Farewell! Valegro Retires From Competition

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Valegro with Charlotte Dujardin giving a final wave goodbye to competition at London Olympia retirement ceremony. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Valegro with Charlotte Dujardin giving a final wave goodbye to competition at London Olympia retirement ceremony. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

LONDON, Dec. 14, 2016–Valegro gave a farewell performance of his rousing British-themed 2012 Olympic Grand Prix Freestyle in a two-stage ceremony that produced thunderous applause from the packed Olympia exhibition hall that rider Charlotte Dujardin was trying hard to hold together her emotions.

The crowd was prepared for en emotional departure and so was the production with the Victorian-era hall darkened. But drawn out interviews dampened emotions until Charlotte rode Valegro through movements that wowed spectators who gave thunderous applause to the final centerline and wave goodbye from the rider.

The performance of the freestyle earlier in the night with chimes from Big Ben highlighting the British theme drew more emotional responses from the 7,500 spectators that for a second night packed the World Cup event at Olympia where Charlotte and Valegro set their world record score of 94.300 per cent in 2014.

Charlotte Dujardin riding Valegro in a performance of their London 2012 Olympic freestyle for the first time since winning individual gold. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage--news.com
Charlotte Dujardin riding Valegro in a performance of their London 2012 Olympic freestyle for the first time since winning individual gold four years ago. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

In a remembrance interview with dressage-news.com, Charlotte talked of the “magical” partnership with the KWPN gelding who will turn 15 years old on Jan. 1, 2017 and their career winning three gold medals at two Olympics, gold at three Europeans and a World Games as well as two World Cup titles.

“For me,” said the 31-year-old rider, “it’s the best thing to be able to have a horse where I started riding from five years old–both of us knew very little, both of us are underdogs, really, and no one ever really expected anything of us and we’ve gone up the levels of training together and we’ve been so successful.

“We’ve done more than any one ever thought we would be doing and what we have achieved together is absolutely incredible. I think to be able now to finish and retire with him still at the top of his game for me it’s the right decision. I could be greedy as a rider, we could still keep going—we could probably go for another two years and we could probably win some more gold medals.

“But I have to ask myself, ‘Why do I want to do that?’ because he is such a special horse, such a unique horse he doesn’t deserve having to keep going out there performing.

“He’s 15 years old next year. He owes me absolutely nothing. What he’s already given me is a sense of confidence and knowledge and experience that I can now put on to my other horses. That’s what’s so magical. He has truly, truly made me the rider I am today.

“I’ve seen so many horses at the top level, incredible horses that don’t finish where they should finish and I think it’s a sad end to their careers. I never wanted that for Valegro. I always wanted Valegro to finish at the top being the best he is. That means more to me than going out and winning more gold medals.”

Valegro ridden by Charlotte Dujardin on the final centerline leaving the arena at London Olympia. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Valegro ridden by Charlotte Dujardin on the final centerline leaving the arena at London Olympia. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Charlotte was asked about her close, personal partnership with Valegro and if he could talk what would he say.

“I’m sure as hell he would want to keep going,” she said, “He would want to do more. He is a born performer. He’s a horse that no matter what you ask he will do it. He never says ‘no.’ He loves to work, he loves performing, he loves going in front of a crowds of people. I know he would want to keep going. I make the decision because he can’t speak and I truly believe it is the right thing to do. There is not a better way to finish in my eyes than to win the individual gold at the Olympics. There is no other show that will do that for him. After my ride in Rio it felt so magical from start to finish that’s why we finish there.

“I think he’d be understanding because that is his nature. He’s a guy that never says ‘no.’ That’s a rare, rare, rare occasion. He’s one those.guys who does what he’s told.” She laughed at the last comments.

Asked whether she had any young horses that gave her the same feeling as she had with Valegro at five, Charlotte said:

“I have a couple of horses, one of them is Mt. St. John Freestyle. I do believe that one day she could be a possibility of a gold medalist. She gives me incredible feeling, is super confident, and brave, and like Valegro she loves to perform. But then you can’t really say until you’re there. That’s the hard thing with this sport. Everyone can say they’ve got a gold medalist in their stable until you’re there and you’ve done it you can’t say it. So For me feeling-wise she gives me a super feeling. Then I have my own horse Florentina. I love her. I think she is super talented. She’s six years old.

Mount St. John Freestyle being ridden by Charlotte Dujardin.
Mount St. John Freestyle being ridden by Charlotte Dujardin.

“I have the best string of horses I’ve ever had which for me is so exciting Next year I won’t be out competing top level Grand Prix . This now gives me the opportunity to work on all the horses I haven’t had as much time to work with, which is great because the young horses I don’t like doing too much with them. Now they’re all ready to pick up the reins and, ‘come on, now it’s your turn.’

“It’s another chapter to my book. I’ve kind of finished with Valegro. How lucky I have him forever. He isn’t going anywhere. He’s going to be with me for the rest of my life. Maybe I’d like to have a picture in my wedding dress on him, things I want to do so I can flog him around, ‘Come on, Blueberry, off you go,’  do all the things where he has no pressure. It will be so nice to be able to enjoy that and give all the other horses the chance to go out and compete.

Charlotte was asked about the positive reaction around the world to her and Valegro and disclosed how Valegro got her through her first ever bad case of nerves when she was going into the arena to perform the Freestyle at the Rio Olympics.

“I just feel so honored and humbled that’s what people think. I do what I do because I love training horses. The competing side of things I love, don’t get me wrong. But I genuinely love training, I love training young horses. I love being able to get that bond, that partnership and that connection you can get with a horse. That’s what I truly feel I have with Valegro. It’s like like you mold into one, you kind of read each other through the body language.

“To have that feeling in Rio where he knew I was having a really emotional day in the freestyle. All day it was just probably one of toughest things I’ve ever experienced. When I went in I was so nervous. My legs felt like jelly, my heart was pounding in my chest. I’ve never been like that, ever. As I went down, walked in then trotted around the outside it was as if he held my hand and said, ‘Come on, we can do this.’ That to me is what it’s all about. You can have that relationship with a horse that can give you that feeling. That is why you do it!

“It didn’t matter to me whether I won or not. It was the fact that he was there just to help me and he truly did. I will never forget that, what he did that day. It meant the world to me. I wanted to stop that day.

Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro in the Olympic Grand Prix Freestyle in Rio de Janeiro. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro in the Olympic Grand Prix Freestyle in Rio de Janeiro. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

“To have support around world I want to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart. It’s been truly incredible to know where people have come from to support me through all my Facebook posts and Twitters. It’s been incredible to know when you go to competitions you have that, it’s a wonderful feeling.”