Alan Davies guest edit: My treasured memories of Valegro *H&H Plus*

  • Alan Davies shares some of his highlights and most treasured memories from his time as Valegro’s groom

    Vidauban CDI, 2011

    Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro won two grands prix and two grand prix specials across the two-week show…

    “This was the first international show at grand prix level for Charlotte and Valegro (Blueberry), so we didn’t know how either of them would react. We took three horses to compete over two weeks, and it was supposed to be a relaxed, educational trip. But after Blueberry’s first win, Carl’s phone started buzzing constantly and suddenly people were asking, ‘Who is this rider? Who is this horse?’ It wasn’t the quiet trip we had expected!”

    Rotterdam Europeans, 2011

    At their first championship, Charlotte and Valegro helped the team win Britain’s first dressage gold medal…

    “The Rotterdam Europeans were unbelievable, because no one expected Britain to win gold. At that time the Brits were nearly always the underdogs, and we were certainly not expected to beat the Dutch on home ground. Uthopia led the way for the Brits, and although Blueberry had a few green mistakes, he did amazing work and neither he nor Charlotte were bothered by the pressure. This was an amazingly proud moment, not just for the team and the country, but for these two horses, whom Carl and Charlotte had trained from youngsters, to be on top like that. It was gobsmacking actually.”

    Hagen CDI4*, 2012

    Just one year in to their international career, Charlotte and Valegro set a new world record of 88.02% for the grand prix special…

    “We took Blueberry to Hagen mostly just for extra experience in the run-up to the Olympics – breaking the record that had been set by Totilas was totally unexpected. He and Charlotte did the most incredible test; Carl and I held our breath throughout. I can picture Blueberry’s one-time changes that day even now – they were huge, so forward, so beautiful, and he just had the biggest smile on his face.”

    London Olympics, 2012

    Charlotte and Valegro led Britain to gold, as well as becoming the individual Olympic champions…

    “My clearest memory of the London Olympics is driving the lorry out of the gates of Greenwich Park on our way home, and a huge cheer went up from all the people sitting outside the pub. I felt this huge sense of relief that we had managed to pull this off. Blueberry was only 10 and Charlotte was still inexperienced; I couldn’t believe we’d done it. The medal ceremony was a bit of a blur. In the collecting ring it was mayhem – we knew it was gold, but we weren’t sure how the prize-giving was going to work. I remember Charlotte saying to me, ‘Please come in with me, I want you in there with me.’ It wasn’t until we got back to the stables afterwards that we properly realised what had just happened.”

    Olympia, 2013

    Charlotte and Valegro broke the world record previously set by Edward Gal and Totilas for the grand prix freestyle, scoring 93.97%…

    “Olympia 2013 was the first time he broke the record in the music – the last one he hadn’t yet broken. Charlotte had to do an interview after her test, so I took Blueberry back to the stables and washed him off. I didn’t know what mark they had, or what was going on. Then Charlotte came running down to the stables screaming and shouting. It so happened that we were stabled near Edward Gal, and as Charlotte flung her arms around me she saw him and his groom Vanessa Ruiter, and said, ‘Oh my God I’m really sorry – I’ve just broken your record.’ But Vanessa told me that if it had to happen, she was glad it was us – the Dutch adored Blueberry.”

    World Equestrian Games, 2014

    Charlotte and Valegro became world champions…

    “I’ll never forget a particular moment during the individual prize-giving at the World Equestrian Games in France. The podium faced the press down one long side, but as the girls were getting their medals on the podium, and we grooms were standing behind with the horses, I heard someone call my name from the other side of the stadium. I turned, and walked with Blueberry over to the stands on that side and the crowd went crazy: waving flags, clapping, cheering, shouting his name, shouting my name. It was amazing to see how many people really appreciated grooms and the importance of our role behind the scenes.”

    Las Vegas World Cup Final, 2015

    Charlotte and Valegro claimed their second consecutive World Cup title with 94.19%…

    “Competing in Vegas was a completely surreal experience, and the crowds were unbelievable. You could hear a pin drop at the start of their test, but as it went on you could hear the crowd start to buzz, then they were all clapping along at the end. It was amazing to see how much they got behind Charlotte and of course Blueberry loved it – the bigger the crowd the better for him.”

    Rio Olympics, 2016

    As well as securing team silver for Britain, Charlotte and Valegro retained their Olympic title on what was their final competitive outing…

    “There was a lot of pressure on the pair of them in Rio – Charlotte was the reigning Olympic champion after all. Just before she went into the arena for the freestyle was the first time I ever saw Charlotte slightly nervous. I told her to take a deep breath, that she’d be fine. We had to walk down a ramp to get into the arena and as we did Blueberry heard the crowd clapping and I just saw him lift as he completely went into performance mode, as if to say, ‘Come on Charlotte.’ And they were foot perfect. He tried so hard, put his heart and soul into it, listened to her on every step, and was perfectly on the beat of the music – it was just a joy to watch. That horse has the biggest heart, and he really showed it that day.”

    Valegro’s retirement ceremony at Olympia, 2016

    After cementing his place in history as the most successful dressage horse of all time, Valegro was officially retired with an emotional ceremony at Olympia 2016…

    “It was Simon Brooks-Ward’s idea that I should lead Valegro into the last part of the ceremony. I had to stay in the collecting ring on my own with him while they were doing interviews in the ring, and I was in pieces. I felt the tears coming and tried to pull myself together. But as the curtains opened, the noise from the crowd, the absolute love I felt from them for this horse, meant that I sobbed all the way up the centre line. It was tears of joy that he was going out at the top, that he was just the most phenomenal horse and everyone loved him – walking in there together was the most incredible moment of my life. The two of us have been all around the world together; he’s trusted me to take him to all these places, and I felt so honoured that he loved and trusted me enough to walk with me up the centre line at Olympia.”

    Ref Horse & Hound; 30 April 2020