Valegro Goes International, page 1
The Blueberry Stories: Book Four
Carl Hester MBE FBHS with Janet Rising
with illustrations by Helena Öhmark
Copyright © 2017 Valegro Blueberry Limited
Front cover and illustrations by Helena Öhmark
The moral right of the authors has been asserted. Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of research or private study, or criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, this publication may only be reproduced, stored or transmitted, in any form or by any means, with the prior permission in writing of the publishers, or in the case of reprographic reproduction in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside those terms should be sent to the publishers.
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British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Matador is an imprint of Troubador Publishing Ltd
This book is dedicated to Rowena Luard,
a dedicated owner and supporter
Glossary of equestrian terms introduced in Book Four
“Where are we?” Blueberry asked his travelling companion Dez.
“I don’t know, but it’s cold,” the bright chestnut replied.
The horses had travelled from their home, Brook Mill Stables, in the comfortable horsebox, munching hay and glancing out of the high windows at the changing scenery. First the green and brown ploughed fields of Gloucestershire through the driving January rain, then the grey of the motorways in dusk before the gloom of the Channel Tunnel as they sped on under the sea towards Europe on the smooth train, its engines humming like a swarm of bees. On reaching France, the horsebox was driven off the train, bowling along more motorways in darkness. Dez was right, it was cold and Blueberry was glad of his quilted rug keeping his clipped body warm, and the thick bandages around his legs.
Eventually they arrived at their destination and the little brown horse was led down the ramp by his groom, Lydia, to a large loosebox with a deep bed of wood chippings. It was almost like home – especially when Lydia had filled his water buckets and hung his haynet. She checked him over, replacing his bandages after giving his legs a rub and offering him an apple, which Blueberry accepted. He could hear Dez munching in the stable next door and when everyone had finally left them for the night, they chatted again.
“We’re in Holland,” said Dez, “somewhere called Zwolle. I overheard Lydia talking to Carl. Our tests are the day after tomorrow, so good luck!”
Holland! Blueberry felt a shiver of excitement. He had been born in Holland so it was always a special place for him. He thought the way the people were speaking sounded familiar. He wondered whether he would recognise any of the horses competing in the competition tomorrow – perhaps one or two he had known as a foal or a youngster would be here. He never imagined he might one day travel back and compete in his home country. How exciting it was to be a dressage horse, he thought. It was such an interesting job; not only did he learn something new in every lesson, and enjoy working to improve all the movements he was asked for, but competing meant he led such an interesting life, the life he always dreamed he would live. He never knew where he would be going next, who he would be going with or who he would meet. Usually he travelled to shows with Uthopia, the almost-black stallion, but today he was with Dez, the handsome chestnut who belonged to Charlotte.
Blueberry knew Charlotte would be in his own saddle in the competition – they had trained for a long time now, and it was always Charlotte who partnered him in his dressage tests. It was strange that he was always ridden by Charlotte but on this occasion, at this competition, Charlotte’s own horse, Dez, would be ridden by Carl, who owned Blueberry! He, Carl and Charlotte were a team – a good team. Blueberry had been disappointed when he realised Carl, who he idolised and loved, wouldn’t be competing him throughout his dressage career. He had always dreamed that he and Carl would be partners in competitions but Carl had thought the little brown horse too small for him to compete with. Carl had been determined to find the perfect rider to take Blueberry to the top in his dressage career. He had found her, and now Blueberry and Charlotte had reached an incredible understanding. With Carl’s training and mentoring, the pair were improving all the time, enjoying their work together, working as one to improve all the difficult movements dressage horses and their riders perform and demonstrate to the judges to prove they are in harmony and balance with each other, and had trained correctly to classical tradition.
Blueberry knew that each component of the team was vital. It was his job to perform the movements with power, grace and precision; Charlotte’s task was to ride beautifully and correctly, and give him the tiniest, invisible signals to let him know which movement to carry out, at which point, with the right amount of power and speed. Carl was the third element, the teacher, the coach, the mentor, there to ensure they were working in the correct way, planning their competitive careers so that they were not only successful, but that they met every competition at the peak of their ability, the peak of their training, enabling them to progress to the very top.
Of course, there were a great many other vital people who worked behind the scenes with them, and Blueberry knew that top dressage horses were never successful without a huge army of support. It was, as his friend Lulu had often told him, as though he, Charlotte and Carl were at the very peak of a pyramid, with lots of other people in the pyramid base, holding them up and helping them along. Lulu, his short-legged, tan-coloured, one-eyed friend was resident top dog at Carl’s yard, and she had a way of explaining things to Blueberry that helped him make sense of the world. Blueberry wished his friend was with him now. Although she often travelled with him to shows at home, she never came to the ones abroad. He didn’t know why that was, but it was always so.
