Carl Hester Outlines Valegro’s Schedule for 2014 and Dances With Wolves for Himself

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Charlotte Dujardin on Valegro with the gold medal for the European Championship Grand Prix Special. © 2013 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Charlotte Dujardin on Valegro with the gold medal for the European Championship Grand Prix Special. © 2013 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

WELLINGTON, Florida, Feb. 28–Having secured a home for Valegro for the rest of his life, Carl Hester is confident that the world record holder ridden by Charlotte Dujardin can lead Great Britain to be in the running for team gold at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy in August.

If Valegro, just 12 years old, and Charlotte win a gold medal at the WEG to add to those garnered at the Olympics and European Championships the pair would eclipse the career record of Totilas, the black stallion that with Edward Gal won multiple WEG and European golds.

On a visit to Wellington to coach his long-time student, Katherine Bateson-Chandler, Carl talked to dressage-news.com of the journey that has led to Valegro, that he jointly owns with Roly Luard, to remain with Charlotte to compete for Britain for the rest of his competition life and then retire on his farm in Gloucestershire.

The hopes before the Olympics in London in 2012 that were historic for the first ever dressage medals for Great Britain were that Valegro and Uthopia, the stallion that was Carl’s team mount, would be sold after the Games. It didn’t work out that way and, instead, Valegro and Charlotte underwent more than a year of uncertainty, but adding the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Freestyle records to the Grand Prix Special world mark the partnership already held.

“My lifestyle didn’t change,” Carl said in his humorous style of the period after the Olympics. “I just laugh about it now–about the martini drinking, cigar smoking life that didn’t happene. It was all such a great idea… get my mortgage paid off… sitting back in the sun in Spain.

“I’m relieved at what happened with Valegro.

“Once the decision was made, I think it was the right one for the horse and for Charlorre and Roly and I and, in the end, for dressage as a whole.

“Nobody wante to see the pair split up–it’s fairly unanimous to keep the two together. We’re all really happny and cool with it. There’s no loss. At the end of the day I’m a horse lover.

“Now, I can control the rest of his life and make sure it ends in the right way.

Carl Hester ecstatc at the end of the ride by Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro. © 2-13 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Carl Hester ecstatc at the end of the ride by Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro. © 2-13 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

“As for writing my mortgage check… well, me and the rest of the world write a mortage check every month. Why should I expect other people to pay my mortgage off when we’ve all got them. It’s not going to kill us….it’s everybody’s destiny to pay their mortgage.

“Now I’ll be begging off my girl friends for a room to stay in when I go to Spain.

“I can live with that.”

Britain’s World Class program, he said, has helped a lot by covering the costs of competition and other expenses of maintaining one of the country’s biggest sport assets.

Funding will also come from a syndicate of about five dressage lovers who want to go on the journey with Valegro, not as a financial investment.

“There’s no hurry to it, no desperation,” he said, “what we’ve got so far we’re happy to keep.”

As the world No. 1 partnership, Charlotte will restrict competition with Valegro to championships and major events.

The schedule for 2014 will be limited–the World Cup Final in Lyon, France in mid-April if new music is ready; the World Equestrian Festival in Aachen, Germany in July; the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France at the end of August and possibly Olympia in London at Christmas.

“He would have been due his break in January/February but we couldn’t give him a decent break because of the World Cup so he’ll take his break in May and then we’ll bring him out at the end of June for Aachen.

“We plan to have very careful management. You can’t keep showing and he doesn’t need it. He may do 10 extended trots a year.

“This year, the pressure will be taken away from all of us. If he is successful at the WEG this year, it would be a fairy tale for all of us.”

Carl Hester and Dances With Wolves at Rotterdam. © 2013 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Carl Hester and Dances With Wolves at Rotterdam. © 2013 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

For 2014, Carl intends to focus on Dances With Wolves and not Uthopia, his Olympic and European Championship rides, after what he described as “a really good winter’s work at home.”

The tentative lineup is at Barcelona at the end of March to see how the 12-year-old Oldenburg gelding copes then possibly Horses & Dreams at Hagen, Germany at the end of April then the Rotterdam and Aachen 5* events in June and July.

A newcomer to prospective British team horses named by Carl is Super Nova II ridden by Spencer Wilton. The 11-year-old British-born Hanoverian gelding by De Niro was found by Carl when he was aged five and owned by him and Roly Luard. The horse was seven when he was sold to Spencer, who had worked with Carl for several years.

Spencer and Super Nova, that Carl describes as “world class,”will make their international Grand Prix debut at Barcelona in March.

Super Nova II being ridden by Spencer Wilton at the British championships. © 2013 Jon Stroud Media
Super Nova II being ridden by Spencer Wilton at the British championships. © 2013 Jon Stroud Media

Michael Eilberg and Half Moon Delphi, on the British team that won bronze at the European Championships in 2013, is also another prospect for the WEG squad, he said, as is the Hickstead Nations Cup gold medal combination of Gareth Hughes and DV Stenjkers Nadonna.

Michael and the 12-year-old gray mare, another British-born horse, plan to compete in Doha CDI5* in two weeks.

Great Britain's Michael Eilberg and Half Moon Delphi. © 2013 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Great Britain’s Michael Eilberg and Half Moon Delphi. © 2013 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Meantime, Gareth, a former bronc rider while living in Australia, and Nadonna have improved since their Hickstead team gold last summer.

Gareth Hughes and DV Stenjkers Nadonna riding in the Nations Cp Grand Prix. © 2013 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Gareth Hughes and DV Stenjkers Nadonna riding in the Nations Cp Grand Prix. © 2013 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

And Carl has Nip Tuck, a 10-year-old KWPN gelding that also was born in Britain, that has been scoring in the mid-70 per cent range in British national shows but has yet to compete internatioally.

The success of British dressage at the European Championships at Windsor in 2009, 2011 at Rotterdam and 2013 in Herning, Denmark, the WEG in Kentucky in 2010 and the pinnacle at the London Games has helped create a boom for the sport.

Dressage night at the iconic Olympia Christmas show, for example, has become a sellout with a waiting list for tickets. Simon Brooks-Ward, the organizer of Olympia, is adding dressage to his Windsor event in May.

Interest is intense in championships and internaional competitions.

Asked how he rated Britain’s chances at the Normandy WEG, he said: “I think it will be a battle for gold between Great Britain and Germany and with Holland it is going to be very close. I know these new combinations we have coming up.”

For him personally, “I’m incredibly grateful it happened to me. It’s a bit bizarre. It opens doors to you, funding, your point of view is listened to. I’ve always had something to say, it’s just whether other people find it interesting.

“The older I get I think more about legacy–people I teach that I’ve got to leave in a good way.

“The stories of our success… Emma Hindle, Laura Bechtolsheimer (now Tomlinson)… nobody now on the way can say, ‘it will never happen to me.’

“We have had people who had horses bought for them, others who made their horses, Gareth was a bronc rider in Australia.

“You can’t look at the team and not say, ‘I could be one of them.’

“People at the top are not those buyng the top horses. It’s usually partnerships of growing up together. They have the edge.”