There was no obligation for Charlotte to perform a complete freestyle at Olympia tonight. She and Valegro have nothing left to prove. They’ve broken every world record there is at grand prix level and have bowed out with an individual Olympic gold freshly minted in their honour.
So to come out this evening in the atmospheric arena and perform a routine they have not run through in public for four years took guts. It was a ballsy decision because if Charlotte had made any mistakes or shown weaknesses, the haters would have been right on her case.
And every rider — no matter who they are — has to deal with haters. H&H used a picture of Carl Hester on Nip Tuck from the Rio Olympics which was set at a jaunty angle and there was a barrage of complaint about the horse being behind the vertical. Haters gonna hate, but if anyone has consistently comported themselves beyond reproach, it’s Carl.
And he’s imparted his implacable wisdom to Charlotte.
Having been petrified of the media a few short years ago, tonight she was eloquent and expressive, under circumstances in which she could have retreated into her old-style shell.
Valegro has captivated audiences the world over with his relaxed yet ultra-powerful performances.
Watching Charlotte set sail for her freestyle, I wondered whether she might scrimp on the changes, the one area where Valegro has sometimes made mistakes in tests. But no. She rode nine two-time changes on a curving line and 15 perfect (and I hate the gratuitous over-use of the word perfect) one-times.
Tonight, after a fault-free rendition of their London 2012 gold medal winning freestyle, Charlotte dropped both reins to wave to the adoring sell-out crowd. Valegro stretched his neck and pricked his ears.
The judges all chose to take their places before Charlotte and Valegro’s freestyle as a mark of respect. And, had it been judged, this performance would have been good enough to win gold in London, Rio or any other Olympics. This was a seminal moment in dressage history and the crowd rose to its feet in admiration of the best duo in the world.
The Big Ben bongs sounded during the exquisite double pirouettes. The crowd started clapping in time with Valegro’s steps on the final centre line. This horse has taken his final competitive bow, but he’s by no means forgotten.
Charlotte and Valegro, we salute you.