Valegro’s retirement has been hovering on the horizon for months now, the expectation and build-up has been on everyone’s lips. Just like the great final curtain we expected, getting tickets made gold dust look easy to come by, by comparison. Like ordering your favorite restaurant dish; soon it’s over and for a little while you’re satiated, then you want it all again, only this time the chef’s hung up his apron.
Valegro’s final walk out of the arena. Photo by Kit Houghton
Just to have tasted the atmosphere when that horse competed was to sip a fine wine, or maybe it was closer to downing a shot of tequila. Olympia was one of his great stages, smashing the freestyle record there back in 2014 at over 94 percent. He returned to his favorite stage to ignite one last fizz of electricity to light up the Grand Hall.
The night was split into two, a little like our feelings about the night. Blueberry’s first appearance was to revisit his 2012 London Olympic freestyle test and to the chimes of Big Ben, dazzled with a performance that could well have raised the bar again and sent the pair away on a high that showed that they’ve still got it, in spades. His performance tonight reminded us how they have taken the sport by storm; crashing into a room like Mick Jagger with the ability to rock and roll but with the grace and lightness of foot of a ballerina.
This closing of a chapter gave us all the chance to reflect on those past marvels and especially those Olympic performances. Back to 2012 and London was full of hope and what could be, the nervousness of “could this dream come true.” We all know now it was a step on the road to greatness.
Rio was tinged with a different atmosphere, no longer the underdog but now arriving as “best in show” but with no guarantees. The path had become a rockier one in the lead-up and there was heart-stopping nervousness felt by everyone as they watched their tests unfold in Brazil. Can they still smash the doors down or is the fire starting to smolder?
Instead, to quote Michael Caine “they were only supposed blow the bloody doors off,” instead they set the place aflame!
Valegro and Charlotte showing off. Photo by LewisHarding
Tonight’s goodbye finale ceremony after the World Cup freestyle was all we hoped for. There was no doubting the star. Dickie Waygood, Carl Hester, Alan Davies all extolled the virtues of this pair but Richard Davison summed it up, in the term “alchemy”—the chemistry between Valegro and Charlotte has been perfect. As he was talked about, he knew it was about him, he even looked to join in the conversation, with quizzical looks to all those around him; he understood. As has always understood the big occasion, it was time to rise to it once again.
Charlotte and Valegro with groom Alan Davies (right) and trainer Carl Hester (left). Photo by Kit Houghton
Charlotte remounted for the final time, with the promise that this wasn’t the final time. We will see this pair—they may be out of the competition spotlight but don’t think they won’t still be landing in our lives for longer yet. As the spotlights cut the dark and lit up these stars, I expected the tears to be flowing but actually it was the glow of pride that overtook us all.
Photo by Kit Houghton
For those of us who were privileged to see them set new records, they have lifted us to elation and also made us bite our nails to their nub. It’s not overstating to say this is a pairing of a lifetime, like John Whitaker and Milton in their heyday.
The crowd needed no encouragement to be raised to their feet. Charlotte took Blueberry on a final spin, to the tune of “Time To Say Goodbye.” There was no one that would dispute, as Charlotte turned and waved to the crowd with enthusiasm and thanks, that this was the time to go, on top! We all had the feeling though that they’re not going very far. More au revoir than cheerio; we’ll be seeing you soon.
Photo by Kit Houghton
Charlotte and Blueberry changed the rules in every way. Unlike many before she wasn’t the perfectly clipped spoken child with a perfect aura. She said what she thought and she said it with an Essex twang.
Blueberry (and don’t let the idea of a squishy, fruity delight fool you) put on the moves that the Sex Pistols would have been proud of and with his style and grace, stuck two fingers up to all those that thought dressage was dull and made the sport of dressage, exciting, sexy and fun.
They broke the window between the public and the sport—the famous dancing horses in London. They made dressage number No. 1 in the charts and popular with everyone.
Charlotte, Carl, Alan and of course Valegro, you changed the game!
From all of us, thank you.
Steven Wilde got his start in commentating in 2001 and has gone on to announce and commentate at some of the world’s biggest venues, in all the Olympic disciplines. His voice has been heard at Hickstead, Blenheim and Barbury Horse Trials, and the 2012 London Olympic Games. He grew up in the sport of show jumping, as his mother was an international rider, and he’s been successful at at organizing shows as well.
Charlotte and Valegro. Photo by Kit Houghton
A moment between two friends. Photo by Kit Houghton
Valegro’s team (from left) Carl Hester, Charlotte Dujardin and Alan Davies. Photo by Kit Houghton
Valegro at his best. Photo by Kit Houghton
Cantering off. Photo by Kit Houghton
Valegro. Photo by LewisHarding
Photo by LewisHarding
Valegro and his devoted groom, Alan Davies. Photo by LewisHarding