Carl Hester On Life With and After Valegro
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
LONDON, Dec. 13, 2016—Although Carl Hester’s life will be “different for a while” with the retirement from competition of Valegro that dominated the past five years of dressage boosting it into the mainstream in Britain and embraced by legions of adoring fans around the world.
And Carl confesses it has been life changing for someone who always considered himself a rider and not a trainer, but working with Valegro and Charlotte Dujardin has opened new doors for the 49-year-old who grew up on the isle of Sark only ever wanting to be on a horse.
The Wednesday night retirement is at the Victorian era Olympia exhibition hall built in 1886 and staged its first horse show two years later to become what is now the London International.
It has become a momentous “event” capping Valegro’s career—the renowned BBC and The Times are reporting on the occasion almost as much as equestrian media that has flown in from around the globe to record the end of an era. Valegro, has become a household name in Britain, like race horses in a land where there are millions of knowledgeable diehard followers.
“It was certainly the right decision,” Carl said of the end of international competition. “Charlotte and myself didn’t think there was any other option.”
Gold medals at two Olympics—London in 2012 was truly historic when the British team won their first dressage medals in 100 years of the modern Games—a world championship held only once every four years, two World Cups, three European Championships and every Grand Prix record score, they asked themselves what more could be achieved.
Carl first saw Valegro when the KWPN gelding was 2 1/2 years old at the van Olst stables in Holland.
“He certainly had the best canter of any horse I’d ever seen,” said Carl who lives in the English county of Gloucestershire, about four hours north of London and known for its pastoral scenes of fields and rolling hills.
“He was very well built, the shape of him for a dressage horse. He had this wonderful personality and huge canter. Dressage was just beginning to take off in Britain mostly with ‘normal’ horses of which I’d had several and I was looking for something special.
“He always had great mechanics but lacking suppleness and suspension in the early days, but that comes with riding and that’s where the partnership was so important.”
When Valegro was seven years old, Carl figured then he was working with Olympic quality, just as he was with Uthopia.
Does he ever think about whether he had kept the ride on Valegro rather than have Charlotte take over?
She was 25 years old at the time, but was dedicated full time to dressage after competing in “showing” as a kid. She had taken a horse to international Grand Prix.
“That is the million dollar question,” Carl replied. “It might have been different for me.
“But I thought how lucky I was to get two horses like this in my life, and they came at the same time. It wouldn’t have been the same for British dressage. You need more than one to make a team.”
He likened the pairing of Charlotte and Valegro to that of Nicole Uphoff and Rembrandt, the great German combination that won both team and individual gold at the 1988 and 1992 Olympics.
“Charlotte and Valegro were so new and so special,” he said. “That is going to be difficult to replicate. In Valegro we got a star and made dressage, especially here, mainstream. Now we have to manage the momentum. We have the BBC, The Times, Telegraph covering us.
“My God, this has never happened before.
“As long as the team can continue to be successful, and it is a sport where hard work gets you to the top, it will be alright. But it will be different for a while.
“We’re not depressed, we’re excited.”
Working with Valegro, now 14 years old, has “been life changing for me as a trainer. I still consider myself a rider, not a trainer. But this whole experience has opened new doors for me.
“I’m happy to watch people ride my horses, and Charlotte does that in abundance and not just on Valegro.
“We don’t have plans not to work together. I’m keen for her to ride some of my horses.
“It took me in a slightly different direction, and a good one.”
He joked that he won’t miss the pressure, though. He discovered this when he went on his own to Lyon, France for a World Cup event two months ago.
“I had a ball discovering what it’s going to be like—what time I went to bed, when I went to eat. Most of my life in recent years has been dedicated to Valegro.
“We’ll miss what Valegro brings to the sport but we won’t miss the pressure.”
Carl is competing Nip Tuck, the horse he rode on the British silver medal team at the Rio Olympics, at the Olympia World Cup event , that he hopes to repeat as winner. He placed second at the championship qualifier in Odense, Denmark in October and plans to go to the World Cup event in Amsterdam at the end of January, hoping to make it to the Final in Omaha, in America’s Midwest Mar. 27-April 2.
Nip Tuck has performed “beyond our dreams,” he said, and continues to improve.
Although Carl has been known in the past for preferring the Grand Prix Special over the Freestyle, he said Tom Hunt who created Valegro’s two Olympic freestyles. has made working on musical performances for Nip Tuck so enjoyable he’s looking forward to riding them more frequently.