He is, without a doubt, the best dressage horse in history—owning every world record and a slew of gold medals from the European Championships to the World Championships, the World Cup and the Olympics.
So it is fitting that Valegro entered his retirement from competition tonight in a moving performance at London’s Olympia Christmas show, watched by more than 7,500 fans with tears in their eyes as they stood to applaud and salute him.
“He is in every way a perfect horse…a joy to do everything with,” said his partner and rider, Charlotte Dujardin, after Valegro reprised his moving 2012 Olympic freestyle that incorporates the chimes of Big Ben. What a stage he had, surrounded by those who adored him, clapped in rhythm to his music and gave him a standing ovation.
“He’s the most incredible horse. He always gives me his very best,” commented Charlotte, who observed that this evening’s freestyle effort may have been his most impressive, possibly breaking his own record had it been judged.
But it wasn’t for the judges. It was for his team; Charlotte, trainer Carl Hester, groom Alan Davies, his proud owners, Roly Luard and Anne Barrott, but most of all, for his fans.
You’re doubtless one of them, whether you watched Valegro at the 2012 or 2016 Olympics, the World Cups he won in Lyon, France and Las Vegas or the World Equestrian Games in Normandy. Or were you lucky enough to touch him in Central Park during September, when Charlotte invited everyone to come into the ring and meet him? Did you ever wash that hand? Maybe you just saw him on TV or on the livestream, but there is no doubt that whether you were near or far, you felt a connection to this great equine personality.
When I interviewed Carl at the 2015 Cup finals in Las Vegas, he told me Rio likely would be the final competitive performance for Blueberry, as the Dutchbred is known, and that the retirement would take place at Olympia. He predicted it would be a real “crybaby” moment, and of course it was, not only for the thousands in the arena, but those across the world who watched the livestream.
Happily, this won’t be the last we see of Valegro. He’s going to have another farewell as he is saluted in the Netherlands and after that he’ll be performing exhibitions here and there.
Former British chef d’equpe Richard Waygood observed about Valegro, “Not only does he have all the technical skills, but he also has the character to go with it.” Without one or the other, the horse—also called “The Professor” for his command of the discipline and the belief that he “read the book” on dressage, wouldn’t have become the sensation he is.
“He taught us,” said Carl. In so many ways, Valegro is practically a person, with a wise eye and a sure knowledge of what he is and what he can do.
Former British World Class Dressage Manager Richard Davison said of Valegro, “He is the greatest. He is Muhammed Ali, whoever your great hero is, it’s him.” Citing the links that join Charlotte, Carl and Valegro,, Richard observed, “ the alchemy between those three has given us the privilege of watching the greatest combination in the world.”
Valegro was part of an effort that took British Olympic dressage from nowhere to the top of the podium. He was the standardbearer of the country’s amazing ascent in the sport, with endless effort from Carl, Charlotte and so many others.
How wonderful that somewhere, at some time in the near future, we’ll be able to see Valegro in action again. They didn’t pull off his shoes or remove his saddle, the usual routine at a retirement, because this is only the start of another phase for the horse.
“Now we can take all the pressure off, and just go around and really enjoy ourselves,” said Charlotte. From here on in, it’s fun.
It’s wonderful that this superstar was retired while he is still at his best. I mean, how many gold medals do you need? But the regard for Valegro and his reputation prompted the wise decision. I look forward to the next time I watch Valegro wow the crowds again, and I’m sure you do as well.