned on me that when you strip it all back, really this was just an arena. The success didn’t come from the luxuries that this beautiful yard had to offer but literally from Carl, an area to train and his patience. Jane said that Carl didn’t come from a wealthy background, which I had read somewhere before, everything that was here was what he had created. I felt so glad that through his perseverance and hard work throughout his life that he managed to create this idyllic place for his animals and likeminded people to enjoy and thrive.
After our tour of the yard we took the opportunity to meet all the horses while Jane chatted with Alan (The Alan aka ‘Super Groom’). Throughout the whole visit I was so surprised that there was no protocol, we were not given any instructions to follow whatsoever – nothing! It was so relaxed, every horse we met greeted us with a lovely bright inquisitive expression which didn’t fade once they realised we had no food! I was in my element, cuddling and itching these horses that all seemed to not know how special they were.
I would like to say a huge thank you to Carl & Jane for not only giving Paul and I such an amazing experience in being able to visit the yard and get to meet all the horses but also for supporting my ‘Olympic medal winning Equines collection’. Also to Paul for letting me use his reference photo for my piece and for joining me on my journey! (All photo credits from our day to Paul) Also