Carl Hester: Allow adults to choose their hat *H&H Plus*


  • H&H’s dressage columnist discusses a great tribute to Valegro and the top hat debate

    Since Valegro retired at the end of 2016, I have often wondered how quickly he might have been forgotten, as so many great horses – and riders – are when new blood comes into the sporting landscape. However, I am writing this after an amazing day at the grand unveiling of Valegro’s statue, here in our nearby town of Newent, Gloucestershire.

    It was so exciting for me, Charlotte Dujardin, our groom Alan Davies and the rest of the team – and, of course, Valegro’s co-owners Roly Luard and Anne Barott.

    This project, which has been four years in the making, revealed that there is just as much interest in our “Blueberry” as ever. The BBC, ITV and regional radio stations were there – with social distancing monitored in a very orderly fashion by our own British Dressage (BD) media guru, Winnie Murphy.

    I really want to thank the Newent Initiative Trust for their backing of this great project and, of course, the sculptor, Georgie Welch. A sculpture can be so hard to imagine when one knows a horse so intimately, but Georgie has been able to capture Valegro’s spirit and movement, and bring to life his power and majesty, yet also encompass the aura of calmness he exudes.

    The bronze of Valegro in piaffe is such a strong image; it is one of the most difficult dressage movements and one that brought him endless scores of 10. I’m so glad we picked this movement for his casting. For those who remember, he made it look easy, and Georgie has captured both the ease and the power of his piaffe.

    Thank you to all who donated to the project, many of whom are simply fans of Valegro, as well as many non-horsey people who now know what dressage is, thanks to him.

    Small maquettes were sold to individuals, many of whom have come in person to collect them and meet Valegro, and there are some still to come. Thank you too to those who bought £1 raffle tickets to win the last maquette.

    At a time of such financial difficulty, it could have been easy for us to feel guilty, but this has brought such joy to so many. That is the recompense. And when Valegro met his statue, he dutifully put his head next to it, brilliant for the cameras. As ever, he is a true professional.

    Heated hat debate

    Reaction to the recent petition to the FEI for grand prix riders to be able to choose whether they wear a top hat or a helmet has become more than a bit heated. The principle of allowing adults to do what they feel is right is my reason for signing it. Personally, however, I choose to wear a helmet. I can see both sides of the debate, but so many feel that a crash hat is important for top riders who are role models.

    The tradition of the top hat, the aspirations of so many to one day be able to wear one, remains sentimental; it was a rite of passage. In the past four years, I have moved full time to wearing a helmet, while hacking, schooling and competing.

    These days, not only are helmets stylish, but I for one would not want the embarrassment of an accident while not wearing one. If you look at this through the eyes of a medical professional, there certainly would be no reasoning for the wearing of top hats, that’s for sure.

    A feast of competition

    The news that there will be a European Dressage Championships taking place in September next year is music to my ears, and this is something I spoke about in my last column (1 October issue). Although it is yet to be confirmed by the organisers, the fact that the FEI, European Equestrian Federation, the German national federation and the team at Hagen in Germany can make this happen is fantastic.

    My Christmas present of a national grand prix championship is also set to happen thanks to BD, the team at Hartpury and sponsors LeMieux. What a feast this is going to be, with 25 to 30 combinations contesting the grand prix on Monday, 21 December and 15 going forward to the following day’s freestyle. Absolutely champion!

    What do you think about top hats? Write to us at hhletters@futurenet.com

    Ref Horse & Hound; 5 November 2020