As soon as I read the news that came last Saturday, when Linda Allen posted on the Chronicle bulletin board that Victor Hugo-Vidal had died, just when he seemed to be recovering from his malfunctioning heart (see p. 96), I started thinking right away about what I was going to write in memory of this man. Although he was a very accomplished horseman, he contributed so much more to our horse sports and our lives.
The first thing that I recalled was that voice, a voice that only Victor possessed, that deep baritone that seemed to resonate off the walls and seemed to never need a microphone whenever he announced. In fact, I had to stifle the urge to call his answering machine just so I could hear the melody of that voice one last time.
For me, and for many others, Victor’s voice brought back memories of the glory that once was the National Horse Show in New York’s Madison Square Garden. I remember my first trip to the National when I was 8 and hearing him really tell us about the classes, the horses and the riders. He changed announcing in the nearly 20 years he did that show.
Tricia Booker remembers that the first time she went to the National, at age 12 or 13, she and a friend sat right behind Victor’s booth and watched the show over his shoulder while they listened to him. Fifteen years later, after she’d joined the Chronicle, she made a point of sitting with him each year to watch the ASPCA Maclay Finals. “I got better lessons from that than I could have imagined from anyone else,” she recalled.
All over the country’and that’s not an exaggeration because he’d lived on both coasts and had probably judged or done clinics in all 50 states’people are remembering Victor. I doubt you could find anyone who didn’t love him, and it wasn’t because he was a sycophant who told what you wanted to hear. No, Victor had very strong opinions and usually did something about them, but even if he didn’t agree with you, it was never personal.
At first, I wasn’t sure if I should write this tribute to Victor for this Eventing Issue or wait a week. But then I decided it should go here because Victor truly enjoyed all horses, horsemen and horse sports. In addition to hunters, jumpers and equitation, he was licensed to judge dressage and saddle seat, and I can remember him telling me several times how much he admired event horses. “He loved every aspect of horses and horse showing. He loved every minute of it, and you could feel it,” said Alan Balch, his friend for more than 30 years.
Victor’s energy and love of life never dwindled. He eagerly spent the weekend before his hospitalization at the World Equestrian Games Show Jumping Selection Trials, and he was playing poker when he started to feel ill and drove himself to the hospital. Many have noted that Victor brought to our sport an unusually high degree of integrity and service, and they’ve suggested that devoting ourselves to achieving his high standard would be our best way to remember and to honor him.
Others have suggested that while his passing brings tears to our eyes, we shouldn’t stay sad for too long. He simply wouldn’t allow it. He’d tell us to get on the horse and jump, to get in the car and go find a good place to eat, or just to do something for someone else.
Thank you, Victor. Rest in peace.