Ninety percent, here we come…

31 Jan

Valegro3

 

These recent performances by Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro are moving dressage into new, uncharted territory: the possibility of a 90% score in a technical test.
The Grand Prix at Amsterdam was of such high level, two of the judges (and me) had the pair on world record pace, even including the blip on final centerline.
Putting my money where my mouth is, in my opinion, the scores of 6 and 7 for the blip were exactly spot on. The Passage was minimum 9, the transition to piaffe was minimum 9, the piaffe itself was minimum 9—and then it looked as though Charlotte gave a half-halt in order to ensure that Valegro would take the necessary small-high step out into passage for another minimum 9 instead of the ‘leap-step’ seen all too often as a horse loses engagement when asked for forward . Instead of a half-halt step forward , Valegro ‘heard’ Halt. Charlotte immediately corrected, and off they went, minimum 9 passage and halt.
We used to marvel at and love the incredible partnership and harmony of Ed-and Toto, and frankly, I still do miss them. They have been the gold standard for what dressage is supposed to be about: the schooling of a horse to the point that the invisible communication (aka aids) results in a performance of seamless harmony and expression, rhythm and balance in every stride.
When we watch a pair perform, there is always ‘back-story’ going on: personal hardships, triumphs and despairs; the last performance and its score. For a long time, the story of Charlotte and ‘Blueberry’ seemed too perfect: 3 or 4 international Grand Prixs, all scores well over 70; team status for 2011 European Championships; elevation to super-star status at the Euros; the brilliance of the 2012 Olympics; the domination of 2013 World Cup and the setting of new world records; 2014 on track for even greater heights….
…Frankly, Aachen was a relief.
A loss of focus, a loss of rhythm—probably only Charlotte, Valegro and of course the incomparable Carl Hester really know what happened. Nevertheless, the exquisite timing necessary for one and two-tempis suddenly –pouf!- – went out the window and the focus inherent in great pirouettes went by the wayside. Look! They were fallible after all (the word ‘human’ seems unfair to hurl at Valegro who is far better than that).
The eventual triumph at World Equestrian Games restored what has become the natural order: Charlotte and Valegro’s scores dominant enough to lift the British to team silver—helped by Carl Hester/Nip Tuck , and Michael Eilberg/Dynasty (Gareth Hughes/Nadonna drop score).
2015 is seeing something new from Charlotte and Valegro. The performances at Olympia, these latest ones at Amsterdam—we are seeing a horse in its prime, shining condition, muscles rippling, sup-pleness and power at the ready, matched by a rider equally athletic, equally at the ready, and willing to push herself wherever necessary to keep the focus, keep her own suppleness and power.
I still miss Ed-and-Toto and so heartily wish they were still a partnership and competing, but Charlotte and Valegro are pushing the gold standard to new heights, even without a top rival as stimulus.
Thank you to Carl Hester, whose deep involvement in this partnership, whose own humanity and generosity , and whose decision some years ago to let Peanuts ‘be a horse’ and live turned out has helped the sport to grow in this most welcome direction.
And a last-is-never-least thank you to co-owners of Valegro, Roly Luard and Anne Barrott. Because without the owners, without Team Hester, none of this might have happened.

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