The Best Dressage Team…Ever
That they would be brilliant there was no doubt. After all, they were the number one dressage team in the world, breaking their own seemingly insurmountable world-record scores several times.
Winners of three Olympic gold medals, holder of the European, World, Olympic and World Cup titles all at the same time (the only horse and rider team ever to have done so), and holder of the highest score ever achieved in dressage (94.169 at the Las Vegas World Cup), they literally are in a league of their own.
And here they were at the Central Park Horse Show, Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro, providing a chance of a lifetime opportunity for area residents to see them in person.
Creator of the show Mark Bellissimo “twisted” Charlotte’s arm to convince her to bring Valegro and make an appearance. Charlotte, returning from the Rio Olympics, had just participated in the Young Horse Championships in England, and was “exhausted.”
Yet, in support of the sport of dressage, and of the Central Park Horse Show, she gave in. Yes, she and Valegro would attend.
“There isn’t a show like this, with this backdrop. It’s incredible,” noted Charlotte.
Prior to the exhibition a freestyle competition had taken place, featuring some of the top horse and rider teams in the world, most of whom had just competed in Rio. Some horses faltered under the bright lights of the Wollman Rink. Others were on their game, presenting superb freestyles with correct movements, beautiful choreography and music which drew the audience into their performances.
But all paled in comparison when Charlotte and Valegro entered the ring. Although we had just witnessed the best of other countries, now we were to watch the best in the world—ever.
Charlotte and Valegro were not competing. Valegro, having accomplished every possible honor in the dressage arena, was now retired from competition. This was to be an exhibition, a chance for Charlotte and Valegro to have fun and enjoy their freestyle to “How to Train Your Dragon” after the stress of the Olympics.
Unlike many dressage horses, Valegro gets to be a horse. He gets turned out; he gets to run and play. He goes on trail rides: in fact he and Charlotte went on a hack through Central Park. One of Charlotte’s primary considerations is that she wants her horses to be happy. It shows.
We got what we expected…the brilliance…and yet there was so much more. Perfection in the transitions, which took my breath away. Perfection in the tempi changes, the piaffes and passages, the extensions and collections, which seemed to meld seamlessly into one another.
What we hadn’t anticipated were the tears that came to many eyes at witnessing the partnership between these two, the sublime beauty of their unity. The joy with which Valegro performs. The ease with which they execute the most difficult of movements; the most difficult of programs.
Reading about Charlotte’s background, one realizes that she, like Mozart or Picasso, displayed astounding talents at a very young age, talents that allowed her to easily accomplish things on horses in days that her trainers had been unable to do in months. Dressage in her hands, and in Valegro’s heart, is not simply sport; transcending sport it becomes art.
In an interview in The New Yorker magazine Charlotte stated, “I want to create. It is probably like an artist. They see in their head what they want to draw, and they draw it. It is like I have a feeling inside me that I want to create on a horse, and that is what I do.”
After the performance, which was greeted with a standing ovation of wildly cheering fans, Charlotte treated the audience to yet another honor. At first we thronged the exit area, separated by a fence from dressage’s number one team. We petted Valegro’s nose, admired his incredibly kind and intelligent eyes.
But Charlotte, knowing full well the character of her mount, did something astonishing. Returning Valegro (known at home as Blueberry) to the ring, she had the barriers removed, and allowed the adoring crowd to rush in and surround their hero.
Valegro stood like a statue and greeted his fans like an old soul. He looked you right in the eye when you approached, when you seized the opportunity to pet his silken coat and get up close and personal to this horse unmatched in the annals of dressage.
Thank you Charlotte and Valegro for giving the world an exquisite gift. And thank you for giving the audience at the Central Park Horse Show a memory we will all treasure for the rest of our lives.