Ahead of Valegro’s retirement next month at Olympia, Horse & Hound released this tear-jerking video congratulating Blueberry on an epic career.
Since I can’t be there to watch the ceremony (tickets are already sold out for the December 14th show), instead I find myself looking ahead. What will the sport of dressage look like after Valegro?
For one, I’m going to guess that there’s a lot of riders out there who will be glad to see Valegro back home and not in the dressage court, since it will mean a chance at them finally capturing the blue ribbon, or the gold medal, or what have you. But besides that, I think there is going to be other effects of the Charlotte-Valegro sensation.
One trend I expect to see is a continuing rise of helmets worn at upper level competition. This year’s Olympics saw the entire British team sporting hard hats, and more surprisingly, the introduction of media outlets questioning the decision of other teams (*cough* Germany *cough*) on the absence of the safety gear. Charlotte Dujardin makes for a wonderful role model, and I think the trickle-down effect of helmet popularity will still continue after Blueberry’s retirement.
What I wonder about most is how the training and breeding of dressage horses will change (or not) going forward. Will breeders see Valegro as a one-hit-wonder from a bloodlines point of view? Or will we see start to see less emphasis on flashy front ends (a la Totilas) and more impressive backsides (bottoms like a cook, as Carl Hester put it) coming forward?
And then training- though the world dressage scene largely rails against rolkur methods, we still see unsightly images from warmups and even on the world’s largest stage that indicate it’s still around and in use at the highest levels. With part of Blueberry’s success surely due to his relaxation in the ring, will we see others follow suit? (As I hypothesize that a horse in rolkur could not possibly be relaxed, or appear relaxed)
Or, with the shining king of relaxation and power on the sidelines, can we expect the flashy, prancy movers with an overtight topline to rein once more?
My hope is that the legacy of Valegro will not fade away with his retirement, and that it will inspire a new generation of riders to adopt some of the lessons learned from him and Charlotte. That is, be safe, be smart, be happy. Focus on the well being of the horse and the correctness of his movement, and don’t cut corners in training to get to the top. The next 4 years leading up to Tokyo 2020 will be defining time period for the sport, and I hope that those with influence lead us down the path that Valegro and Charlotte created.