Lisa Roskens, who had the idea of bringing the FEI World Cup™ Finals 2017 to her hometown of Omaha, was lucky enough to be at the 2016 Olympia Horse Show in London for a reprise of Valegro’s 2012 Olympic freestyle, which was followed by his retirement ceremony. This is her first-person account of what it was like to be in the midst of a sold-out arena for a historic event.
Everyone told me that going to Olympia was a “must” and that I would be blown away by the experience. With that lead-in, how could I not be excited, particularly with a pretty big indoor competition coming to my town in a few months? However, I had a sense of trepidation. It was much like the situation when everyone raves about a movie. When you finally see it, the film is good, but the build-up was so big that your expectations were unrealistic. So I packed my unrealistic vision of the event into my purse and hopped onto the Tube to head off to Olympia.
All I can say is this was one happening that could not be over-rated! Everything was so beautifully done, from the art-lined walls of the VIP area to the LED lights decorating the arena surface before the competition. They had light and sound boards to rival any London musical and put them to good use throughout the performance.
The only word of caution from me to those planning a future trip to Olympia: Wear sensible shoes! The vendor area is huge and full of a wonderful variety of things. I’m glad I took my Christmas list, one that included not just my horsey friends. A second word of caution: Plan to go more than one day. It takes a day just to peruse the vendors, and there are so many fun and exciting events going on in the arena, too.
Every night is different, with all sorts of entertainment besides the competitions. This event really knows how to bring in a crowd and then make it worth their time. It was a great education for me, because this is exactly the vision of what we want to bring to our country and specifically Omaha and our region with the World Cup™ to create excitement around our sport. To call this a “horse show” misses the point. These people understand that the essence of a sporting event is two-fold–great quality sport and an engaging fan experience.
With that as the preamble, the question, “So what about Valegro?” begs to be answered. Having seen him win the World Cup™Finals, I knew that anything having to do with that great horse and Charlotte Dujardin would not disappoint. There is a reason that the outstanding duo has dominated the dialogue in dressage (and even conversations beyond that discipline, as I’m a jumper rider). The whole building was abuzz, and that even extended to the city of London. I talked to a cabbie on my way home who asked me what was going on, because he had had two fares who needed to get to Olympia before 7:10 (Valegro went on at 7:13). There was excited chatter in the VIP viewing section of the warm-up arena as Charlotte and Valegro warmed up. This was followed by a veritable scurry of people who don’t generally scurry to get to their seats when it was time.
The arena was packed and full of jovial energy following Tristan Tucker’s hilarious comedy ride. (Side note, I’m thrilled he is coming to Omaha to perform.) However, when the announcer began the introduction of Charlotte and Valegro, it fell completely silent. As they entered the arena, the place erupted in a way I’d never seen before a rider competed, much less for a demonstration ride.
As the two of them danced through their moving 2012 London Olympic freestyle with the same wonderful combination of athleticism, energy and control that they always display, the place was so still it felt like the only movement involved the two of them. It really was one of those magical “pin drop” moments in sports that even someone who had never heard of them would appreciate. In fact, my dear 91-year-old friend, who was sitting next to me and only came because she is a game soul, was mesmerized—despite the fact that she is not a horse person.
If it were possible to top those impossibly short and palpably precious minutes of their ride, it was the moment immediately following the final salute. Everyone was standing, most were crying (or the manly were pretending they didn’t feel like crying). The British flag waved on the video board and Charlotte shared that winning smile and her wonderful horse with the crowd. As usual, Valegro, looked around, appreciating his fans’ approval, but he was basically unfazed by all the fuss. It was a fitting tribute to a true champion in every sense of the word, truly deserved and unforgettable.