Valegro, you got under my skin
After having read several write-ups in the German newspapers on Charlotte and Valegro's 'grand finale' and Isabell Werth's silver at the Olympics it is obvious that the German equestrian world wholeheartedly embraced 'das Wunderpferd' ( the miracle horse) Valegro as the champion. Apparently Isabell Werth said that even without her mistake she would still not have been able to touch Charlotte and Valegro's performance.
So here we are, Dutch bred Valegro (I have to say that, you do understand!) and Charlotte Dujardin proved that they are worthy Olympic champions by repeating their performance of four years ago. I don't know how she coped with the serious amount of extra pressure after the continental hype that in 2012 it was not such a difficult freestyle composition compared to others and had she therefore really deserved it.
This week I read an opinion on website Horses.nl from Dutch equine journalist Dirk Willem Rosie who decided to hammer the fact that Valegro may now be seen as the best dressage horse, ever. He writes it has nothing to do with sport to keep a super athlete such as Valegro out of the competition routine for a longer spell of time. To put it in context, in his article he wanted to criticize the way judges influence the general public by creating an image which is kept in place by high marks which are basically preconceived before the performance and used Valegro as an example. Quote: 'In order to not win, Blueberry had to make a proper mess of it.' He also questioned Valegro's early retirement.
Valegro apparently is not the perfect conformation. I don't know enough to even go there. Neither am I sufficiently experienced to compare the best with the best in order to dare to make a decision who is actually the very best. However being a professional I tend to keep my eye in when watching these athletes perform their tests, always wanting to be able to spot the tiniest imperfections. Only because it's a good exercise.
But with Charlotte and Valegro it's different. They touch something in me, they make me emotional. I think because of the ease and uncomplicated way, the enthusiasm with which they attack the most difficult moves. His face says it all. He is happy out there. And when Valegro has left the arena I cannot forget about him, he gets under my skin. His sweet and charmingly innocent face and proud front legs stay with me. Only Reiner Klimke's Ahlerich and Totilas with Edward Gal were ever able to leave such an impression, and that over a period of some forty years!
I strongly believe that every rider has the right to work and manage their horse the way they think suits its physique and personality in order to add to its well-being and peak at the right time. If that means competing less for a while then Valegro and Charlotte's performance proved that it was the right decision. And if, after having won all major titles, some several times and the freestyle at the Olympics twice, they feel that Valegro can retire from top competition then I can only say: Valegro, we shall miss you something fierce but good on you! You've done it all.
Even if one felt to have the right to question Valegro's superiority, there is one thing for certain. Carl Hester, Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro are the very best ambassadors the dressage sport could possibly wish for. Turning top horses out in the field well before that was common practice and fashionable. Breaking through the fear of losing a very special bond by securing permanent ownership in a world run by sponsorship; having nearly a year's break from competition and daring to go straight into the Olympics; most riders would look at that as a major disadvantage! And if that's not enough they have made top level dressage look more free and fun than anyone else I've ever seen.
Finally, referring back to what is sport and what is not: what great sportsmanship from the country which won team gold to not only accept but also embrace Valegro as 'das Wunderpferd'!
Picture: Lucy Lloyd having a relaxed moment with Charlotte at the Ballan dressage regionals only a few weeks before the Olympics.
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About Liz Barclay
Her love for horses together with her dedication made her into the trainer and dressage rider she is, today. She is versatile and inventive and likes a challenge; whether it is a technical training question, a confidence issue or a problem involving the management of the horse or pony.
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