Understandably, this year’s event was dominated by Valegromania. However, let’s not overlook Carl’s achievement of winning the World Cup qualifier. In the grand prix and the freestyle, Carl delivered a masterclass of dressage riding with Jane de la Mare’s Nip Tuck.
In the grand prix some observers thought it was a close call between him and Hans Peter Minderhoud on Glock’s Flirt. I found it interesting to explore the contrast between the performances. Carl places weight on harmony and ease, whereas Hans Peter capitalises on impulsion and risk. By the time the feature class came around the following night, Carl’s strategy paid off and he romped home.
All the Brits rode well, which bodes positively for the future. Laura Tomlinson’s lovely mare Rosalie B went slightly green, but at 10 years old, that’s understandable. Olympia can be a step too far for some horses and, along with Fiona Bigwood and Spencer Wilton, I decided that my own Bubblingh should wait for another year.
A late entry?
There was nowhere more magical than the Olympia Grand Hall to stage Valegro’s retirement. It was full to capacity and, under the dazzling lights, Charlotte and Blueberry danced their final exit out of the competition arena. As I watched him in training before the show, I marvelled at his abilities.
Carl turned to me and joked that as he was going so well he’d changed his mind about retiring him and asked me to arrange a late entry in the grand prix.
That triggered a personal journey back in time. I recalled all the other equine champions that I’d known over my 40 years in the sport. There have been some wonderful horses, but the qualities of Valegro will ensure he remains at the top of the history books.
I also reflected how almost all of them were retired after their star had started to wane. The decision to retire Valegro at his pinnacle has required much soul-searching and self-discipline. That is the mark of ultimate horsemanship and deserves total respect.
Nick Skelton and Sophie Christiansen’s recognition in the Sports Personality of the Year was fantastic, not only for them but for all of us in equestrianism. To have two ambassadors making the line-up, with a combined total of 146,481 votes, deserves our gratitude. Nick is an old friend and, like so many, I’m enjoying this fairytale climax to his outstanding career.
Ref Horse & Hound; 22 December 2016