Stable staff are so often the unsung heroes in a horse’s success story. Yet for Alan Davies, it was a very different tale as he was thrust into the limelight in 2012.
Valegro and his go-to groom Alan Davies. Photo by Lisa Slade
He has since become one of the best known and admired grooms in the world. This was partly due to the meteoric rise to stardom by his charge—the great Valegro. It was also due to the very public acknowledgment of his involvement by rider and trainer, who rarely fail to mention his name when speaking to the media after another victory.
Just as Valegro has a great deal to thank Davies for, as the groom has been by his side for most of his working life, Davies thanks Valegro for what has been the most extraordinary adventure with the horse he calls a “friend.” Ellie Kelly caught up with Alan outside Valegro’s stable to hear his story.
“I’ve been with Carl [Hester] and Charlotte [Dujardin] for seven years. So I’ve been looking after Valegro and also Uthopia since they started their international careers, so it’s been quite a journey,” he explained. Uthopia is the stallion Carl Hester rode in the London 2012 Olympic Games alongside Dujardin and Valegro—together they helped the British win team gold.
“I knew Carl, and he asked me to come to work for him in order to travel with these two up-and-coming young horses,” Davies said. But Davies was to be more than a traveling groom. Hester wanted him to work with the horses on a day-to-day basis at home.
“Carl wanted me to know everything about them,” Davies said. “Their likes and dislikes, so that when they are at a competition, I know exactly how to keep them happy. I’ve been so lucky because I’ve seen them grow and blossom into international superstars and for Valegro, a gold medal-winning machine.”
It is clear from talking to Davies that in his eyes, Valegro has taken almost human qualities, and his fondness for the horse is that of a member of the family.
“Valegro has an incredible personality, and he’s a joy to look after,” Davies said. “He’s such a happy-go-lucky person. As long as he has his hay and a bucket of water to dunk his hay in, he’s more than happy.
“He’s become a great friend to me because we spend so much time together, and we’ve traveled a lot," Davies continued. "He’s trusted me to take him on planes and trains all over the world. Someone asked me the other day how many places I’ve been to with him, and I’ve lost count. At least 10 countries including [the United States and Brazil] and all over Europe."
On a day-to-day basis, Valegro gives everyone a spring in their step, explained Davies. “He always wants to please, even when you’re hacking out, he is always jolly. He hasn’t become a diva just because he is a superstar.”
And what about Dujardin?
“Charlotte has changed a lot. She’s become so much more confident,” Davies said. “The media attention frightened her to begin with, and now she’s much more confident in front of the camera. It’s the same for all of us—we get followed everywhere by TV cameras, and we’ve had to become used to it.”
Blueberry and Alan Davies. Photo by Lisa Slade
He reveals that Dujardin really is the ultimate competitor. “Charlotte doesn’t get particularly nervous. She doesn’t need much reassurance. She likes me and Carl to be there, but she is always cool-headed,” he said.
Valegro may have given Davies a passport to the world, but he admits that he rarely gets to enjoy a new place, as his entire focus is on the horses. “When we are away at competitions, it’s not party time for me, even when it’s over. At Rio, I was on the plane home with the horses the day after the last competition,” he said. “The celebrations for me happen when we’re back home. When we’re at the competitions, I don’t like to leave the horses.”
As far as Olympics go, Davies says nothing beats the experience they all enjoyed in London for the 2012 Games. Even though the pressure on Dujardin and Valegro was in many ways greater. “London was completely unique. It was beautifully organized. Being a home Games helped, but when we won, it was such a feeling,” he said.
Yet in Davies’ eyes, the pinnacle of Valegro’s career was not an Olympics or even a World Championships.
“One of the most outstanding moments was in Hagen 2012,” he recalled. “It was one of our last shows before London when he first broke the record. He did the most incredible test, and it was totally unexpected to start breaking records.”
At the 2012 Hagen CDI (Germany), Dujardin and Valegro set the world abuzz by winning the Grand Prix (81.42%) and the Grand Prix Special (88.02%). Their Special score smashed the world record set by the great Totilas in 2010 with Edward Gal at Aachen (Germany). “The media went crazy when they won,” Davies said. “No one was expecting him—a British rider with a British horse into a huge German arena—to go like that and start breaking records. I think that was one of the most memorable for me.”
So how does Alan feel about Valegro’s retirement, which will take place officially at the London International Horse Show at Olympia this week?
“I’ve always felt the last few years has been history in the making. I can’t see that there is ever going to be another horse like Valegro in my lifetime,” he said. “He’s so phenomenal in his way of going, his attitude and his generosity of spirit. I personally don’t think I’ll meet another horse like that. It’s been a huge emotional journey, and to think that is ending is a strange feeling. I’m just very lucky he’s not going anywhere, and I will still get to ride him."
Also read about Charlotte Dujardin's thoughts on Valegro's impact on her life and what she envisions for the future in "Charlotte Dujardin Looks Ahead To Life Beyond Valegro."
And check out COTH's Behind The Stall Door With: Valegro.
About the author: Ellie Kelly (www.elliekelly.co.uk) is a British journalist, producer, consultant and upper-level eventer who has worked with the BBC, Countryside magazine, Horse & Country TV and many others.