There was no doubt that Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro would delight the crowds in New York this weekend (24 September 2016) at the Rolex Central Park Horse Show. Nancy Jaffer rounds-up some of the highlights

From the moment there was word that Valegro and Charlotte Dujardin would be coming to the Rolex Central Park Horse Show, plenty of “wow” moments and a sell-out were guaranteed. New York City loves celebrities, and Valegro certainly fills that bill.

American fans were thrilled that the horse who won the 2015 Reem Acra FEI World Cup Final in Las Vegas was returning to the US before his farewell performance at Olympia in December.

The show is held in the heart of Manhattan at the Wollman Rink, used for ice skating during the winter. With a few days of intense work, the space is transformed into an intimate stadium, against a backdrop of skyscrapers that twinkle with lights during evening classes.

A $75,000 (£57,900) CDI4* freestyle was on Saturday night’s programme, but everyone was waiting for Valegro’s exhibition at the end of the evening.

1. An early treat

Valegro in New York

The crowd got a treat early however, when Charlotte rode out, unannounced, on a pitch-black Friesian Frederik the Great, who has a legion of followers on YouTube. When spectators realised who was aboard the stallion, known for his voluminous mane and tail and promoted as “The World’s Most Handsome Horse,” they burst into excited applause. Charlotte showed off the Friesian’s gaits in a few circuits of the ring, smiling and waving as she played to the delighted crowd.

2. A ride in the dark

Valegro in New York

As the freestyle competition neared an end, Charlotte mounted up at the baseball field where the stabling was located and started off on the path towards the stadium, accompanied by Valegro’s groom, Alan Davies. The trip involved a five-minute trail ride through the darkened park, as curious folks walked along with her.

3. Phones at the ready

Valegro in New York

As Charlotte and Valegro neared the entrance to the stadium, people took cellphone photos and watched, fascinated, as the horse waited to go into the arena.

4. A favourite freestyle

Valegro in New York

Following the award ceremonies for the freestyle, which went to Irish rider Judy Reynolds on Vancouver K, Charlotte entered the arena and started her freestyle to music from the movie How to Train Your Dragon. It’s an older freestyle for Valegro, but with two Olympics behind Charlotte, she felt free to return to a favourite from the past.

5. Eager fans

Valegro in New York

The arena was silent during her performance, as the capacity crowd watched and appreciated every move, offering a standing ovation when she finished. They cheered Alan Davies when he came in and enjoyed interviews that announcer John Kyle conducted with Charlotte and Alan. Charlotte remounted and did another circuit of the arena, to the delight of the fans. Then, when it seemed as if the evening was over, it all began again. While Charlotte and Valegro came through the passageway to go out, those eager for another glimpse of the superstars crowded into the concessions building. Charlotte stopped Valegro and let those reaching out touch him.

Like this? You might also enjoy reading these:

6. ‘I was shaking’

Valegro in New York

Seeing how many people wanted to be near Valegro, Charlotte had another idea. She turned around and went back in the arena, as the announcer invited everyone to come with her. Instantly, scores of happy people rushed into the ring, surrounding horse, rider and groom. They patted Valegro’s neck, touched his nose, kissed him or just stood close and enjoyed his aura. “It was palpable,” said one woman in the scrum. An excited young girl, recounting her encounter with Valegro and her idol Charlotte, commented: “I was shaking.” Charlotte added about Valegro: “He loves meeting the crowd and he loves the people.”

(Photos by Lawrence J. Nagy)