Charlotte Dujardin may be bidding to become only the second rider to win three successive individual dressage Olympic gold medals in Tokyo, but she insists that the Games is “just another competition”.
The challenge of defending her title will be all the greater for the 35-year-old English rider due to the retirement of Valegro, the “very brave” horse that earned her the nickname “the girl on the dancing horse”.
Together they combined two Olympic individual gold medals and a team title in 2012 and a silver medal in 2016.
Could this be the most British thing ever? Charlotte Dujardin and horse Valegro perform to ‘Land of Hope & Glory’ with the Royal Naval College in the background, from London 2012. Enjoy! 🐎🎩🇬🇧 @CSJDujardin#StrongerTogether pic.twitter.com/jLyJA63glh
— Olympics (@Olympics) July 15, 2021
Now Valegro looks on contentedly from his stable — at the picturesque 30-acre property in Gloucestershire, southwest England, belonging to her mentor Carl Hester — as Dujardin puts the likes of Gio and St John Freestyle through their paces.
Hester is also going to Tokyo after being given a ‘kick up the bum’ by his protege not to hang up his competitive riding boots.
“The joke really is that I have gone from being the boss to working for Charlotte,” said Hester, who was a member of the three-rider team at both London and Rio.
First time @TeamGB has more females than males in the team. Due to football ( on now) mainly but still 👍🏾 & we have 4 ladies going for their 3rd consecutive golds- just wow! @jadejonestkd @Helenglovergb @LauraKenny31 Charlotte Dujardin 🥇🥇🥇🥇🇬🇧
— Sharron Davies MBE (@sharrond62) July 21, 2021
Dujardin is very understated despite the fame that has come with her success, especially when it comes to the possibility of joining Holland’s Anky van Grunsven in winning three consecutive individual titles.
“It (the Olympics) is just another competition,” she told AFP at the yard in mid-June.
“Don’t get me wrong, I am always out there to win. Nothing less will do. And I never give up without a fight.
— Harry Wallop (@hwallop) July 21, 2021
“It is such an honour to go to the Olympics and to be able to say it is my third Games. That is an absolute dream.”
Aside from sparking 54-year-old Hester to go to his sixth Olympics — he was the youngest-ever British rider when he went to Barcelona in 1992 aged 25 — Dujardin has taken a bold decision to select Gio as her ride instead of the more experienced Freestyle.
She believes Gio will adapt to the humid conditions and be capable of challenging for medals.
Dujardin — who began riding aged two and whose mother shelved her own promising riding career to focus on that of her youngest daughter — says acclimatising for the horses is going to be tough.
“These are animals. It is not like other sports that you can just put your bike on the plane,” she said.
“Your bike is your bike. All you do is set it up, it does not have a mind. These horses have a mind of their own.” They have to deal with so much — 24 hours to travel, then acclimatise in terrible humidity and they have got to eat.”
Athletes can prepare themselves for such conditions with heat chambers. With horses, you cannot do that, and it is a real challenge.”
But we (Team GB) have a great support team like vets.”
Dujardin says the riders also must adjust to the climatic conditions.
“There is a lot of preparation involved especially for us as riders,” she said.
“We have all our riding gear which has to be as cool as possible.”
We are wearing hats, jackets, and boots. It is not like we are in shorts and t-shirt as other athletes are.”
We are really working hard to be the best prepared that we can be.”
Dujardin says although the coronavirus pandemic has posed immense problems for some of her rivals, a year’s delay has helped to give Gio more experience.
“I have found the year’s delay an advantage, but a lot of my rivals will miss out, either because their horse is too old or they are not able to prepare,” she said.
Dujardin acknowledges that the absence of spectators in Tokyo, owing to a state of emergency due to rising coronavirus cases, will be a strange experience for many but for her and Hester it is a repeat of Rio.
“In Rio, we did not have crowds due to the whole scare with zika, so no one wanted to travel,” she said.
“To be honest the last two years we have got used to not being around people.”
Crowds and noise can make horses nervous and tense so that is one less thing to worry about.”
(With inputs from AFP)