Carl Hester: the best spirit and friendship *H&H VIP*

  • Rio is a vibrant city, a tale of two halves, with the extreme poverty of the favelas contrasting with beauty and wealth. The views over the city are the most breathtaking I have ever seen.

    Years of preparation and debriefs had all of us, at one stage, wondering whether it would all be worth it; what not to eat or drink, being on guard 24/7 and the in-progress roadworks on the way to the equestrian centre. My old eventing friend Ruy Fonseca commandeered my Facebook after my rather nervous column in March (ref H&H, 10 March) to rebut all my fears and boy was he right.

    The after-party life

    Chef de mission Mark England (jolly appropriate name by the way) gave us our first briefing on arrival, and his incredible team of support staff catered for our every need. We were, of course, ably led by Dickie Waygood, who had us up and out of bed bright and early — that is until after a couple of far too early calls for Fiona, when he realised he’s a civvie now.

    This team quite simply had the best spirit and friendship you could want. Although London was a spectacular success, I had very little time to enjoy celebrating until way after the job was done. However, in Rio we really took the job of after-partying to task. And although we were realistic about silver, it didn’t stop us thinking of gold, and rather like the Germans, we’ll be fighting to get it back.

    It’s exciting times, with Super Nova and Orthilia yet to reach their peaks. With Spencer and Fiona, they are part of the future for Team GB dressage, and I cannot express how proud I am of their performances. It’s so interesting finding out how different characters work in preparation for their tests. Whether you’re over- or under-confident, confidence comes from all those around you and what we were all able to give was wildly exciting.

    I’m so happy for Nip Tuck and his owner Jane de la Mare. “Barney” surpassed expectations to finish seventh in the individual freestyle and I can’t believe, for such a great big horse, how easy he was in that test (apart from the whiplash I was still feeling after his spectacular spook in the grand prix).

    People have poured praise on Valegro for years, and having had him in my care for 12 years and being used to seeing him every day I sometimes don’t see how great he is. But, after that final music test, I had to go and sit in a corner and let my emotions drain out. Also, I don’t need to tell you how incredible Charlotte is under pressure. The pair will be talked about as greats a century from now.

    Although I’m not entirely sure about his retirement yet and a decision will be made in the coming months, Valegro is enough of a superstar in his own right. He’s easy enough to cheer people up, strong enough to do demos, or perhaps he’ll just come and sit on your sofa for a night of telly!

    At the after-party between the grand prix silver and the kür, Charlotte and I ended up in the pool fully clothed with phones in our pockets, hence no communications. So for once I was able to focus on performance, with no texts or calls. Between the team and individual competitions we took a trip to the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer, and I did think “Christ Almighty”, as it takes your breath away. We went to say a final prayer, just to give us a bit more assurance, and our prayers were answered.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 25 August 2016