British star Charlotte Dujardin hailed “a truly magical” Olympic farewell on the brilliant Valegro after she retained her individual dressage title with a stunning Games record performance in Deodoro.
Dujardin could not hold back the tears as she saluted a remarkable horse that now looks set to be retired, his work on the sport’s biggest stage seemingly done.
When he bows out, it will be after underpinning 31-year-old Dujardin’s stellar career that has so far reaped 10 major championship gold medals - three Olympic, two world and five European.
She won with an Olympic record grand prix freestyle score of 93.857 per cent, as they obliterated the 18-strong field following a stunning performance to an accompaniment of upbeat Brazilian samba-style music.
The score was comfortably higher than when Gloucestershire-based Dujardin won gold on the same horse at London 2012, and the third highest of all-time behind two other mesmeric Dujardin displays.
And apart from matching cyclist Laura Trott on three Olympic gold medals, she also joins eventer Richard Meade as the most successful British equestrian rider in Games history.
“It was truly magical. It was the best feeling ever. You couldn’t have asked for any more off him,” Dujardin said.
“Dreams come true. Going to London, I didn’t have any expectations for the individual competition. I just went out there, did my thing and it happened.
“Coming here, I had to defend that title, I had expectation, I had the pressure and I did feel it a little bit for the first time ever.
“I also knew it could be one of the last times with Valegro. I know I am not going to do another Olympics with him.
“But as soon as I got into the arena, Valegro gave me this most amazing feeling and it put a smile on my face. I knew I was fine.
“That is what that horse can do. He can give you confidence like I can’t tell you. He’s like a rock. He gives you that hug.
“If you think how many tests that horse has done in his lifetime, and how many times he has ever made a mistake. His consistency throughout his career has been absolutely unbelievable.
“I owe it to him to finish at the top, and I’ve done it. I am going to make sure it happens again (on another horse), but he is a once in a lifetime horse.
“It’s another huge challenge to try to recreate and do it all again, but there will never be another Valegro, and I don’t want anyone ever to compare a horse that I ride to Valegro, because there is never going to be another him.”
Valergro is co-owned by Dujardin’s Great Britain team-mate Carl Hester, Roly Luard and Ann Barrott, and it would be no surprise if he bowed out at Olympia’s London International Horse Show in December, the event where they set their freestyle world record of 94.300 per cent in 2014.
Hester said: “Consistency is hard with a horse, but he has been at the top for six years without hardly a blip on its record, which is phenomenal.
“You always imagine these top horses to be difficult characters, but he gets ridden out by an 80-year-old at home, kids can get on him in the stables, Charlotte can ride him around the Olympics.
“It’s his work ethic - and a 10-year partnership he has with Charlotte.”
Asked about Valegro’s competition future - the Europeans take place in Sweden next year - Hester added: “That is going to be discussed when we are at home.”
Germany’s Isabell Werth, riding Weihegold, was second on 89.071 per cent, with another German - Kristina Broring-Sprehe - aboard Desperados, taking bronze following a score of 87.142 per cent.
Hester finished seventh on Nip Tuck, and Fiona Bigwood 17th with Orthilia.