It was back to the roots of her sport for double Olympic gold medallist and World number one dressage rider Charlotte Dujardin when she rode out with the Household Cavalry in London’s Hyde Park.
Dujardin, who will be competing at the London International Horse Show at Olympia on 16-17 December, rode “Integrity,” a lead horse in the Household Cavalry parades. She described the experience as “fun but very different to riding Valegro,” her medal-winning equine partner.
“I felt privileged. It was interesting to experience how the sport of dressage has developed from the military and that they still use the same skills that have been integral to the cavalry throughout history. These skills are used to exhibit the grace and technique in dressage.”
Fresh from success at the European Championships, Dujardin will be hoping to win the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Leg for the second year at London’s premier horse show. “Olympia is one of the competitions I look forward to every year. It has that Christmas spirit and is special because it is one of the few events Valegro and I do in the UK nowadays so our home fans can see us compete.”
Dujardin (second from left) is aiming to break the world record in the freestyle at Olympia
Dujardin, who has been nominated for numerous awards, is still “overwhelmed” by her status as world champion. Yet the 28-year-old from Enfield will not be resting on her laurels. Her aim at Olympia will be to break the world record in the freestyle competition, where riders and horses perform specially choreographed patterns to their own choice of music. The record was set at Olympia in 2009 by Edward Gal and “Totilas,” who remains the most expensive sport horse ever sold.
Dujardin feels Valegro is performing better than ever but emphasises the uncertainty within a sporting performance - let alone one involving a horse. “I know he’s good enough to break that world record and he’ll try his hardest but the atmosphere at Olympia is electric. The arena is tight and the crowds are so close, it certainly affects the horses. Valegro is more excitable there than anywhere.
“I used to get really nervous but I’ve learnt to just go in there and enjoy myself. I love riding on the edge, that feeling of make or break. I am always striving to better myself but I don’t freak out and let the pressure defeat me now.”
I fell off yesterday but I like to start them off my way, form a bond with them from the beginning."
Since the Europeans Valegro, who was reportedly valued (and nearly sold) at around £6 million after the Olympics, enjoyed a break from dressage, being ridden out by 76-year-old former Olympian, Trish Gardiner. Dujardin has also enjoyed a bit of rare downtime with her boyfriend Dean, who knows he is low in the pecking order with her animals and trainer Carl Hester to contend with. South African Dean was informed that this would be the case on their first date. “She told me that her horses would always come first. I think I fit in somewhere below the dogs in the pecking order but I know she couldn’t live without me as I do all the cooking and most of the housework.”
And in 10 years time? “Still doing this I guess,” Dujardin says until Dean prompts her by making a cradling motion with his hands. “Oh and a baby,” she quips. “Probably not before then. My next focus is on The World Equestrian Games (2014) and Rio.”
Dujardin made a meteoric rise from stable hand to Olympic glory in just five years. She found the media attention difficult to handle at first. “Before the Olympics I didn’t have much experience and then all of a sudden it was like ‘boom’, I was in the limelight and it took up all my time. Now I don’t let it get in the way and understand you still have to get on with life.”
There are no airs and graces to this girl. She takes on the perilous task of breaking in all her own horses and gets thrown off regularly. “I fell off yesterday but I like to start them off my way, form a bond with them from the beginning. It’s difficult to tell early on how special they are going to be. We didn’t think Valegro would even make a Grand Prix horse initially. His personality makes him special, he works with you. When he gets to the big occasion, he knows what it’s all about and he goes in there and does his job.”
Anyone who has seen the pair compete and witnessed the harmony and bond that exists between Dujardin and her horse might understand how any man would play second fiddle. She does not own Valegro and if he were to do well at Olympia there is still a chance he could be sold, for the sort of money that changes lives. She would be left without a top horse and to replace him would cost millions. Surprisingly she is not awash with owners offering to buy her another star or send her their horses to compete. Life at the top is precarious. Dujardin seems to have the good sense to enjoy it all whilst she can.
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