In the above video, watch as Valegro blossoms from a talented youngster to the world’s best dressage horse.
Back in 2009, Horse & Country televised the ‘Fantastic Elastic’ Masterclass with British Dressage star Carl Hester. In the programme, Carl introduced us to one of the up-and-coming stars in his stable, a six-year-old gelding called Valegro, a horse with an impressive canter, who picked up dressage movements with ease, and who was dazzling in Young Horse championships. “He’s going to be quite a star,” Hester told the audience.
How prophetic those words turned out to be.
In H&C’s first documentary series starring Carl, At Home with Carl Hester, we got to know Valegro a little bit better. Ridden by Carl’s stable jockey, Charlotte Dujardin, the pair were regularly pinpointed as future stars. “The ultimate dream is to get to the Olympics,” Charlotte told the cameras. “Even I just make it there that would be good enough. Maybe one day winning a medal…”
Of course, they were to go on to achieve much more than that. Valegro made his international Grand Prix debut in 2011, and the dressage world immediately sat up and took notice. His debut was a winning one, with Charlotte and him finishing top in Vidauban in March. Five months later, they were part of the gold-medal winning British team at the FEI European Championships in Rotterdam.
Things in dressage were changing. The Brits, usually always out of the medals in the sport, were suddenly podium contenders – and not only that, they were capable of winning gold.
While Charlotte and the then-inexperienced Valegro didn’t pick up any individual medals in Rotterdam, by the following spring they were being talked about not just as London 2012 team certainties, but potential Olympic gold medallists.
So the H&C crew descended on Carl’s Gloucestershire yard once again, this time to film the documentary Carl and Charlotte: Dressage Superstars. This time, focus was split equally between Carl – owner, trainer, rider and mentor – and Charlotte, his talented protege.
In the two-part series we learned more about Valegro, the bargain Dutch Warmblood who had failed his stallion grading, been gelded and was sold for the insanely low price of €3,000. The horse who had regular turnout time in the paddock and loved to hack out, who didn’t like being petted and lived for food. The horse, as Carl described it, who had read the book on dressage and knew every line.
Soon after, of course, came that little competition in Greenwich in the summer of 2012, when Charlotte and Valegro rode into the history books with a double of gold medals. A bona fide dressage phenomenon had arrived, and best of all, he was British.
Interest in the Hester team was stronger than ever, so H&C was back at Carl’s to film three further shows – Carl and Charlotte: Golden Year, reflecting on their successes at London 2012; Carl and Charlotte: Europeans, when H&C followed them as they competed in Herning in 2013, and Carl and Charlotte: Going Dutch, when we shadowed them on a trip to The Netherlands.
We watched Charlotte and Valegro dominate the sport, claiming every individual medal, becoming world number ones, setting new World records and then breaking their own record scores. It has been a glorious, unrivalled time for British Dressage, one we might never be lucky enough to see again.
As nothing good can last forever, and after he won team silver and individual gold in Rio, it was announced that Valegro would be retired from international competition. Carl Hester, his co-owner, was adamant – the horse who had given his all had nothing left to prove. There was to be no slow slide down the leaderboard, no pushing until the horse said no – Valegro would leave the sport as a champion.
So just before we see him go up that centre line one final time at Olympia, we look back over Valegro’s remarkable, unforgettable career. The cheap-as-chips gelding, paired with a relatively unknown rider, who grew together to become arguably the best dressage partnership of all time.
It’s been one hell of a journey – and the H&C team has been so lucky to have been invited along for the ride.
Words by Victoria Spicer
Carl Hester stars in new Rudall Rides With Carl Hester, available to watch now on H&C Play. Watch as Jenny Rudall gets the chance to ride the Olympic, World and European Champion Valegro as she heads out for a hack with Carl, and he reveals fascinating insights about his life, loves and career. Click here to view.