Jeanette Sassoon and Valiant in the dressage ring. Sassoon and her husband are working on a documentary about Valiant, whose sight was taken by a Uveitis infection 20 years ago. (Photo provided)
About 20 years ago, Jeanette Sassoon’s young horse Valiant stepped on a nail and changed both their lives forever. The injury resulted in an infection and complete blindness within three weeks.
Sassoon, co-founder of Polo Gear USA, was told to either euthanize the jet-black Dutch Warmblood or turn him out in a treeless pasture for the rest of his life. Sassoon refused to do either. Instead, she and Valiant embarked on a journey of hope and resilience that continues today.
The pair performed at the Nations Cup in their hometown of Wellington in April. The event was filmed as part of a documentary called “Valiant: Life is a Horse.” A book and movie are in the works about Valiant’s story, but fame and recognition are not what matters to Sassoon. She believes she was chosen by Valiant as his “seeing-eye person” in order to learn lessons about her own life and motivate others.
“Valiant’s story isn’t just about training a blind horse,” she said. “It’s about how we deal with life and how we take on the challenges life has to offer us. We can inspire people to not give up and continue with their dreams.”
Though he can’t see the arena, Valiant has recently tested through the Prix St. George level in dressage. He scored 65.78 percent and placed sixth out of 15 horses. The test was filmed for the documentary. Sassoon is reaching out to the community for help completing and distributing the film.
“During production, we lost our funding,” she said. “My husband, Gary, and I have been spearheading the documentary, and we have a few people who are on the journey right now with us. We need help completing it. Hopefully it will be ready for the film festivals, starting with Sundance. We could use help with funding and distributing. If there are any people within the industry that would like to help us get it out, that would be wonderful.”
While making the documentary, Valiant has not stopped showing. The 26 year-old phenomenon came out of retirement to film the movie, and he’s performing better than ever. Horse shows around the country have taken notice.
“We were asked to go to the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day event in April,” Sassoon said. “That was the most incredible performance we’ve ever done. We performed under the lights with a song that was written for Valiant that will be in the documentary. It was written by Sonny Throckmorton and sung by Willie Nelson. It was a full house and they showed the documentary trailer. It was amazing.”
At its core, the story of Valiant is not a tale of blindness or dressage. It is about a horse changing the course of a human’s life.
“It’s not about taking care of a horse physically,” she said. “It’s about how the horse takes care of me spiritually. Miracles do happen when you have faith and a good attitude and you search for the positive things in life. They don’t happen overnight. Valiant is my miracle.”