Richard Davison: Valegro — as great as Muhammad Ali *H&H VIP*

  • The world salutes Valegro — the greatest dressage horse it has ever seen — along with Charlotte and Carl for their greatness too. The alchemy of their outstanding and special qualities has treated us yet again to a unique level of dressage and sportsmanship.

    In securing Charlotte’s back-to-back individual gold, Valegro answered every call and gave all he had. But while some of us feared it might be close, they romped home with a whopping margin.

    Carl and Jane de la Mare’s Nip Tuck performed a truly superb freestyle test and, perhaps with the benefit of a later draw, could have easily finished closer to the medals.

    As to the team medals I thought all of our  riders came out fighting and stepped up, including first-time Olympians Fiona and Spencer. The grand prix special turned into a scrap with riders from the USA, the Netherlands, Britain and Germany all determined to keep a grip on the hardware. Germany were outstanding, and while we had Valegro’s score to rely on, they slammed three plus-80% scores on the table and there was never any doubt as to who was in control.

    The overall standard was high and reflects the global increase. In total 36 riders achieved scores in excess of 70% in the grand prix, and 30 in the special.

    For all the pre-Games doom and gloom, as predicted, once the bell gonged for the first rider, we witnessed four days of exciting dressage. It was a shame that there were so many empty seats for the dressage and eventing, but that probably reflects the domestic interest in those disciplines and, with Brazil’s numerous political and other problems, I suspect many would-be visitors decided to give it a miss and follow the excitement on the television. It was interesting that the stands were almost full for the showjumping, for which the nation has a strong tradition.

    The venue organising team received much praise for their efforts and the general feedback was that the officials were efficient yet more relaxed than at previous Games. I found it amusing that a couple of dressage riders were led a long way on to the field of play, which at previous Games would have been prohibited and potentially could seriously have risked their team status, but went unchallenged in Rio.

    The most special of all

    There were many up-and-coming horses to catch the eye and the future of  international dressage looks exciting. But  none show the magic of  “the special one” — Valegro — as great as Mohamad Ali.

    The past five months have required disciplined management from Carl and Charlotte. They have had to ease up on the training and competitions, yet ensure Valegro’s fitness reached Olympic standard. It has meant holding their nerve and it is an example of ultimate horse management.

    In Rio we saw Valegro’s usual breathtaking extensions, half-passes and flying changes, yet tiny cracks were also beginning to emerge. If you compare how he used to passage and piaffe, here he could not replicate the same consistent punch and activity. But in the final individual competition, amidst blistering heat, he still gave everything he had — just as he always has. That is what makes him so special, why he is the greatest, and why so many of us owe him so much.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 18 August 2016