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LONDON (Reuters) - The greatest partnership in dressage comes to an emotional end on Wednesday when Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro make their final competitive appearance together.
The evening will not, however, be the end of a love story that has captivated millions around the world since the pairing won individual and team golds at their home 2012 London Olympics.
"I don’t think there will ever be a horse that can replace Valegro," Dujardin, 31, told Reuters in an interview after leading the 14-year-old gelding out for the cameras at the London International Horse Show at Olympia.
"But I do have some really nice up-and-coming horses as well behind him. I look at it that it’s sad but it's not the end of Valegro. He’s still going to be seen but just not competing. It’s the start of another chapter."
Together, Dujardin and Valegro won everything there was to win in dressage, where horse and rider perform a highly-trained routine choreographed to music.
At the Rio de Janeiro Games in August, Dujardin retained her individual Olympic title while also taking a team silver.
Her fiance Dean Golding, in the crowd, wore a shirt with the words "Can we get married now?" on it but he is still waiting for a date.
"I’ve done so many interviews about my wedding it’s put me off," she said with a smile. "One day I’m going to do it. I’m just going to nip away and have the smallest, secret wedding that nobody knows about."
Tokyo in four years' time is already on the radar and Dujardin has several promising rides, with Mount St John Freestyle exciting those in the know.
Valegro, though, can look forward to a pampered new life, cantering in the fields and making celebrity appearances.
"He’s just somebody that has been a friend always," said Dujardin. "Going to competitions and not having him there, that will be the hardest thing.
"But...he’s still at the stables. If I want to ride him I can ride him. He’s always going to be there. I’m going to go off and do demonstrations around the world with him. I’ve always got that to look forward to so it’s not the end of him."
Dujardin recalled her first reaction to the horse that would transform her life.
Valegro was four years old and being ridden by co-owner and British team member Carl Hester. She stared open-mouthed and went 'Wow'.
"I guess it’s like when you get a boyfriend or a girlfriend and you kind of know that person’s for you. I like really fast horses, I like really sensitive horses...and he was all those things," said Dujardin.
"It’s like sitting in a Ferrari and going ‘yes, I love that power’. That’s what he’s like. He has so much power, so much ability and his trainability is incredible. I just remember getting on him, loving it and thinking he’s the perfect horse.
"We read each other. He knows when I’m a little bit tense or nervous and he can reassure me and I can do it for him.".
Hester, who rejected huge sums for the horse after the London Games, is promising to keep Valegro active as a global ambassador for dressage.
"He can’t breed because he’s a gelding and basically he would just turn into a great, fat lard if you just turned him out in a field because he is an eater. He definitely is an eater," he told Reuters.
"That goes a little bit with his personality because he’s so chilled and laid back. Wherever you put him he’s just like: ‘I’m eating’. He’s got to be kept ridden to maintain fitness and suppleness. He won’t be just doing nothing."
Editing by Tony Jimenez