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Portrait: Charlotte Dujardin, Olympic dressage superstar

Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro at the Olympics in 2012. Photo: Equestrian, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

For over a decade, Charlotte Dujardin has been one of the most prominent figures in the dressage world. It's easy to forget how quickly the English rider transitioned from relative obscurity—even among the most ardent followers of the sport—to clinching gold medals in every major competition. While we hope her career continues for many more years, it's worth looking back at one of the most significant success stories in recent equestrian history.

Read also: When the desire to be perfect hinders a good equestrian life

Rare Background in Equestrian Success

Equestrianism is not an inexpensive hobby, and whether one likes it or not, coming from a wealthy family can be a considerable advantage in the sport. Consequently, it is common for the most successful riders to either come from families already involved with horses or have the financial means to purchase horses for their children. This is one of the main reasons why Charlotte Dujardin has been dubbed an "unlikely victor" throughout her career. Growing up in Hertfordshire, north of London, Dujardin has been riding since she was two years old. Initially, she focused on show jumping, where she found success and showcased her significant talent. Despite the financial struggles her family faced, they managed to support her riding career because they recognized what the rest of the world would eventually discover: Charlotte Dujardin was a star.

At 16, Dujardin left school to focus on her riding career. A year later, she lost her jumping horse, leading her to consider quitting riding altogether. However, she ultimately switched to dressage. As a dressage rider, she again proved her immense talent. At 21, she began working for seasoned dressage rider Carl Hester, a partnership that would prove crucial for Dujardin and the international dressage scene. And one horse, in particular, deserves thanks for this.

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Valegro: A Partnership for the Ages

When Dujardin joined Carl Hester, the gelding Valegro was just four years old, and she was tasked with training him for Hester to compete in the future. It soon became clear that Dujardin and Valegro were a perfect match, and they continued to compete together. The pair first showed their potential in 2011, both making their Grand Prix debut and competing in the European Championships. At the Championships, they secured top-10 finishes in individual events and were part of the gold-winning British team. These results were promising, but few could have predicted the level of success the duo would achieve over the next five years.

Read also: We need to dare to think outside the box when we train with trailers

Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro. Photo: Florence.Skowron, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In 2012, the pair continued their excellent form, and that summer, they were selected for the London Olympics. There, they exceeded all expectations, winning gold medals in both the individual and team competitions. This firmly established the pair as superstars within the sport, a reputation they upheld throughout their career together. Subsequently, they won four more gold medals at the European Championships, two golds at the World Championships, and gold in the individual competition at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. In December 2016, at the age of 14, Valegro retired from the sport, leaving a legacy as one of the greatest—if not the greatest—dressage horses of recent times.

Continuing Excellence

Since Valegro's retirement, Dujardin has maintained her position among the dressage elite. While she may not have achieved the same spectacular results as she did with Valegro, she consistently places in the top three at major competitions. With a total of seven bronze, two silver, and one gold medal since 2017 at the Olympics, European Championships, and World Championships, her achievements are a testament to her enduring excellence. As the British sportswoman with the most Olympic medals, a title she shares with cyclist Laura Kenny, Dujardin is poised to become the sole holder of this honor as Kenny has retired. At 38, nothing suggests that Dujardin is near the end of her sporting career, and she remains a potential winner of any competition, capable of achieving remarkable results with the right horse.

Read also: Portrait: Harry Meade, Second Generation Eventing Medalist

Sources:


Charlotte Dujardin (charlotte-dujardin.com)

London Evening standard: London 2012 Olympics: 'I always knew she would be a star', says mother of dressage gold winner Charlotte Dujardin

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