“Are you looking forward to your tests tomorrow?” Blueberry asked Dez, who wasn’t usually very talkative, unlike his friend Orange, but he was friendly enough.
“I am, actually,” Dez replied. “I’m looking forward to competing with Carl. When he’s riding me I feel I can do just about anything – which is fortunate as it will be my first Grand Prix. I think Carl is riding me because Charlotte hasn’t ridden at Grand Prix yet and Carl can give me some help.”
Blueberry knew that feeling. He had always felt that way with Carl in his saddle, but now he was feeling it more and more with Charlotte. He loved their time together, whether schooling or competing. They had, just as Carl had predicted when he had first paired them together, gelled into a formidable partnership. How much further they could progress depended on how hard they all wo
Blueberry realised how tired he was after the journey and he locked up a hind leg, lowered his head and closed his eyes. Thank goodness, he thought, just before nodding off to sleep, he didn’t mind travelling. Some horses hated it – his friend Orange always felt tense and out of sorts whenever he had to go in the horsebox or stay away from home – but Blueberry didn’t mind at all. He enjoyed seeing new places and meeting new people and horses, not to mention the chance to show everyone his paces, movements and training. The little brown horse looked forward to doing just that tomorrow. He was living his own dream – competing as a top dressage horse. Ever since he had gone to live at Carl’s yard and seen the dressage horses show off their paces, it had always been Blueberry’s dream to copy them, and fulfilling that dream was no disappointment. Nothing made him happier.
The tests were indoors, in a huge arena with enthusiastic and knowledgeable spectators keen to see which top riders had brought their young horses for experience and confidence – just as Carl and Charlotte had brought Blueberry and Dez. The dressage world is always keen to see which new horses are the ones to watch for the future. Would the people who had come today be lucky enough to see a future World or Olympic champion at the start of their international career?
Since the previous September, at the National Dressage Championships at home, Blueberry had been particularly excited and had worked harder than ever. It had been after he had won the National Prix St Georges Championship with Charlotte that Carl had gone on record as saying that he was aiming the partnership for the 2012 Olympic Games due to be held in London. Ever since Lulu had explained about the Games, how they were the ultimate test for any athlete, human or equine, how they were held only every four years and brought together the very best riders and horses from all over the world, Blueberry had wondered whether he could ever be good enough to be chosen. Only after Carl’s public declaration that he was training the little brown horse and his rider Charlotte for London 2012, had Blueberry truly believed he had what it took to fulfil Carl’s faith in him. At least, he had decided then, he would in two years’ time, when Carl’s training programme and campaign to get him and Charlotte to the Games had been completed.
“Don’t think it will be easy,” Lulu had warned him. She was always good at keeping his hooves on the ground when Blueberry’s imagination took off into space. “Even if everything goes to plan, even if you and Charlotte prove to be good enough, you still have to be selected. The selectors decide who goes to the Games and usually there are some disappointed partnerships because not everyone can go. It isn’t like a normal competition, you know. And even then,” Lulu had continued, “if you do prove to be the best of the best, you still need luck on your side.”
“But Carl says we make our own luck,” Blueberry had said. “He says the harder we work, the luckier we become because we leave nothing to chance.”
“And that’s true,” Lulu had agreed. “But sometimes bad luck can change things – a horse or a rider can become ill or be injured, for example, leaving the selectors no choice but to replace a promising horse and rider with another combination which is fit and able to compete.”
Blueberry hadn’t thought of that. He was extra careful in the field after Lulu had told him about the selectors. It wouldn’t do for him to slip on the mud and hurt himself, or get kicked accidentally when he and Orange bucked and leapt about in high spirits. He couldn’t imagine how awful it would be to be left behind when the Games were on just because of a stupid injury which he could have avoided.
At this competition in Zwolle, Charlotte and Carl made sure Blueberry was warmed up and worked-in with plenty of time to go before his test. They knew from experience that he was always so eager to show off his training he could be too keen in a test and spoil his chances by his exuberance. Blueberry was particularly fresh at Zwolle because of the cold, and it took some time to ensure he was relaxed and listening completely to his rider. It was important that he was mentally – as well as physically – ready for his test.
