Jeanette Sassoon was living in Los Angeles, CA, married to world famous hair designer Vidal Sassoon, moving with the glamorous entertainment crowd, and frequenting the places to be seen. She also pursued her lifelong love and passion for horses, owning several, and taking instruction in the classical equestrian discipline of dressage, a ballet on horseback requiring the ultimate communication between horse and rider. She decided to breed her mare and stallion with the hopes of their offspring becoming a competitive dressage horse.
The colt that came from this pairing was skinny, frisky, and highly intelligent. She named him Valiant, and he was as beautiful and high spirited as she’d ever hoped. But soon after Valiant was born, Jeanette’s life took a sudden turn. She and her husband were divorced, she left L.A. moving to Florida, and began a serious training career with her horses eventually becoming a grand prix trainer, competitor and running a successful horse farm operation.
At six years old, Valiant was working on the first levels of dressage. But one day, on his way to the dressage arena, he stepped on a horseshoe nail. The puncture wound on the bottom of his hoof was quickly cleaned and treated, and the horse was given penicillin. Within a day, horrible abscesses became visible where the shots were administered on both sides of Valiant’s neck. A voracious infection was raging inside him. Jeanette had to work around the clock, literally giving him treatments every hour of the day and night, to keep him alive. She noticed Valiant’s eyes becoming cloudy and eventually opaque white. Valiant was diagnosed with an extreme form of uveitis, or moon blindness. He was losing his sight rapidly, and the best veterinarians on the planet could not help him.
The prognosis for Valiant was blindness. Jeanette was given a choice—she could put the horse out in a pasture without any trees the rest of his life or she could put him down. She made her decision quickly from her heart. Valiant would live, be trained and she would see he had a good quality of life. She knew then and there she had made a commitment to the horse for life. She didn’t know how she was going to do it as there was no books or people to help her. It was the beginning of a journey that took them further than even she could have imagined.
She put herself in Valiant’s place, becoming sensitive to his feelings and body language. She taught him to become aware of his surroundings, using a stick to help him walk in a straight line, and cans strung in his stall so he could hear sounds and know the boundaries around him. He had to relearn even the most basic skills all over again in total darkness. After a couple of years retraining him, she finally got the courage to get on Valiant’s back. The horse immediately stumbled to his knees but Jeanette was able to rebalance the horse back to his feet. That was the beginning of a new level of trust between them.
Jeanette spent part of the time in Wyoming and soon Valiant enjoyed being a trail horse, riding the mountains and crossing the rivers. Jeanette felt that her original dream for Valiant could become a reality. He could become a dressage horse…a very good dressage horse. It seemed crazy, but she had already put in thousand of training hours, shed thousands of tears, and whispered thousands of prayers. It would be a new challenge, but she knew in her heart it could be done.
The training began. It was slow. It was difficult. But four years after first getting on Valiant’s back, Jeanette was entered in their first competition, a fourth level dressage test. They wouldn’t win that day, but Jeanette would clearly see to her dismay how others saw her and Valiant. She couldn’t believe the effect he had on people—they were an amazing pair, and what they’d achieved evoked emotions of awe, disbelief, and respect. Many just broke down and wept.
By the end of his first season, Valiant had won his first competition. Over the years, more and more people were exposed to this incredible horse and his magnificent achievement. Jeanette and Valiant were even invited to give a special freestyle performance at the World Cup in Miami and a special invitational musical performance at the Festival of Champions at the United States Equestrian Team headquarters in Gladstone, New Jersey. Even though they only had two weeks to prepare, it was an emotional performance that many there will never forget. Jeanette has since developed the “Valiant Method” of horse training. It is grounded in the values she says she learned from Valiant: trust, kindness, loyalty, determination, courage, truth, patience and above all, unconditional love.