When you’re Charlotte Dujardin, collector of gold medals and holder of world records, and you’ve won everything it’s possible to win in the sport with one amazing horse, what’s left to do after that horse retires? Start some new prospects up the ranks, of course.
Great Britain’s Dujardin has debuted several horses at Grand Prix since retiring the phenomenal Valegro in 2016, including Gio, a 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood she’s been riding since she found the gelding in the United States when he was 6.
Now Dujardin and the diminutive “Pumpkin,” owned by Dujardin, Carl Hester and Renai Hart, are at the Olympic Games. (“Don’t call him a pony,” she joked of her 16-hand partner.) After her Grand Prix test—which scored 80.96%, a personal best for the horse in international competition, and helped Great Britain to second in the team qualifying competition as well as earning Dujardin a slot in the individual freestyle—Dujardin discussed the feisty chestnut, why he initially was rejected by Hester, how he’s been going in Tokyo, and her reasons for wearing a helmet in the horse inspection.
What did you think about your ride?
I was so happy. He’s a very green and inexperienced horse; I think he’s done six or seven Grand Prix, at the most. It’s a bit of an unknown really, not knowing what to expect in there under the floodlights, in an arena like that. I couldn’t ask any more from him tonight. He went in, and he tried his absolute heart out.
He’s just unbelievable. He gives me everything he’s got, even though he still needs to get stronger and a bit more confident in everything, but he still gives more than he’s capable of giving at the moment, and I’m able to just help him out here and there, and you know, he just keeps giving.
I can’t ask any more. I really felt emotional on the last centerline because when you have a ride like that, it doesn’t matter if you win or lose. That’s what it’s all about for me.
How did Gio cope with the heat? (Dujardin selected the gelding over her more experienced Mount St. John Freestyle for Tokyo for this reason.)
As you can see, he’s acclimatized well. It was quite hard, really, not knowing which day were going to be on—so preparing if we were Saturday or Sunday—to know really how to work him. But he’s just such a clever little horse; he just adjusts to whatever I ask. He just gives me his best.
Did you have to adapt your riding style to suit this horse compared to Valegro?
Not really. You just ride him. I don’t have to adapt to anything; you just train him like you train any other horse. Just because he’s smaller, it doesn’t mean I make anything any different. He does everything and more. He’s like a powerhouse. He might be small, but he’s definitely mighty. He’s got a power engine in there.
For where he is in his training, he’s going to get stronger, and the more confident he gets, the more he’s going to give. I’m just so happy with him.
How long have you been riding him?
I went to America, and I found him in America doing a demonstration [in 2016]. I was teaching out there, and he wasn’t meant to be there; he was a reserve. He came in, and I was like, “I love that one. Can I ride that one?” So I rode him, and I spoke to the girl, Amelie [Kovac], and she had trained some horses to Grand Prix herself, so she knew what sort of horse he was. She’d bought him in Holland and flew him to America, and then I flew him back home.
When he came off the lorry, Carl was like, “What have you bought? You bought a pony.” I was like, “Well, you wait and see.” And here he is today!
It just goes to show the relationship we have, for him to go in there and trust me to put him in that situation, it could have been a full house, and he still would have just done the same. He just is that sort of horse. I just love him. He’s such a little pocket rocket.
What was it like to watch teammate Carl Hester compete on Saturday as an owner of En Vogue?
It was another proud moment. I bought him as a 3-year-old, and you couldn’t even catch him in the stable. Everyone thought I was crazy buying him because they were like, “We can’t catch him.”
And then trying to break him in, he was wild. They were all like, “You’re gonna die,” and I didn’t.
But he bucked a saddle clean off, and I went through a lot with him. But the feeling that horse gives you when you ride him is unbelievable. I mean, he’s just phenomenal. He’s probably one of the best horses I’ve ever ridden in my life.
I trained him to Grand Prix, and last year Carl needed a horse, so I just said, “Take him.” Carl has always loved “Vogue,” so it was a massive honor for me.
It’s like reversing it: He gave me that opportunity with Valegro, so it’s a huge honor to stand there and watch him. It was really emotional last night just seeing Carl and him together. He’s a Jazz [offspring], and if anyone knows Jazz, you know they’re really spooky. But when he trusts you, he’ll go through fire. Last night to see him and Carl together—there were a few blips here and there, but it’s going to be an incredible combination with the more competitions they get under their belt.
You were under so much pressure at your last Olympic Games in Rio with Valegro. Being on a different horse, do you feel that pressure has diminished?
Absolutely. That, to me, is like winning tonight. That is as good as winning because I came out of there knowing he could not have done any more. For where he is in his training and how [few] competitions he’s done, he couldn’t have done any more. That, to me, is like a gold medal.
It’s not always about winning or losing; it’s about what you get with your horse. That was one of those really special moments, and I’ll remember that for forever and a day. Sometimes that’s better than some of the competitions I may have won in the past.
That feeling, when you have it with your horse, it’s like that emotion just runs through your body because you feel so proud. You don’t get that connection without having that partnership with your horse.
Talk about your decision to wear a helmet in the horse inspection.
I think it should be a rule, personally. You see all these crazy stallions; I see all these crazy horses. It’s so dangerous.
I was in Rio when Cosmo reared up and hit the groom on the head, and I will never forget that sound till the day I die. I think you have one chance in life; why not put a hat on your head? It might ruin the way you look, and your hair and whatever, but for me it’s more about my safety. That’s why I did it.