As he entered the arena for the Prix St Georges, Blueberry heard the commentator call out Charlotte’s name – the only name he understood as he had forgotten most of his Dutch words and was now thinking in English. He heard his own name called, too, Valegro – his professional name, rather than his stable name, Blueberry, given to him because all the horses which had arrived at Carl’s yard that year had been named after fruit and vegetables. Orange had been the obvious choice for his chestnut friend and the little brown horse with a bluish tint to his coat had become Blueberry. He settled down to his test – which went well, he could feel it. His extravagant trot and his bouncy, long-striding canter, for which he was famous, impressed the judges. His transitions were smooth, his carriage exemplary and he felt that nothing had gone wrong. He and Charlotte had been in total harmony and all the movements had been performed well and had begun at precisely the exact spot they were supposed to.
Blueberry’s instinct was right and their test was so good, the pair’s high score saw them in second place. It was a brilliant result for a young horse, especially as Carl had entered them for international experience rather than with the aim of winning. It is a big step-up to go from competitions at home to those abroad in the company of international riders and horses, and coming second to a famous and experienced rider and horse was no mean feat. Travelling to new venues abroad can cause horses and riders to lose their concentration, but that didn’t happen to Blueberry or Charlotte. Not for the first time Carl was impressed by both his pupils, equine and human.
Blueberry loved the whole experience – and being in the line up was particularly exciting for him. He knew by now that he performed his best when there were lots of people watching him – the bigger the crowd, the better. It was as though an invisible presence rippled through the audience, lifting his performance and willing him on to do his best. When that happened it was as though he and his rider could read each other’s minds, knowing exactly what they had to do, even before any aids were given.
Their performance had been noticed by some top people.
“Did you know you’re riding one of the best young horses Wim Ernes has ever seen at that level?” Carl asked Charlotte, as she steered Blueberry out of the arena after the prize-giving.
Blueberry pricked up his ears. He didn’t know who Wim Ernes was, but it was obvious that Carl thought a great deal of his judgement, and it seemed to mean a lot to Charlotte, too, if her wide smile was anything to go by. It somehow made up for the fact that he had stood second, rather than first in the competition. Nobody seemed to mind that he hadn’t won – they were all delighted – but Blueberry minded. He remembered Lulu had once told him that he possessed competitive spirit, and supposed that was what she had meant. He hated losing. Not that coming second was really losing, it just wasn’t quite good enough in Blueberry’s mind, and a tiny part of him felt disappointed.
But Wim Ernes thought he was one of the best young horses he had ever seen at Prix St Georges level and that, Blueberry thought, seemed a good thing. His thoughts drifted to the impressive metal statue which lived on Carl’s lawn outside his house, The Silver Dancer, depicted forever in the perfect piaffe, Blueberry’s inspiration. His ambition was to be like that, to be a horse people remembered, the best dressage horse the world had ever seen. Even The Silver Dancer had needed to start somewhere, he thought. Had the real Silver Dancer, the one on which the metal statue had been based, had he been one of the best young horses a top dressage person had ever seen?
“People are starting to talk about Valegro as an up-and-coming star,” Carl whispered in his ear, “And I’ve heard other people comment on how exciting a prospect you are,” he added, not wanting the little brown horse to be in any way downhearted by his second place. Blueberry was happy. He had enjoyed his test, Charlotte and Carl were pleased with him and he had no
Back at Brook Mill, Blueberry couldn’t wait to tell everyone what Wim Ernes had said about him. Orange was suitably impressed.
“Wow,” said the big chestnut horse as they grazed in the field. “That’s amazing. Did he really say that?”
“Yes, Carl said he did, so it must be true.”
“Congratulations,” said Orange, grateful he hadn’t had to go to Zwolle. From what Blueberry told him, there had been lots of people watching the tests and Orange hated being watched. He found the pressure of competitions at best trying, and at worst highly stressful. Schooling was no bother, he loved it, he enjoyed learning new things and improving his dressage movements but competitions were something else. Orange always complained that competitions were the worst thing about being a dressage horse. Blueberry couldn’t help thinking that his friend had rather missed the point of being a competitive dressage horse. For him, the competitions were what all the training was about. Lulu always said it took all sorts and that everyone’s motivation differed. Blueberry wasn’t quite sure what she meant by that, but didn’t like to ask at the time because he had already asked so many questions that day and didn’t want to look stupid. Although, thinking back on it later, he decided that if Lulu didn’t already think him a bit dim now, one more question was unlikely to have tipped the balance.
Blueberry told the other horses about Wim Ernes. They politely said how nice it was for him but little else. They preferred to eat grass, concentrate on their schooling or relax under the heat lamps of the solarium while Blueberry was tied up next to them, bending their ears about Zwolle.