The 2016 Rio Olympics are just days away! So for August, and in honor of the defending Gold Medalist, we are doing our book review on Valegro: Champion Horse by Carl Hester (who is not only his trainer, but part-owner). This book is all about Valegro's story, his journey, and all the people who have come along for the ride; whether they were in his saddle or by his side.
"Blueberry. Bluebs. The Professor. Valegro is many things to many people, but the one thing all his people have in common is love for him."
Valegro was bred by Maartje and Joop Hanse and born in the Netherlands on 5 July 2002. He is by the famous sire Negro out of the lovely dam Maifleur. Gertjan van Olst and his wife Anne, renowned dutch breeders and trainers and the owners of Negro, loved the colt so much they purchased him but had to rename him to Valegro, as his original name Vainqueurfleur was taken by another horse they owned.
The van Olsts raised Valegro to take him to the Royal Dutch Sport Horse (KWPN) stallion show, but Valegro was determined not to be "enough of a stallion" so was gelded and sold to Carl Hester. At one point Carl felt he had too many horses and tried to sell Valegro, but was convinced to keep him. Today Valegro is co-owned by Carl Hester, Rowena Laurd and Anne Barrott. But we will never know what he is worth on the equine market as he will never be sold!
Around 2006, when Valegro was 4 and competing at the Shearwater four-year-old championship, Carl found his future star, Charlotte Dujardin, riding her then Grand Prix hopeful horse Fernandez (aka Dez). Charlotte was only supposed to fill in a spot temporarily at Carl's yard, but is now a permanent team member. She took over Valegro from the talented dressage rider and Carl student, Lucy Cartwright, who went on to start her own training facility. As training progressed more with Valegro, Dez took a back seat as a spare and eventually was sold to Norway's Catherine Rasmussen. Charlotte was "such a strong rider, and Valegro was a strong horse - strong in his body and inclined to be strong in his mouth - so [Carl] put them together." A match made in dressage heaven, as it proved to be a partnership as good as gold.
Valegro (with Charlotte in the tack) holds every world record in the sport of dressage being the current reigning European, World and Olympic champion! He also has many other wins to his name and the book is full of all his impressive accomplishments. Maybe you're wondering, for all those awards, in all his prize giving ceremonies, did he ever have a bad moment? Actually, yes, but only once did the superstar react out of character. In early 2012 at the World Dressage Masters prize giving ceremony in Florida, Valegro surprised Charlotte and Carl by going bolt upright, nearly vertical in an unhappy rear. Perhaps he was showing his frustration at coming in second to Stephen Peters and Ravel just prior to the Olympics?
The many beautiful details of Valegro's life are covered in this wonderful book, along with numerous pictures taken both personally and professionally showcasing special moments. Stories, anecdotes and inserts of the people who have - or have had - a part in his life pepper the pages. Truly a heartfelt, lovely read!
Germany's Isabel Werth, one of the top dressage riders of all time, admires (and exemplifies) great sportsmanship and competition. Regarding Valegro she stated:
"Yes, the time will come when another horse gets closer, but at the moment Valegro is the one to beat. The sport should be exciting, not just about one nation. We were asking for a truly global sport and now we have it. It is great for British sport, but more importantly it's great for the sport as a whole. It takes perfect management to bring a horse to the top and keep him there, which shows Carl's immense talent. It is a wonderful story, and it has been fabulous to see it unfold."
Can Charlotte and Valegro repeat their Olympic gold medal win? Watch Charlotte review their awesome ride from the 2012 London Olympics.
"The partnership that Charlotte and Valegro have developed over [nine] years together is rooted in trust and an intimate knowledge of each other's strengths and weaknesses. That's what enables these performances of sheer confidence and brilliance."
We wish them, and all the equestrians now heading to Rio, the very best of luck for safe travels and awesome performances!
Live. Love. Horses.