We’ve all heard the words amazing, incredible and unbelievable about Charlotte Dujardin’s performances at these Olympics.
I beg to differ. There was nothing incredible or unbelievable about what she achieved out there: Charlotte has earned her medals through sheer hard work and ultimate focus. It was fortune that brought together Britain’s best trainer, the world’s best horse and the ideal rider for that horse, but Charlotte made it happen.
“I want that gold,” she said to me in Hagen, Germany, after breaking the grand prix special record back in April. And she did everything in her power to get it.
The pressure on this young rider’s shoulders – and let’s not forget she only rode her first grand prix last January – was immense.
Until the final centre line, when Blueberry wasn’t sure if Charlotte wanted piaffe or canter, I was sure she had the gold nailed. Then I wasn’t sure. Charlotte, pleased with her performance nevertheless, wasn’t sure either.
23,000 people sat in hushed silence staring at the giant score board in the corner which would reveal the score. When the 90% flashed up, the crowd (bar the Dutch) erupted to their feet and cheered like crazy. Even the most stoic (me included, again) wiped tears away, as did Charlotte – who doesn’t usually do emotional.
But why the waterworks? It’s so touching to see a talented young horse in harmony with his rider. Valegro gives the impression that he would willingly do anything for Charlotte. At the end of a long show, having had a disrupted schedule with none of his customary hacking or turnout, he was tired. But he tried his heart out and we love him for that.
To those (mostly Dutch) who think Adelinde Cornelissen’s test on Parzival was better than Charlotte’s I’d say: did Adelinde’s test look light and easy? No. It was mistake-free, but it seemed like Adelinde was using every inch of her pilates-enhanced core plus the rigid curb rein to hold Parzival together. It just wasn’t quite as beautiful as Charlotte’s; Parzival is resistant in the mouth, lacks self-carriage at times and doesn’t truly transfer the weight back to his hindquarters in piaffe.
As president of the ground jury Stephen Clarke explained afterwards, it was harmony that won out here.
The Netherlands’ Wim Ernes was the only judge to have Adelinde first and Charlotte second.
And, despite the Mexican judge having Laura Bechtolsheimer and “Alf” in fifth, they hung on to the bronze by 0.036%. A fabulous result for these international troopers.
One horse I totally fell for over the past week was Dorothee Schneider’s Diva Royal. At only 10, this mare has a head like a breeze block but a heart like a lion.
The last dance?
We all knew that the plan was to sell Uthopia and Valegro after these Games. Rather than griping about it, or losing respect for these riders (a preposterous comment I read on a faceless forum) – let’s remember that all owners concerned were under huge pressure to sell these remarkable horses before the Olympic cut-off of 31 January.
That everyone involved worked so hard to ensure that didn’t happen and gave our home team the opportunity to bring home British dressage’s first ever Olympic medals should be applauded loud and long.
Dressage riders (and owners) need to eat and pay the mortgage. I do wish that Charlotte’s family could land the lottery win they so wish for to make sure that “Blueberry” stays with Charlotte forever, but should they not strike lucky, I’m sure whoever buys Uti and Blueberry – and there are all sorts of rumours flying about who it might be (the Dutch, the Germans, the Spanish etc) – will make sure that these world-class athletes get the very best of care and attention.
Full report on the individual dressage final in H&H out next Thursday, 16 August.