Charlotte Dujardin and the divinely beautiful Valegro were the dressage sensations of the 2012 London Olympics, winning team and individual gold – something never achieved before by a British rider. Charlotte and the beloved horse she calls ‘Blueberry’ at home also hold three current world records for the highest score ever awarded in the Grand Prix, Grand Prix Special and the Grand Prix freestyle tests. Incredibly, Charlotte did not begin competing at Grand Prix level until 2011, making her rise up the international dressage ranks even more astonishing.
However, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for Charlotte: although she has trained and ridden Valegro since he was a young horse, she doesn’t actually own him. After the Olympics, his owners announced he was for sale, and for nearly a year Charlotte lived with the nightmare prospect of losing her favourite horse in the world. Happily, he was taken off the market and will stay with Charlotte forever.
Charlotte might be at the top of her sport now, but she worked her way up from the bottom. Her family didn’t have a lot of money to buy her top ponies when she was a child, so she instead trained up cheap, naughty ones, qualifying them for the show ring at Britain’s famous Horse of the Year Show.
Charlotte fell in love with dressage when she watched a Carl Hester training video and went right out and taught her own horse how to do flying changes in the field. She later went to work for Carl after her mother approached him at a show and asked for lessons. Carl obviously spotted Charlotte’s raw talent immediately and a beautiful partnership was born – Charlotte and her trainer Carl are officially dressage’s ‘golden couple’, and the best of friends as well as team mates.
Although Charlotte is used to notching up perfect 10s in the competition arena herself, she’s not a snob at all when it comes to teaching – she gives lessons to riders of all levels. In fact, Charlotte’s completely un-snobby attitude was what we loved about her most of all. She confessed she bought one of her most promising young horses very cheaply after seeing him grazing in a paddock – and he’s even half-thoroughbred, which is almost unheard of in top dressage circles!
When did you first start riding?
I started riding when I was about two years old. I was just led around on my sister Emma-Jayne’s ponies – that was the bonus of having an older sister. Then obviously when I got my own pony I became very competitive and I wanted to beat my sister. Then, when I did start beating her, she gave up! She still does showing, but she just produces the ponies for other people. She’s a very supportive sister.
Who was your first pony?
A little Shetland called Sally – she was a big, fat naughty pony! I got her when I was about four or five. She would canter along, stop, eat a mouthful of grass and I used to fall off all the time.
Are you a hard worker at school?
Not really! I always just wanted to ride horses.
What would you have done if you hadn’t made it as a rider?
I would have liked to work in an animal rescue centre. I’ve always loved looking after animals.
What’s your favourite food?
What’s your favourite music?
I’m pretty easygoing with music. I listen to anything.
Who is your favourite horse and why?
Blueberry of course! He’s a one-in-a-million, a freak of nature. He goes into the competition arena and performs no matter what, so as a rider he fills you with confidence. He’s such a special horse. At home, a 76-year-old lady hacks him out on the roads. Once I went to a demonstration and this little boy came up to me and demanded to see Valegro. He must have only been five or six. I told him if he could find a hat he could sit on him, so he did. His parents rushed off and found a helmet and he sat on the front with me and we went for a walk around.
Who is your naughtiest pony and why?
Johnny Cash, when he was a youngster. He had me off a number of times when he was around five because he can really buck and was very cold-backed. I’ve probably fallen off and hurt myself more times on him than anything. Luckily I’ve never broken anything, but I’ve hit the ground very hard!
Do you get nervous when you compete?
No. I get excited. I’m an adrenalin junkie and I love the buzz of it. The bigger a show is, the more I want to do it. What I do in the arena at a competition is no different to what I do at home – that’s how I look at it. I just want to enjoy it.
When did you last fall off and why?
Just before the last Olympics. I got bucked off Johnny Cash.
What’s your most embarrassing moment?
At the Europeans in 2013 I stupidly went wrong in my test. It could have cost me a medal, but luckily the other two contenders did the same and I still won gold. But it’s not good enough, is it? I was so angry with myself.
What is your proudest moment and why?
I’ve had hundreds, but probably standing at the Olympics, receiving my medals in my home ground with all those supporters and fans.
What do you do for fun when you’re not riding?
Shopping. I love shopping – for anything. I’m a shopaholic! I like just having a day with the girls, completely horse-free. A lot of my friends aren’t into horses, so it gives me time to have that break.
– This article was first published in the Autumn 2014 issue of PONIES! magazine