Dujardin and Valegro: a perfect partnership
After teaming up in 2012, British dressage star Charlotte Dujardin and her mount Valegro enjoyed a near invincible partnership. Their telepathic understanding yielded two individual Olympic titles and a team gold, as well as individual and team doubles at the 2014 Worlds and the European Championships in 2013 and 2015, not to mention three world records.
Born on 13 July 1985 in Enfield, near London, but brought up in Hertfordshire, Dujardin took up riding aged two and was 13 when he first tried her hand at dressage, a discipline in which rider and horse must complete a series of complex moves, such as the tempi, zig-zag, piaffe and pirouettes.
Hailing from a modest background, but competing in an expensive sport, she bought her first Grand Prix horse, Fernandez, in 2007, thanks to money left to her by her late grandmother. It was at that stage that she took up dressage competitively, having earlier aspired to be a jockey.
Dujardin sold the horse in 2011. That same year, she was asked by British Olympic rider Carl Hester, who ran the Gloucestershire stables where she was working as a groom, to bring on a novice Dutch Warmblood gelding by the name of Valegro.
The intention was for Hester to ride the horse. Nevertheless, Dujardin proved so adept on him at the 2011 European Championships in Rotterdam, where she helped Great Britain win team gold, that she and Valegro would remain together, under Hester’s tutelage.
Shining bright in London
Rider and horse cemented their perfect partnership at London 2012, where they dominated the individual dressage competition. Set to patriotic British tunes, such as Land of Hope and Glory and I Vow to Thee, My Country, their neatly executed routine also included the chimes of Big Ben – adding a dash of humour and colour to one of the most technically demanding events in the Games.
To the delight of a vociferous sell-out 20,000 crowd, Dujardin scored 12 tens to eclipse Dutch rider Adelinde Cornelissen and Parzival’s score of 88.196. Her British teammate Laura Bechtolsheimer won bronze aboard Mistral Hojris.
Having earlier taken team dressage gold with Bechtolsheimer and Hester, she joined Kelly Holmes, Rebecca Adlington and Laura Trott as one of only three British women to have won two gold medals at a single Games.
After winning her individual gold, which came less than two years after her first Grand Prix dressage event, Dujardin said: “It is always something I’ve known the horse could achieve, but I didn’t really know how I was going to find the atmosphere and the expectation. But when I got that phone call to say I had made the team for London, I was so determined.
“Not many people are going to have the chance that I’ve had to get to the Olympics in a year and a bit of competing in Grand Prix. I wanted to go out there and enjoy it. All I could do was to do my best. Valegro was feeling tired, but he got in there and he gave his all.”
Their partnership went from strength to strength in the wake of their Olympic triumphs, with Dujardin winning an individual Grand Prix Special and Freestyle double at the 2013 European Championships in Herning (DEN), a feat she repeated two years later in Aachen.
The pair won the same two events at the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy, where they also collected a silver in the team event. Dujardin was on top again at the FEI Dressage World Cup Final that same year in Lyon (FRA), a title she retained in Las Vegas (USA) in 2015.
The world No1, she and Valegro also hold every world record score in her discipline: 87.46% in Grand Prix (set in 2014), 88.022% in Grand Prix Special (2012), and 94.3% in Grand Prix Freestyle (2014).
Riding high in Rio
The pair continued to impress at Rio 2016, though their scores of 85.071% in the Grand Prix and 82.983% in the Grand Prix Special were not enough for Great Britain to retain the team title they had won four years earlier in London.
Disappointed to see Germany regain a crown they had held unbroken between Los Angeles 1984 and Beijing 2008, Dujardin selflessly took the blame for Team GB’s unsuccessful defence.
“It was my fault really. If I don’t get that [individual] gold on Monday, I am going to slit my throat! No, not really,” she joked. “It just makes you more determined. It makes you feel like you want to fight harder. It’s kind of given me that wake-up call to get myself in gear and off I go again.”
When Monday eventually came around, Dujardin and Valegro turned in another golden performance, going close to their Grand Prix Freestyle world record with a score of 93.857% to retain the individual title and win their fourth Olympic gold.
“If I didn’t win, I knew I could not have done better,” said an elated Dujardin after her stunning victory. “Valegro definitely could not do any more. It is absolutely incredible. I can’t believe it. I am so overwhelmed.”
Discussing the samba-inspired routine that took her to the top of the podium once again, she added: “It is a new freestyle. I rode it only the second time. It was just magical. I got really emotional down the last centre line. He always goes in to give me his very best. It felt absolutely effortless.”It was the very last title she won with the horse she nicknamed Blueberry, who retired at the end of 2016. Now working with Hester on developing the mount that will take her to Tokyo 2020, Dujardin is determined to stay at the pinnacle of her sport.